Escaping Information Overload: How and Why to Filter Your Feed
Information overload is a problem. It causes wasted time, makes it difficult to make important decisions, and contributes to the spread of bad information. You have access now to a 24 hour per day, 7 day per week, nonstop barrage of information on a limitless variety of subject matter. Turning it all off isn’t a viable option, and you cannot trust others to do the filtering for us. This means that it is your job to filter the information that you allow to come to us via your feeds, and prioritize and organize the information you do choose to receive.
Let’s start by clarifying the definition of the term ‘feeds’. A web feed is the means through which individuals and entities send you information on a continual basis. This includes RSS feeds and Twitter feeds. However, for your purposes you have expanded that to include emails and social media pages. Basically, any incoming source of data that is updated frequently falls under the category of ‘feed’.
Mobile: The Primary Cause of Information Overload
It would be impossible to write anything useful on this topic without discussing the main contributing factor. Mobile devices and 24 hour connectivity means that there is literally no point during your waking hours that you are not receiving information. This is a blessing in that you can get information you need in the moment at any moment. However, if you don’t place some control over what information you receive and when and how you receive it, you are in danger of information overload.
The Human Side of Filtering Your Feed
There are many technical things that you can do to filter the information that you receive through your feeds, and we will cover many of those. However, before that is covered, it is important to understand your particular needs with regard to information, and your tolerance level when it comes to the quantity of information that you receive. All of this begins with an inventory of the information you receive. This includes the following:
• Email Subscriptions
• The people and businesses you follow on Twitter
• The people and businesses you follow on Facebook
• Your RSS feeds
Once this is done, you can begin making decisions as you review all of the sources of data that you receive, try asking yourself a few questions:
• Is this information crucial to me?
• How often do I need to get this information?
• Is this information simply inbox/news feed clutter?
• Is this information redundant?
• Do I believe the information from this source to be reliable?
• Is this information entertaining or does it have a work/family benefit to me?
When you answer these questions, you will know which information you can opt out of receiving altogether, which information you can filter to view when you have a free moment or two, and which information you want to receive in real time. You may also find that there are certain information channels that you can opt out of entirely
The final part of the human side of becoming your own content curator is determining when and how you are going to receive information. Are there certain times of day that are best for viewing certain kinds of information, are there certain devices that you are better off using, and are there better technologies you could be using to access information, e.g., subscribing to a newsletter or adding a website to your newsfeed instead of visiting a website or blog on a regular basis.
Great Tools for Filtering and Keeping Track of Information
If This Then That (IFTT)
This online utility allows you to automate processes that are triggered when certain actions happen. In other words, you define a trigger (if this) and an action that happens as a response to that trigger (then that). You can use this tool to catalog emails, follow various news feeds, send email attachments to drop box to view them later, save magazine articles to Pocket, and more. Each ‘if this then that formula’ that you create is known as a recipe. If you don’t feel up to creating your own recipes, you can browse existing recipes until you get the hang of the concept.
You can use Google Alerts to select a topic of interest and then receive notification of any news or information updates on that subject. Google Alerts works based on keywords. The more specific your keywords are, the more specific, and lower quantity, your information will be. If you are a Gmail user, you can combine this utility with email filtering to really gain control over the flow of information into your life.
Yahoo Pipes is a tool that you can use to aggregate the content that you receive from RSS feeds. It allows you to further narrow down the information that you receive through each RSS feed that you subscribe to. Basically, you create a pipe that you use to control the information that you receive. This tool is extremely useful, however the interface is a bit intimidating. Fortunately, like IFTT recipes, you can find pipes that others have created and use them to help you filter incoming content while you learn to navigate this utility.
There are too many email options to provide any step by step instruction on setting up filters. However, this is a technique for controlling the influx of information that many people overlook. More specifically, most people use email filtering to filter unwanted content to spam, but they don’t fully use the options they have available to them. This includes the option to create new folders to sort and organize incoming email content.
It is important to note that this process isn’t a onetime undertaking. You will constantly have to adjust your information intake to your personal and professional needs, and according to the quality and usefulness of the information you are receiving.