Tech Addiction & Information Overload

I was compelled to open and read an article in my Google Reader from Lifehacker’s Adam Dachis entitled Why Technology is So Addictive and How You Can Avoid It (link here). I know, I know. To the casual observer, I probably fall squarely within the dopamine-addled masses who reach for their smartphone or iPad whenever there is a break in the level of external, non-tech stimulation. But I have grappled with this concept over the past several months. Not so much because I fear addiction, but more because I really don’t want to spend any more time on technology than I really must to reach the end I want to achieve.

O.k., English please. What I am saying is that technology, like your average hammer or pencil, is simply a tool. A means to an end. That end differs for different users (and I really don’t mean users in the druggie sense). Technology affords a compelling precision implement, a surgical scalpel, that can lessen the weight of otherwise heavy tasks. Such as staying on top of your area of expertise. Or staying in meaningful contact with people who are important to you, whether for business or personal reasons, and sharing relevant information.

Because of technology, we can now send greater quantity of higher quality communications and information to a larger audience. In turn, we (arguably) can absorb a greater quantity of higher quality and more timely information that might help us make important decisions across the spectrum of our needs. That is why the tech explosion of late has pulled along so many mainstream users – look, Auntie M, I can now get my daily updates on Cousin Lulu without having to pick up a phone, or even write an email.

I am not going to touch Mr. Dachis’ points on tech-etiquette here. I would like to assume that Studio Readers already know how to prioritize human interaction and tech interaction. But I do wish to point out Mr. Dachis’ cause for such addiction and overload issues and suggested remedy.:

One effective way of dealing with information overload is actually organizing information. This may be an obvious one, but most of us think more about organization than actually doing it. You’re going to get organized at some point, so you might as well start now (if you haven’t, that is). Email is one of the toughest things to get under control and there are more solutions out there than you could ever really try. Google’s new Priority Inbox is a great new way to focus on the important messages in your inbox. A Chrome and Firefox extension called Boomerang lets you schedule when you send and receive emails. Communicating through speed appropriate channels rather than funneling everything through email can help, too. You can even offload distractions to an iPad, or another device you have, so you can focus on specific things on specific devices. However you organize your information, just be sure to evolve your system to fit changes in the way your information flows.

Really, so much of the handling of our technology depends on implementing efficiencies so that the tech is a helpful passenger rather than the driver of the vehicle. For example, just last night, I spent about a half hour reorganizing my iPad feed readers. I have determined from the past few months that I can cut through my feeds faster if I can read them in an uncluttered, visual format on the iPad. So, I now have two text-based and two magazine-layout-based readers on my iPad, with different feeds in each app. Why? Because I can blow right through the most important feeds on the visual readers in record time. If I have additional time, I can always go to the text-based readers to hit more detail.

The future of the web is relevancy. To me, it is far more important to be relevant than it is to be fast. Along with my post this morning about Google’s new Priority Inbox that will automatically sort your email for you, the list of applications that cater to relevancy while improving delivery speed are growing. Filters like Google Reader’s “magic” setting and apps like Feedly, my6sense, Zite and Lazyfeed are making it easer to spend less time researching and more time creating. My admonition to lawyers, professionals or, really, anyone on the Web is to get to know these filtering systems and use them to avoid overload and the addiction necessary to stay on top of the overload. At first it will require spending more time getting up to speed and implementing your chosen method. But ultimately, you might even end up with enough time to start a new hobby. Like stamp collecting. Or gardening.

Lazyfeed Now Exercising BOTH Sides of Your Brain

Lazyfeed is a wonderful blog aggregator that effortlessly collects blog entries from across the Web on topics that you choose in a mesmerizing, scrolling, real-time display. No need to subscribe to individual feeds, just enter your topics of interest and get relevant content.I previously have extolled its virtues here in the Studio (link here).

Until recently, Lazyfeed was all about passive information consumption – you could sit back and watch the news filter in and, in the process, pick up a few cool new blogs to follow more closely. Or, for me, when I had exhausted my usual news sources, I would turn to Lazyfeed as my last resort for finding something new.

But all of that changed today with the arrival of a new email message in my inbox from the fine folk at Lazyfeed titled, curiously enough, “Follow Me On Lazyfeed.” Lazyfeed CEO Ethan Gahng piqued my curiosity with his cryptic message:

There’s a huge announcement for Lazyfeed today. Lazyfeed has transformed from a “Read” tool into a “Write” tool. Sounds like a drastic change, huh?
I don’t want to bore you by explaining all the details in this email, so you can visit our blog and check out the post where I talk about the update: http://blog.lazyfeed.com/2010/05/follow-me-on-lazyfeed.html
Or if you want to take a look right away, you can directly come check out Lazyfeed now: http://www.lazyfeed.com
This update is so big that the update itself is larger than the original Lazyfeed product. It took us quite a while to build this, so I hope you would like it. I would love your feedback!

Well, with an invitation like that, I could hardly say no. So, what is Lazyfeed up to?

