Information hubs in a post-email world

Feb 15, 2008 10:20 · 384 words · 2 minute read

I came across an interesting summary article from MIT titled “In today’s knowledge-based economy, it pays to be an ‘information hub’”, based on some research looking at email flows:

“The researchers found that information workers whose strong e-mail networks allow them to receive new information sooner than their peers — or to receive more pieces of new information — are likely to be more productive than their less well-connected counterparts. Workers who are “information hubs” complete more projects in a given period of time and thus generate more revenue for their firm.

As part of a study of an executive recruiting firm conducted over a five-year period, the researchers were able to analyze ten months of the firm’s e-mail traffic. While the content of the recruiting firms’ e-mails was encrypted to ensure individuals’ privacy, the research team could track the flow of particular encrypted words through the firm’s e-mail network. The researchers then correlated those findings with data (provided by the firm and by individual employees who voluntarily took part in a survey) about factors such as individual workers’ project workload, project completion time and compensation — to gain dramatic new insights into productivity in the Information Age.”

There are some interesting ideas here, but the research was email-based - thus missing out on any other types of communication that the subjects were plugged into. It would be fascinating to run the same research again, but this time plugging in non-email communication routes, such as IM or Twitter. Does being connected to a network of like-minded Twitterers make you more effective, or does it result in information overload and productivity decreases?

And it’s also unusual to read some positive findings relating to email - the trend seems to be for it to be regarded as a problem rather than part of the solution. I’ll admit to being sceptical about email being entirely and unremittingly evil - like any tool, it can be misused, but there are obviously situations where it adds value. Perhaps the most telling reflection of the way that the information landscape has changed is that I didn’t find this article in my inbox - instead it popped up on a newsfeed of someone else’s bookmarks, a combination of RSS feeds and social bookmarking in action.

Technorati Tags: blogging, email, information, flow