Sunday, February 22, 2004

Jon's Radio: Heads, decks, and leads: revisited [on info overload etc.]

Jon's Radio: Heads, decks, and leads: revisited [on info overload etc.] "In his essay Birth of the NewsMaster, Robin Good writes:
'I have seen and heard of people subscribing to hundreds if not to thousands of feeds inside their RSS aggregators.
Is that manageable? Do these people get better and more information than everyone else?
It is not. They don't.'
Information architecture is one of my abiding passions. Designing an information display that can be efficiently scanned is something I've thought a whole lot about. So I'm particularly keen to understand why some people report being overwhelmed by too much RSS input, while others say they're able to process lots of it effectively.
Yesterday, for example, Steve Gillmor told me that he's feeling overwhelmed by thousands of unread items in NetNewsWire. Yet I never feel that way. I suspect that's because I'm reading in batches of 100 (in the Radio UserLand feedreader). I scan each batch quickly. Although opinions differ as to whether or not a feed should be truncated, my stance (which I'm reversing today) has been that truncation is a useful way to achieve the effect you get when scanning the left column of the Wall Street Journal's front page. Of the 100 items, I'll typically only want to read several. I open them into new Mozilla tabs, then go back and read them. Everybody's different, but for me -- and given how newspapers work, I suspect for many others too -- it's useful to separate the acts of scanning and reading. When I'm done with the batch, I click once to delete all 100 items."

I share Steve's pain -- I'm finding it difficult to keep up with all of the RSS feeds I find interesting/useful. On the other hand, given a choice between my current info-foraging tools/modus operandi and my earlier approaches, e.g., circa 1988, when I used to spend a couple hours each week hitting the shelves at Lotus' Information Resources Group library, and several more hours each week skimming weekly hard-copy press, I'm much better informed today.

Blogs and RSS have made a major difference for me during the last couple years. I now spend far less time reading email newsletters and routinely visiting Web sites, and much more time in FeedDemon, skimming headlines etc. I also still spend what most people would probably consider an inordinate amount of time reading hard-copy periodicals; I subscribe to a couple dozen IT and general business press pubs.

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