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How do we ignore things better?

Posted by todd at 8:00 AM on October 15, 2007

Cory Doctorow has an interesting point about the growing difficulty we all have dealing with the sheer amount of information we have access to.  With notices from Facebook friends, Digg hot sites, delicious feeds, twitter and RSS subscriptions, email, etc, the amount of information at our fingertips is huge and growing. 

We develop our own heuristics to determine at a quick glance whether a particular piece of information is likely to be relevant enough to warrant closer examination.  This helps to manage the load but does not ensure that we are getting all we could from our information.  Cory puts it well, stating that our determination of relevance is probabilistic rather that deterministic.  By definition this means relevant information will fall through the cracks and some dross will still get in.

The easy way to deal with this is to go with the group-think, and this is unfortunately where some of the more popular sites can be as bad for us as they can be good.  As sites get big enough to generate revenue and build value and staff, the trap of necessity is set.  These sites need more and more to ensure the continuation of their revenue flow above innovation.  There is nothing evil in this and it is no different from any other company.  It remains though that there is a tenancy for information sources to become more conservative in their scope as they grow.

The nature of Blogging and other new media provides the antidote to this though.  Unlike traditional media, the barriers to entry are virtually non-existent.  I started my blog with a $10 domain name and a $20 hosting plan, and I could have used an online blog for free, the only other cost is my time.  This ease of entry forces the larger sites to avoid the conservative trap otherwise others will quickly rise to fill the gaps left behind.

I have been using a new RSS reader recently (BlogBridge) which has been helping me deal with the information flow.  It has moderated subject guides that include more than the well known sites which helps me to find new content sources.  It then has a personal rating system that allows me to flag when I see a good article in a feed and build a partially automatic heuristic, there is also automatic features to this I am yet to fully explore.  There is still much greater scope to improve the sorting of our information sources though.

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