How to deal with the information overload from blogs, RSS and Twitter?

A typical scenario:

You gradually increase the number of your RSS (Really Simple Syndication feeds) and Twitter subscriptions until you feel like "drowning" in a sea of information.

What to do? How to cope with the information overload?

A few tips from personal experience are listed below. Naturally, this writeup was provoked by a recent Twitter conversation.

Use Google Bookmarks to save useful links and control anxiety over information overload

Save all useful links in Google Bookmarks with labels "To Read", "To Blog," etc. Check the links a week later. You will realize that few from your saved links are worth a second look. This usually removes a large part of the anxiety over information overload.

Check your Twitter updates from last month or even last week. How many of them don't make much sense anymore? How many of them helped somebody? This also helps with the anxiety over information overload.

The key is to save the interesting links you find in a searchable database like Google Bookmarks. You can always look them up later.

You can export your Google Bookmarks at any time. Google does not lock up your data. Delicious.com, bought by the YouTube founders in April 2011 is an excellent alternative. However, Google has the advantage of a single signon for most of the services described in this article.

Use Google Reader to channel and manage large volumes of information

Channel most RSS feeds and high-volume Twitter users (more than 20 updates per day) through Google Reader. Use the "star" and "share" functions of Reader. Save to Google Bookmarks, and blog.

You don't have to read all RSS items in Google Reader (I have 500 RSS subscriptions which produce around 3,000 items per day). Just scan the headlines in Google Reader. Use folders for the ones you really want to read. I constantly switch between "condensed" and full view in Reader by using the keyboard shortcut "1" and "2".

I "star" or share the items in Google Reader that I would like to read later. The really valuable ones are saved in Google Bookmarks. Don't forget that Google Reader searches all the posts you received in you "inbox for the web". You can search only "starred" or shared posts, a particular feed, etc.

Try to "clear" your Google Reader unread items down to zero at the end of each day by following the simple sequence "bookmark, share, star, Twitter and blog. Done."

Twitter - how to control the "fire hydrant" flow of information

Twitter.com is inefficient for dealing with large volume of information. TweetDeck and Seesmic Web are better. Twitter search alerts and "subscribe to RSS" of individual users also work well. Twitter also takes time because if often requires you to click the shortened URL to see the source and full text. Google Reader extracts the full text (for full text feeds) or a snippet.

It takes approximately 2 hours a day to keep up with 200 RSS subscriptions, 100 Twitter accounts, and maintain the blog(s). It is doable, if you don't watch TV.

Centralize your online activities to gain full control over information flow

Centralize all files and links, etc. as much as possible. Make them searchable. Google services with backup is probably your best option at this time. I use Google Reader, Bookmarks, Blogger, Docs, Calendar, Gmail, Tasks. Make your information scanning and analysis centralized and as simple as possible. Use as few services as possible.

A circle of online information for maximum efficiency and impact

The circle of online information is as follows: Google Reader -> Share on Twitter -> Get feedback -> Write a blog post -> Share via RSS and Twitter -> Get feedback, go on.

Here is how to facilitate the Rise of the ePhysican who works hand in hand with the ePatient:



You may want to import your Twitter feed in Facebook as status updates by adding the Twitter application to Facebook.

Backup gives you peace of mind

I keep most my files and project in Google Docs. My browser of choice is Google Chrome with 5-6 extensions - RSS, Chromed Bird, password manager, Page Rank check, etc. If I can't install Chrome, I carry 2-3 portable browsers on a USB drive with favorite bookmarks or Chrome Sync. Good portable browsers include Chrome, Opera and Firefox.

I have an archive of scanned documents in PDF format, photos, video files, etc. that is backed up to Amazon S3, Amazon Cloud Drive and several external hard drives. The files are encrypted with 7zip and protected by 30-character unique passwords.

That's a start. If you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments below. If you have any questions, feel free to email me (the address is at the bottom of each page on this website).

References

How to Become a Super Tweeter in Just 15 Minutes a Day with iGoogle. MicroPersuasion, 2009.
Tips: How to Filter and Manage Your Online Social Life http://is.gd/vZnf
Information overload. Life in the Fast Lane, 2009.
Strategies for coping with information overload in medicine - the ostrich, the pigeon, and the owl strategy. BMJ, 2010.
Check the series "What I Read" by different people in The Atlantic (scroll to the bottom of the page to see other links) http://goo.gl/xWUb
Practical tips for better science blogging - check the comments: http://goo.gl/B1n9
Using Instapaper, RSS and Twitter to Create Your Internet Newspaper. Bridging the Nerd Gap, 2011.

Updated: 04/27/2011

15 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your process! I really like your idea of letting "important stuff" settle down for a couple of day.

