April 01, 2008

How You Handle the Information Overload Is Up to You

This morning, AideRSS introduced an interesting tool that lets you filter your RSS feeds in Google Reader, flagging only those which have been deemed most important, thanks to criteria you set. (Get your invite codes here and see Read/Write Web's coverage)

The concept behind a filter like this is to help you tackle information overload by showing a subset of your feeds, highlighting only those which have gained attention by others, through AideRSS' unique approach, tabulating total number of comments, del.icio.us links, Google links, Diggs, etc. (See our coverage from December) But to me, while I definitely like what AideRSS is trying to do, I don't necessarily want what I read to be determined by the actions of others. I want to be the one who decides, based on the content of an item, if it's something I want to have interest in, to read in full, to share, to comment, or link to. And I would assume that as AideRSS needs some time to populate the attention graph, it would only become most useful as the time after initial publication increases.

When it comes to RSS feeds, many dread the number of items they wake up to each day.

Mark "Rizzn" Hopkins, a Mashable editor, in a comment on FriendFeed in response to one of my items, recently said, "Try waking up to about 700 unread inbox items and at least the same number of unread RSS items every morning (only after about 5 hours sleep)! Being an editor is tired work!"

And if it's not managed, it can be. Two weeks ago, I suggested a reader has 1-5 seconds to make a decision on an RSS item. But even if this is a challenge, I would rather be the one making the decision on a feed than letting software tell me what to read, or waiting for others to have already had their say before I get to news.

To me, automated filtering of content to show the most important items, such as that found in TechMeme, ReadBurner, RSSMeme, Feedheads and LinkRiver, is a great tool - because those algorithms are most frequently pointed at feeds I haven't subscribed to. Those robots can bring me new data from sources I don't hit every day. But when it comes to those feeds I've picked to read, you won't ever find me complaining about information overload. I love it. I look forward to new items in Google Reader. I look forward to seeing new items in FriendFeed and Twitter and new e-mail, both at home and at work.

You won't find me declaring RSS feed bankruptcy, or hitting "Mark all as read" in Google Reader. You won't find me complaining about having 100 or 1000 items to go through. As Robert Scoble has often said about Twitter, it's not who is followed the most, but who follows the most, and if I can choose to get the most amount of information in as quickly as possible, instead of waiting for others to tell me it's important, I've got an advantage. But if you are losing the battle against information overload, AideRSS and Google Reader have a strong tool. You can get yours here: http://gr.aiderss.com/?svblog


  1. I feel the same way. I was getting info overload but decided that filtering just wasn't the answer for me. I went and built my own rss reader with tag support. So I weight tags and feeds and get the info that I specify is important to me. I've been documenting it at http://tubejumper.com.

  2. Louis,

    Excellent item.

    I have never understood the complaints about RSS and information overload.

    The analogy I like to use is reading a newspaper. You wouldn't read every word from front to back. You scan headlines and zero-in on items of interest. Exactly what I do with Google Reader (and another helpful approach is entering keywords in its search box).


  3. I totally understand the anxiety of having a piece of software filter *out* certain RSS items from your reader. There's always the worry that something important may have gotten axed. It would be like subscribing to a newspaper and finding certain pages missing.

    But what about instead of filtering out RSS items, we used intelligent software merely to *sort* the items by predicted level of interest? Would you be more comfortable with that? You'd still have access to the entire universe of information, but you'd be able to scan it more effectively. Through simple feedback, I bet you could train a pretty good sorting algorithm customized for your likes/dislikes.

  4. Adding to the AideRSS filtering I could further recommend summarization application. I'm using Context Organizer to summarize my reading material. When at a click of a button I see the keywords and the most important sentences - that helps me to quickly decide how useful the information is. In my experience summarization helps with finding specific information in a sea of disparate content and is critical in quickly focusing on the most relevant information. For more see: Context Discovery Inc.