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Information Pollution

Cut to the chase

Saying less often communicates more. Our lives are littered with extraneous details that smother salient information, as these examples from my recent travels show.

In the lobby of the Sheraton hotel near Kennedy Airport, an electronic sign hangs above a monitor. The sign has two lines of 20 characters each, and cycles through the following four messages:

  1. For Your Informationand Convenience
  2. The Monitor Underneath Will
  3. Indicate the Flight Schedules of All
  4. Airlines at JFK Airport

Because the monitor's meaning is obvious to anyone who has ever been on an airplane, the sign adds nothing. Worse, it wastes people's time as they ponder the cycling text, assuming that it will eventually say something important. If the goal is to attract attention to the monitor, the sign could simply say:

Internet Pollution

The Internet is the worst polluter of all. Studies of content usability typically find that removing half of a website's words will double the amount of information that users actually get. Let's clean up our information environment. If users don't need it, don't write it.