My changing supply chain for getting information

It’s important to stay flexible and experiment as new technologies come along that can get you the information you need and want in a timely manner.

When the web was new in the 1990s, I had many browser bookmarks and I could cover most of the important websites. This quickly got out of hand as the number of sites increased exponentially, and so I reduced my bookmarks to a couple dozen important ones and depended on search to find what I wanted.

Alta Vista was my favorite for some time, but it eventually got replaced by Google. I dabbled with a few others and will still sometimes look at the secondary search engines to see what they list and in what priority. Using Google, I could pull the information I wanted down to me if I knew the right keywords. For what it’s worth as a confession, I hardly ever look at the ads and in fact I use AdBlocker Plus in Firefox to skip most of them.

When feeds, via RSS and then later Atom, became available, I started using feedreaders. I wasn’t interested in ones that were desktop applications because I used many different machines. Thus I gravitated toward web-based readers and, in particular, used Bloglines. I could subscribe to many sites and Bloglines would aggregate the feeds for me, saving me the trouble of bouncing from site to site.

I read this morning that Bloglines in shutting down on October 1. This doesn’t affect me because I switched to Google Reader long ago. I still use Google Reader but the problem is that with 50+ feed sources, the number of entries to read can easily exceed 1000 if I let it go a few days. Indeed, I probably only glance at Google Reader once a week and I’m actively thinking that I am dedicating time to the task while I am doing. That is, using Google Reader is well defined task that consumes my personal intellectual resources in block of time.

Another issue is that I tend to read the news from sites that come earlier alphabetically. So ars technica gets read in Google Reader often, ZDNet not so much. Still, I keep Google Reader alive and reasonably up-to-date subscription-wise. However, if it went away, I would not be bereft.

Most of my knowledge about what gets published on the web now gets pushed to me. I have half a dozen or so Google Alerts that I get daily and I can scan the results in a few seconds. If I find I’m ignoring an alert, I refine or delete it. No mercy!

Other key sources are Twitter and Facebook. I think of Twitter as something that sits in my peripheral vision, almost like a stock ticker. I might miss some information when it first appears, but if it is important it will be retweeted and I have a greater chance of seeing it later. Thus I follow not just the primary web and news sites but also people who are likely to retweet information that I care about. Thus I don’t think of the people I follow as a list but more of a structured graph related to things I care to know about.

Facebook is similar but the news if usually much more at a personal level. Indeed, I would prefer not to see Facebook entries that are fed from Twitter as I consider it redundant. When I first started using Twitter and Facebook, there was an impedance mismatch since the volume of my tweets was much higher than what should appear in Facebook.

My wife got annoyed and some of her friends remarked at the large number of Facebook updates from me, most of which were also on Twitter. I broke that connection and now actively think about what I want to say on Twitter and what I want to say on Facebook. Sometimes I put the same information in both, but that’s rare.

I use reddit from time to time to see interesting content, but I usually look at areas by category such as “sailing” and “gardening.” It is currently one of the best sources for driving readers to my blog.

By the way, I learned about the shutdown of Bloglines on Twitter and I followed a link to a blog entry. I probably have that blog entry somewhere in Google Reader, but I’ll probably do a mass “mark as read” to clear the queue before I ever see it there.

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  1. Bob: Do you use Instapaper? This has become fundamental to my info consumption workflow. Here’s how it works for me:

    1. Find content using Google Reader, Twitter links, Facebook links
    2. If article non-trivial in length and looks interesting, click “Read Later” bookmark to save to Instapaper
    3. Go through Instapaper queue via iPad app for 30-90 minutes in the evening

    Reading moderate- to long articles on Instapaper on the iPad is a real joy because of the lack of distractions (because of single app iPad interface and Instapaper lack of clutter).

  2. Bill, I’ll do a followup entry on what I use on the iPad. I haven’t settled on any one app. I also think that the way I use an iPad is different enough from a desktop or laptop that it is worth separate consideration.

  3. @bob_sutor I’ve managed to remain stable on the way I publish information over the past 6 months, but have had to revise the way I’ve been reading in the past week.

    I’ve been using Google Reader for news articles and blog content for some time, and had been using Friendfeed’s “imaginary friend” feature to get a richer way of following Twitter. Unfortunately, the Twitter feeds aren’t working since the OAuth switch, effectively killing off much of the benefits from Friendfeed (effectively unsupported since the acquisition by Facebook).

    I’ve been reorganizing my folders so that I follow Twitter people in Google reader the same way I’ve been following blogs. It’s changed the way I read content. I already had sorted the blog reading by family first, then friends, colleagues, etc. and now I’m reading the tweets in that same priority.

    It is a bit of effort to get each person’s Twitter RSS address into Google Reader, but I’m finding the categorized reading worthwhile. Twitter unfiltered has been just too noisy for me. One continuing annoyance to Google Reader is that I would prefer to read oldest first, which isn’t as well supported as newest first, so I’ve become accustomed to scrolling from the bottom of the page towards the top.

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