Managing information flood
August 14, 2005 10:29 AM   Subscribe

I am now permanently overwhelmed by the amount of information I have access to and want to read. My web favorites and RSS feeds providing news/know how/info are in the thousands, with most however remaining unvisited and unread. I am now trying to devise a scheme which will help me prioritize the sources I should regularly visit/read - perhaps a ratings system based on key variables: Originality, Relevance, Freshness, Popularity, Quality, etc How do you deal with the information flood ? Any suggestions? Any sites that address the same issue?
posted by Voyageman to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Part of the whole battle is channeling your desires into attainable reading goals. As a younger person I realized I couldn't read every book in the library no matter how old I lived, so I needed to make choices. Perhaps you do too.

That said, I put information in virtual different places, staggered according to how often I need to get at them, a rating systems of sorts or at least a triage system. I keep 100 feeds tops in my RSS reader, including mine so I can check on them. This forces a sort of choice efficiency making me keep only the best sources and being merciless in removing ones I don't like/use. Web pages of friends and people I mostly want to have handy go into a bookmarks friends file which has a subfolder called "archived" for people I no longer keep up with, or who no longer update. Wesbsites that are fun that I want to get back to go into bookmarks folders labelled To Read, To Link, To Do, etc. Links that need to make their way into my blog are Links that need to make their way to my peer group are unalogged. Bloglines holds second string blogs. I keep a toollbar of the sites I check in on regularly [mefi pages, mefi admin pages, gmail account 1, gmail account 2, google news, livejournal dfriends feed, flickr, recipe source, wordpress, my booklist admin page] and keep a few open in tabs at any given time.

The real trick is developing a route through all of these sources that ensures that you visit some more than others. I can see what my path looks like in my head, but I'm not sure I could explain it to you. Having the lists in different pseudo-physical locations via my desktop definitely helps with this. It's being able to stay on this path around your information that's crucial -- so no directories become completely stagnant, so the To Do list gets looked at, so links get posted to the blog, so links that have served their purpose are removed -- or else it all falls apart.

I know you're being sincere, but honestly any time you spend rating your links is time you can't spend reading them. Since you've already said you have too much to read, perhaps way too much to read, you might want to back up and think about what your ultimate goal is in staying so connected. Then think about whether that goal would be better met by reading fewer sources well, or whether it's really important to scan many sources less well. Each person has their own place to set that dial, but a re-evaluation of how you want to be doing this is an important part of doing it right.
posted by jessamyn at 11:05 AM on August 14, 2005 [1 favorite]

Somewhat related thread here.
posted by keijo at 11:17 AM on August 14, 2005

You're asking advice on this from people who read AskMe? Just kidding, AskMe's great.

Whenever I travel for a week (which is very frequent) it becomes especially hard to keep up on the blogs (which I do through Facing an insurmountable pile of mostly- crap ephemera to wade through, it occurs to me "If reading 40 entries in that blog seems like a chore... let's unlink it!"

Mostly I read lefty blogs that all link to one another ("There was a post here that made some interesting point") and I've begun to convince myself that I don't need to read all of them -- anything sufficiently timeworthy will be linked from one of the ones I do read. That means I'm supporting the current link hierarchy, I guess, and if I were a blogger myself I'd probably feel bad about it. (I'm not.)
posted by Aknaton at 11:25 AM on August 14, 2005

I use Bloglines as well. I've found that most of my feeds end up repeating information that's posted elsewhere. The trick is to follow the flow of information, find the sites that are reliable, objective sources, and remove everything else. Even then, I find that I spend much too much time on the internet, but it's a lot better.

Also: remove any sites (political or otherwise) whose content you can entirely predict day to day. These are pointless, since the fact that you can predict their commentary means that it's basically noise.

The final thing to do is just to spend some time reflecting on what information you actually NEED to absorb. If you end up spending most of your time absorbing information, you'll have trouble ever putting it to good use.
posted by selfnoise at 11:37 AM on August 14, 2005

On a related tangent, wasnt attention.xml supposed to be the end-all-be-all for this problem?
posted by menace303 at 12:05 PM on August 14, 2005

My web favorites and RSS feeds providing news/know how/info are in the thousands

There's your problem, right there. Get out the gun.

Bookmarks are for static pages or rarely updated or accessed.

Bloglines or [insert favorite RSS reader] are for the stuff that you do want to keep up with. I with Bloglines were easier to organize -- I don't find the one-level folder system more than marginally helpful. A reader with tag support would be nice.

For a while I did use Bloglines for some stuff and Kinja for others, but I hardly use the latter now -- and there's a lot of stuff I'd like to add to Bloglines but don't dare, like a ton of music blogs.

