My changing supply chain for getting information

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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.