Passive content consumption tool no more, Lazyfeed has now been equipped to bring out the curator in you, as explained in this simple graphic from their blog:

Through two new tools, “Channel” and “Post”, you can sub-aggregate your content from your topics of interest stream within Lazyfeed. These are called Channels. Populate your channel stream and then publish it to your Lazyfeed followers (that’s right, Lazyfeeds gone all social on us), your Twitter followers and your Facebook profile. You can create as many channels as you have interests and populate those channels with relevant blog content. Posting is super-simple: just click on a blog post of interest, add a comment if you wish and hit “post”. The blog entry will show in the left-hand column of your screen, which shows your Channel.

Follow other Lazyfeeders to get their updates. Find follows by plugging in your Facebook, Twitter and email accounts and matching your contacts with existing Lazyfeed profiles. It’s nice to have the option of getting the content curated by other users you know and trust.

I can’t say enough about the new interface. While the old scrolling page was mesmerizing, the new tools and accompanying tweaks are downright space-age! Hover over your own stream and see your comments pop up in little comment bubbles. And, with the addition of social features, Lazyfeed moves beyond simple news aggregation – it really distills content search, commenting, posting and sharing process down to its essential and efficient core. Sounds just like a blog, but lazier.

Check out my page (link here). Right now, I have one channel dedicated to law, technology, legal tech, and a lot of the subjects I already blog on, but I am hoping to expand to a broader topic set. I encourage you to come on over, build a profile and follow along – maybe we can discover some hot new content and share it!

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Readfresh: Another Tool to Tap Web's Changing Content

Twitter and RSS are popular sources for examining the flow of news through the internet pipeline. But there are other ways to get your goods. I have discussed Lazyfeed, the real-time blog aggregator / updater, here in the Studio. Now another tool has emerged to help you stay on top of breaking news and site changes.

Readfresh is a web site that collects your favorite web pages, and brings the most recently updated sites to the top of the screen, so you can see what’s new at a glance.After signing up (you can use Facebook Connect) and entering your favorite web site URLs, just sit back and watch the sites shift and flow as new information is added to them.

You also can search for content via Readfresh. Use the Search tab to search the latest updates across all sites in the Readfresh index.

It has a nice, simple interface, which is both a benefit and a drawback. Consider using Readfresh if you only have a handful of sites to follow. For power readers, the interface may not capture enough of the breaking information for your tastes. Nonetheless, if you are new to following changing web content, Readfresh might be a good starting point.

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Digital Curation Or Horder Syndrome?

The news du jour is all about curation. Digital curation, that is. I have noted a higher than average concentration of writing on this topic over the past few days. Clearly, people are interested in it. And that makes good sense to me.

What is digital curation? In its broadest sense, curation is the act of organizing and maintaining a collection of artworks or artifacts. Libraries and museums are excellent real world examples of curation. Digital curation refers more narrowly to the process of establshing and developing long-term repositories of digital assets, per Wikipedia’s entry on the topic. Good luck finding a more concrete explanation than that.

I will try to provide one. For me, digital curation is the gentle swirling of the prospectors’ pan while looking for lumps of gold among the gravel. Through this blog, Reader shares and various social media posts, I attempt to act as a digital curator – I spend my on-line time scanning readers, blogs, tweets, and other content for interesting information that may be useful to me and to people who subscribe to my content. I am a human curator and, hopefully, I provide a shortcut to better information through my blog posts and other social networking channels.

There are other ways to secure curated content. You can employ web tools that automate the process of material selection. The best of these automated offerings will attempt to “read” your interests and respond accordingly.  Google Reader has recently incorporated a setting called “magic” that purports to sort the mountains of content and push the news most likely to be of interest to you to the top of the pile. Feedly, the fantastic add-on for Firefox and now Chrome, does the same and takes it a step further by presenting the content in an easy-read format with precise controls over preferred sources. Lazyfeed, another Web tool, reads your tags and content from various media channels and funnels back to you the most relevant blog entries from across the ‘net. my6sense,an iPhone application, utilizes an algorithm called “digital intuition” to interpret your reading and sharing habits and feed back the content you are most likely to find compelling.

Other services, like MeeHive, Regator and Collected, organize and present the information in logical streams so that you can “cut right to the chase” of the particular news topics you are interested in.

For me, services such as these are a necessary antidote to the out-of-control flood of barely curated content flowing through Twitter and other social media sites. Apart from my few trusted resources, I find it difficult to use Twitter as a news source, particularly since I have no control over the arbitrary content choices  within the stream. The search function helps, but does not assure me that the “curator” is up to my standards. Time spent clicking on links and verifying the validity of the sources is better spent diving right into trustworthy content. As more and more content is generated, all of us are going to need proper curation to save us from web horders.

The list of helpful tools cited above is not exhaustive. It does offer a starting point for anyone interested in separating the wheat from the chaff. Rest assured the number of digital curation tools will be expanding – web experts such as Steve Rubel have taken the position that the future of the Web is digital curation and services that direct the flow of relevant information that is absorbed quickly, easily and smoothly. Rubel’s reasoning is that web denizens are “attention strapped.” I would describe it more as overstimulated. Effective digital curation is the cure for the overwhelm.

Do you have tips, tricks or tools to help you sift through to the diamonds? Please share with the class in the comments!

