Each one of us makes a very personal decision about how to find, filter and understand information to help us live our lives and succeed in our careers. Our goals, interests and personal styles shape what, why and how we sift through the content and context created by the maze of interactions on the web. Instead of focusing on the strategies and tactics that I use to filter the web, consider my own methods and tools as just the best way that I know how, right now, to achieve what I want; like all of us, I’m always looking for ideas and ways to improve.
Considerations and Creating a General Philosophy
Before you think about tools, think about you and what you want to achieve: how much time do you have to devote to consuming information? How much noise is “too much” for you? What methods have you tried, for how long, and what has been successful for you? What networks do you use to connect to people and information? What do you want to do with the information, insights and (hopefully) knowledge that passes through your filters? For example, do you want to find new sources of information, cut out repetitive sources, reduce the time you spend online, spend more time creating, automate your filters, focus on breaking news or in-depth, timeless analysis?
Think about these questions to create your own strategies and goals, but I’ll start with outlining my general philosophy:
- I devote an hour or two a day to reading news and in-depth analysis, and I like following a range of topics and a wide range of people.
- I’m willing to dig through a fair amount of noise to find great signals.
- I try to use algorithms and people to curate my news; I use a mix of searches and popularity-ranking algorithms to find information, but I depend on people to filter content and add their own analysis and point of view.
- I do not read newspapers or major primary news sources; again, I depend on interesting people to find what I should read.
- I feel no need to read everything that pops through my filters; if it’s important enough, it will find me again eventually.
- I’m not terribly concerned with keeping up with the real-time web; it often takes a bit of time to truly process new information and understand the second-order impacts.
- I love to engage bloggers and comment on posts in order to learn, refine my thoughts, and dig deeper into topics with knowledgeable people.
- I want to structure and pass on the information that I find in a way that goes beyond just passing along information but adds something to the conversation, whether it’s an insight, a connection between bits of information or people, or simple something too interesting not to share with my friends.
Given the philosophy, how do I do it?
Using Feeds to Follow People: Blogs, Backtype, Twitter
Blogs continue to be the focus of my filtering efforts due to my focus on long-form content, but as more and more content and interactions have shifted to micro-interactions I find myself needing to use more platforms to find information, links and people.
I use Backtype to create RSS feeds of searches through comments for terms and topics of interest, but I truly enjoy following the comment streams (using RSS feeds) from individuals as a way to see what is truly important to them.
I use Twitter to find links to information, but I don’t use any special tools or tactics other than dipping into the stream from time to time. I use feeds from Twitter search to follow certain keywords, but I also follow @ replies to certain people to see who is talking to them or sharing information with them.
Organizing the Feeds: Google Reader and PostRank
I know many people have sworn off RSS, but I continue to use RSS and RSS readers (my personal choice: Google Reader) as a way to consolidate the streams of information. I use RSS to bring to me a mix of blogs, searches and Google Alerts to follow the web, and I use categories in Google Reader to attempt to structure the information . I have a “best” category to follow the sources I find to be consistently interesting and a mixture of other categories organized into different topics or goals. This is far from static: I add and remove feeds, blogs, categories constantly to find new sources of information and new ways to organize.
Additionally I use PostRank and AideRSS’s Google Reader Firefox extension to integrate PostRank with Google Reader in an attempt to figure out which posts are “can’t-miss”; but given that I am open to sifting through a lot of noise and that I depend on many people that do not have a huge following, I find Postrank isn’t the best fit for my own filtering strategies. I’ve tested BlogRollr and Filtrbox to find and filter information, but I’m always on the lookout for new algorithms and methods for adding more “relevance” and context to my filtering tactics.
Yes, that’s a simple set of tools, somewhat inefficient and ripe for over-consumption, but the benefits from depending on loose networks and “structuring serendipity” to introduce me to great concepts, insights and people is simply too great to give up … yet.