That said, 43folders is always talking about stuff like this (especially in the Yahoo group). Workflow is something you have to build organically, but the Getting Things Done scheme seems to work for a lot of people (think modal to-do lists). Some people devise elaborate schemes to classify the papers on their desk and such. I think it's possible that some combination of an RSS reader, a customized start page, toolbar buttons, and possibly some Firefox extensions would let you build something that works for you.
posted by dhartung at 5:00 PM on August 14, 2005

This is less about organising/managing the habit and more about kicking it:
I look back at the week, consider all the semi-interesting stuff I learned that, when I take a good hard look at it, while fun, it has minimal use for me. And I compare it to what I could have acheived if I spent the time doing more useful things, such as working on one of the many backburner projects that I haven't touched in months, where I would building something during which I will develope new skills that will be with me and useful for life, (not to mention have gained whatever I built). Or going places and experiencing things myself instead of just reading about them. Or about physical acheivements in which I only really have a few more years left before age starts to encroach on my potential - many things can ONLY be done now while I'm young enough. I can still get my fill of RSS feeds when I'm 75, but at that age I can nolonger get the thrill of doing the things can only be done when in your prime and as physically magnificent as you can be. Therefore, do the stuff today that you can't do when you're 75, and concentrate today on the stuff that if you don't do now, you'll never be able to do.

By that time, the web and over-reading is put in a perspectice that makes it almost seem like a heroin habit in it's effect on my goals in life, so, uh, I'm going to cut this short, sign off now, and actually go DO something :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:23 PM on August 14, 2005

dhartung: I don't find the one-level folder system more than marginally helpful. A reader with tag support would be nice.

Rojo lets you tag both feeds and posts.
posted by mumble at 5:32 PM on August 14, 2005

I really like jessamyn's response (as usual). However, I wanted to add that "information overload," as cliché as it sounds, is a real problem. Sometimes too much information is definitely less. Less is more when filtered and better able to be absorbed. This is a serious problem with the advent of the new media and will continue to be a problem until we can develop even more filtered means of delivering personalized information. Sometimes we have to shut it all off, go for a long walk and forget all the information flowing through the pipes en masse. Overwhelming is an understatement when it comes to the information influx that is the twenty-first century.
posted by Independent Scholarship at 7:58 PM on August 14, 2005

You can deal with this a number of ways, but my preference has always been by paring down. The thing that helped me pare down my information consumption was the realization that information, in and of itself, is not valuable. You've probably heard that information is power, etc etc, but what the people who said that meant was the right information is powerful. If information in and of itself was powerful, libraries would be behind bank vaults.

The first thing to do is to unsubscribe from all email lists that have websites. If they have a website, then you don't need to volunteer yourself to be their information archiver. My email box is for my friends and I. I do get robot mail, but it's financial stuff that I want to be informed of pretty quickly.

In the average week you don't really need to spend more than a few hours on general news consumption. Less would be better. The only reason to do so would be if you were paid to or to pass the time on a commute. Why is this? Because stuff that you need to know about, events that are going to change your life, or that you're just interested in, don't happen very often. Just how it is.

Books, unless I have a compelling reason to buy them, I tend to checkout from the library. This does two things: creates a due date when I need to finish the book by, which in turn forces me to prioritize everything else on the list, and gives me a reason to return the book faster if it isn't grabbing my interest. I'm not going to spend a dollar on overdue fines for a book I didn't even like. For someone who reads as much as I do, I've probably saved hundreds of dollars with my library card.

RSS feeds, weblogs and websites: I have one bookmark folder titled "the news" which contains my daily/semi-daily/semi-weekly bookmarks. Most are news websites, a couple thinktanks, etc. There's about 30 in there, and as I don't visit probably ten of them in the average week so I could certainly pare it down. I would suggest you use your RSS Feeds like your "news" bookmark folder. If you don't use a bookmark or a feed in a week, get rid of it.

Remember: it's not your job to be informed. People don't rely on you to know the latest stock numbers, sports scores, political machinations and dev paths. People want you to create for them, so find and consume information that only helps you do that. Sometimes that's going to be a blog post about a new Greasemonkey script. Other times it's going to be an album review of music that will get your mind off Greasemonkey scripts. Occasionally, it'll be a Lous Menand essay about little-known Cold Warriors. Pare down until you have a nice balance and no more.

One more thing: last year a bunch of media studies came out and one really grabbed my attention. Media researchers found that the most well-informed people on current events weren't the people who consumed the most news. No, the most informed people read a lot of books. (They also tended to have advanced degrees.) If anything, this should prove to you that you don't need consume a lot information to be informed, you just need to consume good information.
posted by raaka at 11:24 PM on August 14, 2005

Some tips, in no particular order. I haven't tried them all yet, but I intend to very soon :-)

1. Pare down, as some people have said. Unsubscribe from 50% of the feeds you have. It's up to you how to decide which you keep.

2. Hard copy! Print things out and read them during otherwise dead time. Train journeys, in bed.

3. Kill your TV. Give it away, sell it, whatever. More reading time.

I think it's a question of prioritising. You really don't need all that information, you just think you do. "Want" and "need" are different.
posted by ajp at 1:57 AM on August 15, 2005

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