When I was young we used to have a blast in Florida scooping up gobs of beach sand in a sifter and then shaking out the sand in hopes of finding a shark’s tooth. Now, I find myself doing the same thing with information.
Clearly there is more tech information available than one can reasonably consume in a day, or a lifetime. I have already shared how my information consumption habits have shifted to my reading hundreds of micro hunks of content, streamed to me throughout the day, a concept I’m basing a company around. Clearly, this is a trend with legs. Stowe calls this state of mind, having a Tabbed Cerebral Cortex after reading how Amanda Mooney processes information. Likewise, Howard Rheingold is conducting in-class experiments to see how â€˜multitasking’ is affecting his students cognition as they read blogs and IM during his lectures. But don’t be fooled. This trend is not all good. Sean Murphy has a great follow-up post to mine serving as a solid counter argument to the benefits of the attention economy.
Take for example, Google Reader. Initially I subscribed to a handful of blogs where information was often synthesized via my network of blog researchers. Then as blogs become more and more plentiful, I began to run into the same stories and memes being covered from multiple perspectives — plus everything else. Blogs like Mashable went from a handful of posts a day to, IMO, too many posts a day and have now found a their groove. I even used to subscribe to keywords in Del.icio.us as it WAS a great gate-keeper for quality posts. However, now Del.icio.us subscriptions have been ruined by excessive tagging as people attempt to use the tags to drive traffic and bolster SEO.
I was excited by Google Reader’s new sharing feature which basically adds another top layer of sifting. Now, I try and subscribe to the shared articles of the people in my network I consider â€˜smart’ and I’ve cut back on my own ‘digging for content.’ While at one point I considered becoming a sharing snob, I decided against it and am a full-time supporter of the practie. Now, adding even another sifting layer to sharing is Adam Ostrow’s, ReadBurner. Adam’s not the only one who sees what I see in this trend’s business potential and competitors are coming out of the wood work (I have not had a chance to check out RSS Memeâ€¦apparently similar to ReadBurner).
In addition to Google Reader and its offshoots, I have also started using the aggregator Techmeme more frequently. I’ve also been taking advantage of other sites that â€˜weed out the crap.’ HackerNews is a great example. However I’m worried about its sustainability. HackerNews is still early enough in its lifecycle that it’s not yet overrun by spammers and excess, a situation Twitter is now dealing with.
This idea of synthesizing, aggregating and sifting information is certainly not new. The President and top CEO’s have done this for years to help them keep abreast of large quantities of industry news (At least for the President, this practice has come under fire). I think the difference though is that this same need for â€˜quality synthesis’ is now necessary for even non-presidential, common-folk like me, who want to stay a step ahead of the competition, or work on being viewed as experts in a given subject area.
Where is it all going? Maybe just as we outsource product development, one day we’ll outsource top-level sifting to information secretaries. We’ll have someone, or some program that knows exactly what we’ll want â€“ and then provide us with the most concise and insightful version. Otherwise, perhaps some Darwinian approach to information will emerge. What that would be, I don’t know, but I like the sound of it.