How to tame the daily feeds
[Editor's Note: Thomas Vander Wal has spent many years as an infovore, gathering, reading, annotating and reusing the volumes of information he has run across. Over the years, he has searched for the ever-elusive one perfect solution, method or tool. But, this digging has surfaced many approaches that work for a variety of needs, and they are what he is sharing.]Like many people, I struggle with a large amount of inbound information that has potential value today, but also value to myself and to others down the road. Being able to sift through the information and manage what is needed today, as well as keep potential future needs close at hand, is essential. A few approaches have helped me over the years, but a mix of personal practices and tools help keep some of this in check.
My practice started with a rather healthy RSS feed many years back where I followed 400 or so feeds. The daily new items in the feeds numbered well over 1,000. But in that flood, I found items of great value that I was not finding elsewhere, and that value still continues today. Those nuggets help me to be better informed for work, but also provide a solid repository for understanding and writing about the world around me.
The first round
The process still requires me to see things; it is a "who and what" pass through the information. I learned very quickly not to really read things on first pass, but to look at headlines of the individual feed items, and anything of remote interest gets opened into a Web browser with tabs. Paying attention to the source of the information, as well as to the headline, helps decide whether something gets opened in a browser tab, because certain people continually provide solid information that is worthy of attention. The first pass may have identified 60 to 70 items out of 1,000 potential ones. That step often takes 20 to 30 minutes, which indicates the depth of the review.
I found I could perform that portion of the process much more quickly in a desktop feed reader than an online reader because I could optimize the typeface size and only see headers, which allowed a view of 50 to 100 unread headers at a time to quickly skim through. Much of that was done on a Mac using NetNewswire.
A little closer look
After I have gone through all of the items in the inbound queue and things of potential value, I move onto a slightly deeper scan than just looking at the headlines. This pass assesses potential value and is a quick read of the first paragraph or scan of the whole piece to quickly assess if there is any value. If not, the tab is closed and I move on to the next item and skim it. At the end of this, I have removed duplicates and things that were not of interest or foreseen value, often in 10 minutes or so.
The last step is to go back to the remaining items (usually 10 items or so, with some days only one or two and others 30) in their open tabs and read them in more depth for current needs. Items that have current value I leave open. I will come back to them after I manage those with future value. I read the items with current value closely, summarize and add them to a work social bookmarking tool, as well as to a Web social bookmarking provider (if it is relevant and prudent).
I don't read as closely the items with future value, but I add them to a social bookmarking site, like Delicious.com, Diigo.com, or Pinboard.in (as well as to any work-related service), and tag them for my own context and others' needs, tie them to future needs as much as possible, and summarize them. I may also add those items to Instapaper.com to read at my leisure.
One nice benefit of Instapaper and Pinboard is that they work together. As I find things I want to read in depth in Instapaper, it will put the link into Pinboard as to-read, if you have the two services and accounts connected. That connection makes it relatively easy to update in Pinboard to add tags to put your context on it and a summary. I also can view the "from Instapaper" tagged items and read those I have not read, which have a tag "mark as read," if I have not read them in Instapaper.
This interwoven system is just one slice of keeping on top of the information that streams past us. As it is with many things these days, staying on top of the inbound information is essential. This approach is one of many options, but can make a good dent on staying current and informed today and tomorrow.