Dealing with information

Several years ago, when "weblog" and "web personalization" where buzz words, weblog count started to grow exponentially. Soon after I began reading blogs I realized that I'm spending half a day just to visit the most interesting blogs. So when I first saw an RSS aggregator I immediately began using one. Obviously the idea of RSS was on top these days. Many products based on RSS aggregation were created. Some of them had unique features, some were web-based and some were desktop applications. You could choose, and this was great. Also, there were less and less "What is RSS?" articles around (you still can find them on russian websites, though). RSS became a wide-spread standard.

Information creep

Nowadays I'm struggling to keep up with about 150 weblogs through my RSS reader. Struggling, because it's simply impossible to read them all if you have a full time job. Especially when you love what you're doing! I can't spend a whole day just reading these great articles and short posts. Information flow becomes an avalanche. The more experienced I become, the more information I have to track. Design, usability, development, JavaScript, information architecture, technology news, photography, music... Yes, I have quite a lot of interests (here are the blogs I'm subscribed to at the moment).

Option: Control

Some of my friends started doing regular "clean-ups". I did it too, but it didn't help at all. You might remove 20 subscriptions, but in next 2 or 3 weeks you will add 20 new. So this is not an option (at least for me).

Bloglines

Recently Bloglines introduced a new feature called "Playlists". Playlists are controlled sets of your feeds. Once created, a playlist can be viewed as a newspaper digest.

This feature allows you to redeem some control of information. You can create thematic playlists and scan all articles from several feeds at once. If you see an interesting title, you can go and read it thoroughly. The feature also has a list view, showing all new articles in the playlist. But is that enough? Digest idea is great, but it doesn't work for me. I still can't:

  • Read this on my mobile phone (or any other device). Bloglines has great mobile support though.
  • There is still a lot of "noise" on the list.
  • The list becomes too large. You have to spend more time scanning it.

User-generated content

Sites such as digg, technorati, del.icio.us are based on so-called "user-generated content". This means that you can track lots of specific stuff which was bookmarked by users with interests, similar to yours. I'm reading a couple of such user-generated RSS feeds too, but these feeds tend to grow in volume rapidly as well! One has to track about 50-100 articles on each feed every day. Based on my experience, there are only 2-5 (5-8%) really outstanding articles or links per day - the rest is noise, which is annoying to scan through. So how do we separate diamonds from sand?

A new abstraction layer

Pipes

Imagine that you want to see this day's news as photographs from Flickr? Or maybe you're looking for an apartment near the park or school? Or maybe you want to see interesting links from several websites (i.e. digg, technorati, del.icio.us etc.) about JavaScript written in English? Or...? Now you can! Yahoo! has just released a new web application Yahoo! Pipes With Pipes you can create your own information flow with a resulting personal (or shared) RSS feed. Using several logical blocks as bricks in informational flow, complex conditionals, filters and text parsers you can get almost anything you want from around the web. The model is quite complicated but with an amazingly well-done user interface it becomes a really powerful application.

Similarly, Adobe Labs has just released a web application called myFeedz with the same idea behind.

myFeedz is a social newspaper because what people talk about matters. But people talk about too many things. myFeedz finds what's important from the sea of information out there and shows you what you need to read. It learns from what you like and helps you keep up with your interests.

Conclusion

So we'll see how it goes. I think we're on the verge of seeing the new style of information consuming. Soon we'll have applications similar to Pipes and myFeedz with simpler user interfaces to help us skip all the "noise" and get only the data we really want to see. The future looks so exciting!

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