Category: Social Media

Taming a torrent of information

A few days ago, I read this post over at The Atlantic Wire in which the amazing Maria Popova shares her media diet, a daily regimen that truly earns its “regimen” status. Popova starts early, digesting long-form reading on her iPad while exercising, then combs through Google Reader feeds and a well-manicured Twitter portfolio to find the dynamite content for her extraordinary Brain Pickings blog. It’s a peek into the process of one of our finest content curators and an example to follow for any information gatekeepers out there.

I’ll be starting up a blog on behalf of The Arts Partnership in a few short weeks, so this was a perfect time to reassess my own media diet and steal a few pages from Popova’s playbook. After years of wanton Twitter-following, Facebook-liking, Tumblr-following, RSS-subscribing, and email-newsletter-signing-up, and after around a dozen news apps and news aggregators, I realized it was time to solidify around a system that allowed me to efficiently find the news, information, and spiffy content in order to attempt to walk astride with the likes of the mighty Maria. And so, after about four days of thinking, sorting, and prioritizing, here’s what I came up with in terms of platforms, apps, and how they’re sorted:

Twitter’s the thing. I love the elegance of Twitter and the ability to sift through large amounts of information quickly and easily. Paired with Flipboard, Twitter becomes a living magazine of text and multimedia for the iPad. Most of my time over the last few days was spent culling my followees from around 1000 to around 850 and sorting them into a handful of Twitter lists. Lists work well with Flipboard, but they work even better with Silver Bird, a Chrome extension that gives me a steady drip of whatever list I choose. Silver Bird, by the way, has roughly doubled the value of Twitter for me.

So, Twitter forms the backbone of this whole enterprise. Little tweets like rivulets that form a rushing torrent of information ready to be parsed and enjoyed. Twitter also factors heavily into my usage of Bottlenose, a new Hootsuite-like social media desktop client that shows immense potential through its ability to sort information streams.

And then there’s Flipboard. I do a lot on my iPad, but 90 percent of its value comes in the way it allows me to kick back, read news, watch videos, etc. It’s an excellent information portal, if not the best, and Flipboard makes information streams beautiful and customizable at the same time. I load it with my Google Reader feeds, Twitter stream, Tumblr stream, and Facebook wall. It’s an incredibly potent tool, and it integrates well with Evernote (where I store interesting links and ideas) and Instapaper (where I store long-form reading). Flipboard is the bomb, but it’s still not my first source of information in the morning, the first being…

Pulse. Having both Pulse (essentially a slick RSS aggregator) and Flipboard on the iPad started as a way for me to pick one and run with it, but I ended up falling in love with both. Pulse’s strength over Flipboard is the ability to see information sources in one place vs. mixed into the same stream. If I want to sort through information from Twitter, say, then I go to Flipboard. But, if I want to select content from specific sources,  it’s easier for me to find through Pulse. You can do this with Flipboard by adding streams to the home page, I guess, but I prefer the way Pulse presents it. It also bears mentioning that Pulse works a bit better with the iPhone’s smaller screen, making it a better way to check news on the go.

The TL;DR here is this: sorting by stream = Flipboard, sorting by source = Pulse.

Day parts. I listen to public radio throughout the day. My favorite programs are Marketplace, All Things Considered, World Cafe, American Routes, and Radiolab. I also love Into the Music, the daily music service provided by Prairie Public (I worked there in college).

I check Pulse in the morning to catch up on local, regional, national, and world news, then usually check Facebook to see what’s happening in my neighborhood. I get on Flipboard at least a couple times a day to hunt down interesting nuggets of content. While I’m at my laptop, though, I get everything through Bottlenose and Silver Bird–they’re good little nozzles that provide plenty of spray.

I try to end the day with the long-form stuff I sent to Instapaper throughout the day, mainly on the iPad. This is typically stuff from the New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Foreign Policy. I try to get in some book time every night, too. And then, for couch time, my wife and I access Netflix … mostly to watch Doctor Who. On weekends, I catch up on podcasts using Stitcher and try to read paper books … yes, honest-to-goodness paper books.

And, there you have it. The diet of an information junkie … not that you asked or anything. But, maybe you’ve found yourself in the same rut I’ve been in, haphazardly flipping between news sources and apps without any rhyme or reason, and maybe some of this can give you a hand. Feel free to share your own media diet or tips for information consumption–I’d love to hear them.


Some early thoughts on Path

It’s almost an inevitable reaction at this point: “Oh great. Another social network.”

I’m guilty of it. I think most of us are. We have Facebook. We have Twitter. Blah blah blah. Why in the world do we need another social network? Why Instagram? Why Tumblr? Why anything else?

In part, I think, it’s because social networks have become like devices or peanut butter. We become loyal to a brand that we can identify with and, ultimately, one that fits our social needs. Want to be part of the information trade? Stick to Twitter. Want to showcase your newest print or painting? Start a Tumblr. Do video? Vimeo. And so on.

What does that tell us? Partly, that the need for new social networks that exploit and complement the ever-evolving needs we have for social tools will continue as long as those needs evolve. That’s ok. We didn’t realize how much we needed Instagram until we all had iPhones and we understood that a platform devoted solely to photo exchange would scratch a previously hidden psychological itch.

This is what I’ve been telling myself in the three days that I’ve been using Path, that Path is exploiting a more refined set of resources and speaking to a differently prioritized set of needs than the “legacy” social networks. And, despite its first few missteps, I think it might be poised to be one of my social apps of choice.

I say this because Path reads our needs in a far different way than Facebook. Where Facebook is now zeroing in on how to make money off of you and offering every single social activity it possibly can in an effort to do just that, Path (like Instagram just a week ago) is geared toward meeting your needs, especially those of us with a presence on multiple platforms juggling Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare. Path does what those things do, and it does them for your network which, at this point, will likely be a selected few from your Twitter and Facebook followings. Your mom won’t be on it any time soon, but your good friends and your social circles will be. And that’s great. But, with any post, you can also shoot your update to Twitter, check in to Foursquare, or post to Facebook or Tumblr. Path is as much a utility like Hootsuite as it is a network. For me, then, it’s a much simpler decision to open the Path app, do what I want to do, and forward it along wherever else I see fit.

Path doesn’t solve any problems with divided attention, though. Having to hop between platforms for the content we want, we should realize, isn’t a problem that will go away anytime soon. I’ll still be switching back and forth between Twitter and Facebook all day. But that seems to be beside the point. Path seems to be speaking to those of us who want a social home apart from the rest of the chatter while allowing us to still take advantage of our various followings. It’s a slick app experience, too, and it will be interesting to see which of the big boys will be lining up to buy it in the near future.