Google Blogoscoped

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Push vs Pull Gradient

Some notes on that picture:

You can place many more items on this gradient. Like a web portal to the left/ middle, and a search engine to the right. Some items change depending on the context (e.g. there are pushy people who will move the face-to-face conversation toward the left side of the gradient; think of the salesman guy in Groundhog Day).

Several factors influence your input’s location on the push/ pull gradient: does the channel deliver information to you by surprise (or did you decide to consume it beforehand)? Does the channel demand that you handle with it at this moment (or does it allow you to save it for later)? Is the channel flexible to interrupts? What priority does the channel have in relation to other channels? Does the channel react or merely act?

In our lives, we all make different decisions regarding which channels to open up, and how to prioritize them. For instance, it’s unlikely that someone replies to your email by saying, “Hang on for a minute, there’s a phone call coming in.” Because almost instinctively, many of us will give a phone call higher priority, and as opposed to an email, the call – if we decide to answer it – also demands our real-time attention. In other contexts the prioritization is less clear; some people will not interrupt a face-to-face conversation for a cell phone call, while others might (do you turn off your phone in a restaurant? Do you turn off your door-bell when you’re eating at home? Do you ignore someone in your room who approaches you from the side, to talk to you, when you’re chatting on instant messenger that second?).

Often technology helps us to organize the priorization, or to move a medium along the push/ pull axis... for instance, a tape recorder pushed the radio from push towards pull some decades ago (e.g. a tape you’re playing can handle interrupts – unlike radio, you can pause the tape during an incoming phone call). In the other direction, a website can turn into a blog to move a bit more towards push, and it can move further towards push when people use a feed reader to digest it.

And perhaps a future tool (aiding our brains) presents us with a meta input channel, turning all sub-channels into a single new channel, allowing us to better prioritize the input. The interface could consist of a default meta tab as well as optional channel specific sub-tabs (color-coded, e.g. “cyan = email”), and we can assign a prioritization factor to every contact + channel (say, people you never talked to will have a higher prioritization factor; also, an incoming telephone call will be prioritized higher than an incoming IM chat request). A tool like this would decrease “accidental channel hopping” (“excuse me, there’s a phone call coming in”... or, “I opened my email to do X, but ended up doing Y because I saw a surprising email that triggered another task”). In this meta channel, which summarizes our numerous calls, radio shows we want to listen to, podcasts, blog posts, phone calls, to-do items, door bells ringing, TV shows we want to see, movies we want to see, events we want to attend, job tasks, emails, chat requests, social network friend approval requests etc., all input could be ordered into a giant single list (with the color-assigned items, e.g. cyan) you can then work through from top-to-bottom.

(It wouldn’t be a tool for everyone. Input channels which deliver surprises can be addicting. Some of us open their email inbox every few minutes, and are happy for every new SMS; it tickles the brain, and can aid to structure our day through small breaks from our main tasks, just like a cigarette break can. We can also hop the channels whenever we’re temporarily stuck on one channel. And some people get all their work done in seemingly chaotic, merely associative fashion, but with the same end result: after a time, the work has been done, and all input channels have been taken care of.)


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