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Report: Information Overload Costs U.S. $900B

The problem is getting worse.

Every year, research firm Basex calculates the cost of information overload and the numbers keep going up by a staggering amount. For 2008, Basex estimates information overload cost the U.S. economy $900 billion in lost productivity. For 2006, that figure was $588 billion.

"We're continuing to generate more content, and companies like Google introduce silly things like a feature in GMail that lets you set 'Reply All' as a default setting," Basex CEO and chief analyst Jonathan Spira told InternetNews.com. "I don't think there is enough awareness of the problem."

To raise awareness, Basex has released a free "Information Overload Calculator" designed to give a rough estimate of the impact the problem has on individual organizations.

Even in this era of $700 billion bailouts, the Basex estimate is so enormous it might easily be dismissed as unreal. But Spira said he's confident in his figures, which are based in part on U.S. labor statistics and census information of hourly wages.

"We know how much time people potentially lose in productivity from our research. I'm actually convinced our estimates are conservative," Spira said. "But let's say it's half of $900 billion -- that's a big number, too. The purpose of this is to be a canary in the coal mine and show the problem is real."

So how should businesses respond?

While Spira said he has no expectation any company can deal with information 100 percent efficiently every day of the week. But he does have suggestions.

"Let's say you have $10 million exposure to the problem. If you can take some basic steps like e-mailing fewer people and being more conscious of how your actions affect the workflow of others and bring that number down to $8 million, that's pretty good."

He also suggests there are a number of third-party programs that can help filter and organize emails to cut down on interruptions and unnecessary communications.

Conference call hell? It's now a movie

Basex, doesn't usually include movie reviews in its popular free e-mail newsletter on the perils of information overload. But Conference Call, a short, seven-minute flick made by former Basex analyst Andy Maskin, was too good to pass up.

The film, available for free viewing here, is a funny, seven-minute send-up of a fictitious company dealing with the aftermath of a crisis in a dysfunctional, often painfully realistic conference call. As Cody Burke, a senior analyst at Basex, put it, the film is "an inside joke, the kind of film that if you've been there, on that kind of call, is funny and all too true."

For example: Small talk ensues while participants wait for everyone to get on the scheduled call, participants make statements that clearly show they weren't listening to something just said and rarely do comments address the actual topic at hand.

"It's great, it gives you a very vivid visual of information overload and people not listening to others," Spira said.

And if that helps people understand the problem, Spira said it'll be another weapon in the battle against information overload.