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  2. That's absolutely true and a great solution - straight to the point. Aggregating countless amounts of streams can pose as a huge problem when trying to find the important information. One can, as you mentioned, 'drown' in this pool of content, without detecting the critical items.
    Beyond aggregation - there is the realm of prioritization. A new technology, my6sense, uses AI to rank content according to your preferences from ALL of your personal streams (RSS feeds, social networks, etc.). It does this without having you set preferences or give any explicit feedback, so you there's no effort involved on your part. The result: separating the signal from the noise and delivering what's most important to you, on your desktop and mobile. And since the system dynamically learns your preferences based on your consumption habits - the more you use it, the smarter it gets and brings you more relevant content.
    This is whats called 'Digital Intuition' - a sharper and better way to experience your information.
    For more go to: www.my6sense.com

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  3. Thank You. Very Useful Indeed. Thank you for responding to twitter angst. Few people have mastered the information flow and written about how to do it.

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  4. Came across a great blog post last week on using TweetDeck more effectively when you are following many people on Twitter. The video is worth watching:

    http://www.twitip.com/how-to-follow-alot-of-people-on-twitter-and-still-be-engaging-using-tweetdeck/

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  5. I noticed you are using Amazon S3 to backup your documents. Could you please check out my own freeware tool to backup to S3? http://cloudberrylab.com/

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  6. Thanks for sharing this and your other ideas about blogging / twittering effectively, they are fabulous and the flow diagram is just great.

    Sorry to be a bit dense on this but I got lost in a couple of places. I have Google Reader worked out, sort of, and checked your advice in my set up and actions. (Question 1) Do I understand that you might "share" just as an easy way of finding them later, not for the actual purpose of sharing?

    (Question 2) And by bookmarking the valuable ones you have to leave the Reader by clicking on the item link and bookmark in the normal way - I mean is there a way to bookmark within Reader?

    Now when we move on to your next section on Twitter I fundamentally get lost on how to get the Reader feeds into Twitter. You say "TweetDeck is better and Twitter search/subscribe to RSS is the best for that purpose." (Question 3) I use Tweetdeck but I don't understand the last part of your sentence?

    (Question 4) So I guess am I hung up on Step 2 of your flow, and wondering is that automated in the process you describe, or are you cutting and pasting between Reader and Tweetdeck?

    Thanks in advance for your time and attention.
    @diabetorati @dawnweslept

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  7. (Question 1) Do I understand that you might "share" just as an easy way of finding them later, not for the actual purpose of sharing?

    Share or star = "bookmark" in G Reader. This does not mean that you "share not for the purpose of sharing."

    (Question 2) And by bookmarking the valuable ones you have to leave the Reader by clicking on the item link and bookmark in the normal way - I mean is there a way to bookmark within Reader?

    Please see the answer above. There is no direct G Bookmark link from G Reader.

    Now when we move on to your next section on Twitter I fundamentally get lost on how to get the Reader feeds into Twitter.

    Copy the title and URL from G Reader or the web page you are viewing, then paste in Twitter.

    (Question 4) So I guess am I hung up on Step 2 of your flow, and wondering is that automated in the process you describe, or are you cutting and pasting between Reader and Tweetdeck?

    Cutting and pasting. The post and the diagram are about a way to work more efficiently from a particular point of view, not automation. There isn't anything automatic or technically new in the description.

    Will be happy to answer any further questions you may have. Thank you for your comment.

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  8. thanks for helping us make sense of it all man, outstanding and informative.

    have you given the Flock browser a whirl? It's a pretty cool way to streamline information flow as well, and centralize everything.

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  9. I tried Flock in 2005 with one of its early releases. Have been happy with Firefox/Opera for years.

    http://casesblog.blogspot.com/2005/10/flock-to-open-office-new-releases.html

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  10. Thanks for your answers back 3/25.
    @dawnweslept

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  11. Inverse Search Engine InverSearch Helps Reduce Information Overload. http://inversearch.blogspot.com

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  12. Charlie Curtis7/14/2009 2:52 PM

    In my job as a CIO, I've been working on tackling information overload with mixed results. My company, a professional services firm, suffers more than most because of a couple of infrastructure problems that arose from a couple of mergers.

    I've been trying to get my colleagues to acknowledge that attacking our information overload problem will improve our overall knowledge sharing collaboration efforts and also contribute to our bottom line. But some people here just don't understand the extent of the problem.

    I just read about information overload awarenesss day and I've signed up our company as a participant and designated site - I hope this will get my point across to my colleagues and help them understand what we can do to improve our overall position relative to information overload. For others in my position (and I'm sure there are many of you) I encourage you to do the same, Information is available at www.informationoverloadday.com

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  13. Have you ever tried other tools like Read It Later instead of using Google Booksmarks and Reader for everything? I also prefer to only use my Reader for feeds where I want to read (nearly) everything published from a given source. If I only want to browse an occasional article, I'd rather just put it somewhere on my Google homepage (usually under an organized tab) so I don't get information overloaded with a bunch of info I don't really care about in my Reader.

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  14. Hi Jonathan,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I like the G Bookmarks/Reader approach because it is simple and available from any Internet-connected computer or a phone. The Read It Later Firefox extension is tied to a browser... https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/7661

    iGoogle is nice but does not work very well when you read more than 3,000 items per day.

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  15. Good advice, this needs a bit of update now. It is possible to use web based note taking tools such as simplenote/Evernote to store and sort ideas, while stash your readings to read-it-later type services. I also find services such as citeulike very useful to tackle online articles and PDFs. The framework you proposed is a reasonable and nice one.

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