• United States

New products tackle information overload

Jan 09, 20063 mins
Enterprise Applications

A funny thing happened on the way to creating next month’s Demo 2006 event. I became overwhelmed.

Not with the number of companies vying for one of 70 slots. I’ve spoken to several hundred companies in the past four months – a group greater in number than in the past five years, a sure sign that the ecosystem of technology entrepreneurship is back in tune and delivering strong results.

Nor was I overwhelmed by the volume of compelling business ideas and intriguing new products. To be sure, these companies are planning a blitzkrieg of great products in the first half of 2006.

No, I became overwhelmed with technology itself – more specifically, with the information flood generated by it. In a typical busy business day, meeting with staff, talking with customers, handling follow-ups, how does anyone keep up with the flood of e-mail, flow of RSS feeds and relentless chiming of even the most appealing ringtone?

In short, we can’t. We are overwhelmed by the idea that information on any topic imaginable is readily available – and will come to us – if only we can get through the trite and trivial to find the valuable information hidden underneath. We struggle to stay on top of our in-box, lest we miss that critical message. We are inseparable from cell phone, BlackBerry and Internet connectivity, yet we can’t keep up.

The computers that support all this data communications don’t have it much easier. Massive amounts of data, combined with our high expectations of commensurate business value, present overwhelming processing, storage, scalability and security challenges. Despite brilliant advances and techniques to compress, scale, encrypt and balance, the capabilities of connected computers barely keep ahead of demand.

Years of technology innovation and technology promise are reaching a point of diminishing returns. We are humanly incapable of assimilating all the information available to us, and our computer systems are overwhelmed trying to do it for us.

In the year ahead, we’ll confront this crisis head- on. New technologies and techniques will help us overcome this overwhelming situation, or we’ll reach a point where expectation so dramatically outstrips capability that computing systems will take the rap for failure to deliver.

The good news is that even before this phenomenon is fully appreciated or articulated, a band of smart engineers and developers are taking on the problem and tackling the information overload of humans and computers. From smart systems that filter signal from noise to communications processors that eliminate data bottlenecks, we’ll see the first harvest of these efforts Feb. 6-8 at Demo 2006 in Phoenix.Demo 2006 in Phoenix

These products are stunning in their simplicity and design. They are sparkling engineering achievements. They demonstrate that technology can solve the problems technology creates.

Shipley is executive producer of The Demo Conferences, a biannual Network World-owned event that launches and showcases the newest emerging technology products and services. She can be reached at