Community Information Bankruptcy

Have you ever visited an internet community, seen an overwhelming number of posts and messages, and decided to “mark all as read” or give up on reading any of it? In doing so, you are declaring information bankruptcy.

Information bankruptcy is a common problem for communities to have. When there is too much information to absorb, members often give up on absorbing any of it at all. It’s a play off of email bankruptcy, where someone ignores or deletes all emails beyond a certain date.

It is a bad sign when a large percentage of members are declaring information bankruptcy. It means the community is providing too much information members don’t care about. They aren’t helping members make sense of that information. Members become overwhelmed and demoralized. They begin to question whether any of the information they absorb is worth it. This leads to the bigger question of whether they should spend time in the community at all.

Slower platforms like Reddit, Circle, and Forums do a better job at showing members the most important information first and one piece of information at a time. Faster platforms, like Discord or Slack, overwhelm members by having seemingly endless channels and messages. The platform a community uses plays a large role in the handling of information, both for creating new information and absorbing old information.

Predicting Information Bankruptcy

Information bankruptcy can’t be fully solved, but it can be managed. Many members are going to have an extremely low bar for declaring bankruptcy. Predicting when and how much it will happen requires an understanding of the current state of information flows within a community. Questions to ask:

  1. What is a reasonable amount of time for someone to spend per day or week in a community?
  2. Can a motivated member (or manager) get through a day’s worth of information for one channel in a day’s worth of time?
  3. Can a motivated member (or manager) get through a week’s worth of the information for every channel on one platform a week’s worth of time?

People have different amounts of time and effort they are willing to spend on communities. Those who are willing to spend more will have a higher bar for bankruptcy. Communities with these motivated members can provide them with more information. On the other hand, if a community is trying to appeal to as many people as possible, their bar for bankruptcy will be lower. There is a balance to be struck between appealing to the motivated and the masses depending on the goal of the community. 

Solutions

There are solutions to limiting information bankruptcy, and they are all about the way a community handles information. The amount of information a community creates and shows to members should be similar to what members can handle. Some solutions:

  1. Limit the amount of information provided to members. Maintain strong channel boundaries. If channels are flooded with off-topic information, people are more likely to declare bankruptcy on them. Announcements and news channels should be used less often with more important information. Encourage conciseness and quality.
  2. Make information more digestible. Summarize what happens in the community every day or week. Have best-of posts and provide easy access to the all-time best information. Use threads to split information/conversations away from the main feed.
  3. Guide members on how to avoid information bankruptcy. Hide or mute channels and notifications they don’t care about. Tell them they don’t need to read every message. Tell them where and when to get the information they want (FAQs, Q&A threads). Provide them with the tools they need to manage information in onboarding.

Information bankruptcy always happens. People have a limit on information they can handle, we are all busy, and have different priorities. Successful communities provide solutions to help people at each interest level limit the amount they are declaring information bankruptcy. In doing so, they can keep members interested and provide value to them. It is a worthwhile priority for communities.


Thanks to David Burt and Asad Rahman from Foster for the feedback.

Let me know what you think on Twitter.

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