Information Overload, Attention, and RSS

Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote a fascinating piece on ReadWriteWeb today about Ten Common Objections to Social Media Adoption and How You Can Respond. Those of you who follow Marshall on Twitter know that he frequently socializes ideas for posts like this one on Twitter as he writes the article getting real-time feedback on ideas. This one was a particularly interesting discussion to watch as it unfolded. I only wish I hadn’t been quite so slammed today so that I could have paid more attention to it.

I saw what I think is a common theme across a few of the items in Marshall’s list of common objections. Information overload. People increasingly have difficulties managing the stream of information vying for our attention every second of the day. If we participate in social media and the increasing numbers of new online tools, how can we possibly pay attention to all of it? Here are a few items from Marshall’s list of objections that seem to fall into this category:

1. I suffer from information overload already.
2. So much of what’s discussed online is meaningless. These forms of communication are shallow and make us dumber. We have real work to do!
3. I don’t have the time to contribute and moderate, it looks like it takes a lot of time and energy.
9. There are so many tools that are similar, I can’t tell where to invest my time so I don’t use any of it at all.

Quoted from ReadWriteWeb

This is where RSS and other tools that help us manage where we do and do not focus our attention come into play. I agree with some of these objections to a point. Yes, there is information overload; yes, it takes time and energy; yes, some of it is shallow and meaningless; and yes, it can be hard to figure out where to invest your time. However, and this is a big however, it can be easier than many think.

Tools like RSS can really help you prioritize where you focus your attention. I use Netvibes as my RSS reader with topics organized by tab and information organized by how important / credible it is. I have separate tabs for Web 2.0/social media, open source, community, Jive, and a few misc. tabs. Each one has the stuff that I want to pay the most attention to at the top with lower priority feeds near the bottom. It really helps me stay organized and focused on those things that are important to me.

Yahoo Pipes takes this one step further. You can aggregate information from multiple feeds and filter it by keywords and other items to create very specific targeted feeds. I’ve just started playing with Yahoo Pipes, so I hope to have a more detailed analysis on it in a couple of weeks after I’ve had time to explore more of what it can do.

The point is that we all have difficulty managing information overload and our attention stream; however, we can’t let this stop us from exploring new technologies and new ideas. The solution is not to avoid these new tools. Our focus should be on finding ways to better manage this stream of information in a way that increases, not decreases, our productivity.

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