Monday, 8 October 2007

Waiting for the next hit

Enquiring minds has moved to  Don't forget to update your bookmarks!

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and embrace the fact that I'm an info-floozy

Fiona Bradley posting at Libraries Interact has a good post about cutting down on information overload, which brought in mind to me the draft post I've had sitting on my desktop for, oh, the last few months.

See, I have a problem with information overload. A real bad, no good, terrible problem. Now, I'll happily be the first one to admit it. I love information - thrive off it - and the wonderful glut of information on the available in these heady days of web 2.0 is a godsend to me. I'll happily lap up all of that wonderful zeitgeist coming at me through the interwebs at the moment. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't taking it's toll. And I know that it's taking it's toll on a lot of you too.

But what to do about it?

Google Reader tells me that, as of this moment, I'm subscribed to 540 blogs. Now, I know what you're thinking (I can hear the horrified gasps from here). And it is, I know. I struggle with trying to keep up with them, and manage somewhere between not too badly, and appallingly, depending on how much time I have on my hands. Now, I don't read all of them everyday (I couldn't possibly), and a lot of them update irregularly, or are dead (it's such a hassle weeding out things like that, and I really can't be bothered - it's not a problem having them there if they don't update and don't get in my way). And I do read in a lot of different subject areas - my main folders cover libraries (2 folders of those), cooking (more than I care to mention), comics, web stuff, geekery, tech, law, KM, productivity, career stuff, music, shopping, people, job hunting, and a temp folder for things that I think I want to delete, but haven't quite summoned up the courage to actually delete yet. And I know this is too much. Everyday I look at it and pale at the sight of so many unread items. It's a daunting prospect.

But then again, so is the idea of deleting them. As I said, I'm a sucker for information, and this is feeding my habit. I know I don't really need to know all of these things, but oh! they're so good to know! I get to read about beautiful new things, exciting new projects, risque politics, shiny new games, and lots of yummy things to make, lots of music to listen to, and... I don't want to be without them. I love being on the crest of the wave. I love knowing what will be coming out soon, what the new trends are, what the new tools and startups are. And I love hearing what people are saying about them - what everyone of the individual people in my reading list is saying.

And yet, I do need to cut back. And I have.

There are a lot of ways to cope with information overload like this - Fiona points out a few goods tips in her post, mostly relying on the idea of cutting shamelessly and ruthlessly and not stopping until you have the number of feeds you're subscribed to down to a manageable number. Which is all well and good, and definitely a good start, but I have a few points to add:

  • Think about how you read your blogs - I don't mind being subbed into a large number of cooking blogs and webcomics, cause essentially they're just a greatbig scroll of pretty pictures. These blogs bring me joy and give me a way of relaxing. Reading blogs doesn't just have to be about work and information - it can be about getting small bits of happy sent straight to your feedreader

  • Think about when you read - using the same example, as much as I love my sprawling mass of pretty pictures, it's not mission critical if I don't read them, or ifI only look at them a few times a week. And as long as you don't feel compelled to read things that you don't have time to read, then it's not really a problem

  • Think about what you'd lose if you unsubscribe - This is a bit of a two-edged sword - think about what you'll be losing both in the good and bad context. One good post a month probably isn't worth ten bad ones, but at the same time, if someone is only posting once a month, but it's an amazing post, it's probably a keeper

  • Don't think you have to unsubscribe to get it under control. If nothing else, I use my reader as an ersatz bookmarking service (as much as I love, things get lost there and are never seen again). Rather than unsubscribing straight away, I move subscriptions to my interim folder, and graze through it every now and then, to see what's in there. I wouldn't have subscribed to them in the first place if they weren't interesting enough to keep an eye on, but you don't have to be looking at them every day.

  • And, as a last ditch, but awfully effective method, just stop reading. Just don't do it. Don't open your reader. When you do, don't be afraid to mark whole folders'as read' before you even take a peek. Have a folder for the most vitally important, must read, top ten or twenty feeds in your list, and only look at those. (This is my strategy at the moment - I just don't have the time to be reading as much as I used to, and as such, I only read a tiny percentage of what I'm subbed to)

It's very easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information available and think that you can't escape from the mire of interesting and terribly important things that need reading. It is possible to get it under control though. Does anyone else have any tried and tested methods for keeping their subscriptions under control?

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