 

Warp (Real-Time) Speed, Mr. Sulu: RSSCloud Brings The Heat

Without having to so much as lift a finger, the Studio will now be coming to some RSS subscribers at real-time speed! In the wake of challenges to the continuing validity of RSS  and feed readers in the real-time world of Twitter, Friendfeed and Facebook, WordPress has announced that its WordPress.com accounts will be taking advantage of RSSCloud to distribute blog posts as they happen. The reader must be enabled to support RSSCloud and there are now two such services offering this lightning fast blogging love: River 2 and Lazyfeed.

Under traditional feed protocol, it can take as long as an hour or more between the time a post is “published” and the time the post is distributed to feed readers. RSSCloud cuts that lag time down to nil. Now blogs can reenter the information distribution fray, offering a richer experience than Twitter at the same instantaneous delivery time. In effect, RSSCloud will speed up Twitter too – tweets very often consist of the stuff gleaned via RSS feeds. Get the information through RSS faster and the entire on-line news pipeline speeds up!

I have always preferred receiving my information via RSS and readers and have been willing to put up with the time delay in exchange for noise filtering. Now I can have my cake and eat it too!

Beam me up, Scotti!

How To Pull New Content, The Lazy Way

Lazyfeed 2Frequently, I am asked the question: “how do you find new material to write about on your blog?” Material comes from many sources and the size of my info-flow is directly related to my obsessive curiosity about stuff in general and technology and business development in particular. I fuel that curiosity with a number of web-based tools.

I have discussed RSS and the able reader programs out there in prior posts. I have highlighted Twitter search functionality, Friendfeed and a few other tips and tools to refine the process of fishing for value in the endless internet stream here in the Studio.

Lately, I have been looking to streamline my content in even more effective and efficient ways, as well as pull from new sources that I haven’t yet tapped. My two newest information mining and massaging sources are Feedly and Lazyfeed. I will be highlighting Lazyfeed in this post.

Lazyfeed is a real-time, streaming RSS reader, akin to Google Reader and Newsgator Feeddemon in some ways, and unique in others. It’s main selling point is that Lazyfeed does not require that you search, select and manually input your desired RSS sources. Instead, Lazyfeed pulls blog posts for you based on your selection of topics of interest or “tags.” For those who are unfamiliar with “tags”, they are a form of metadata keyword assigned to any sort of digital information that offer an easy means for sorting and searching that information at a later date.

Lazyfeed’s main screen shows an ever-changing lists of posts on hot topics of general interest at the top and a list of saved tags that shift as new information bearing the tags is found. There also are Getting Started buttons that allow you to: tap an overview; find Hot Topics; manually enter topics of interest; start getting Live updates; access your saved stuff; and, tie in your own topics for “Lazy Me” by entering your own tagged accounts, like blogs, delicious bookmarks, flickr, Twitter, etc., for a more personalized experience.

Here is a shot of my home screen here:

Lazyfeed 1

You can see my saved tags on the left. Clicking on the tag will show me all results bearing that tag.

How do you enter these tags? Lazyfeed allows you to browse the streaming topics and “save” any of interest. You can enter tags in the search box or click on tags on the browsing screen to redirect to more relevant information. Once you “save” a tag or entry, it will show up on the left side of the page, updating continuously as new information bearing the same tag is developed. As new content in a particular topic comes through, that topic is shifted to the top with bold text, to get your attention. By “saving” a tag, you can then come back later to access it and give it a more thorough read. Lazyfeed will also offer related tags to flesh out your feed with even more relevant information.

Lazyfeed’s interface shows synopsis of the RSS results in an easy-to-scan organization. When you click a post title, the entry expands and offers you the ability to go off-feed to the actual post.

With the “Lazy Me” topic generator, the relevant tags from your selected sites are produced on Lazyfeed in real time updates. For example, from your Twitter account, all hashtags bearing your selected tag will be streamed in. All tags from Flickr photosets will be pulled and provided. Delicious bookmarks bearing your selected tags will be harvested. And all blog posts from blog sites that you manually input that bear the appropriate tag will also find their way into your “Lazy Me” feed.

A downside is that you cannot save or share posts to other applications or services, like Twitter or Friendfeed with a single, on-site click, but are certainly workarounds, such as sharing buttons in your browser (hello Firefox!) and clipping / snipping tools in applications such as OneNote and Evernote.

I first learned about Lazyfeed from Louis Gray’s post on the subject as the service was debuting about a month ago and have been playing with it ever since. I find it to be a great supplement to my existing readers as it allows me to pull relevant information from other sources not already in my reader subscription lists. I highly recommend heading over to Louis’ great post offering a more thorough description of its benefits.

There is much about Lazyfeed’s look and feel that remind me of Skygrid, the real-time financial news aggregator that sorts information by corporate symbol, rather than tag. The everchanging, shifting list of news blurbs looks very familiar, while the information sources and triggers are clearly targeted at different audiences.

If you are a looking for novel, up-to-the-minute sources for news in the real-time realm (who isn’t on the internet these days?), then Lazyfeed is well worth your time investment. It is still in invite-only beta, and I believe you can request an invite from them. I also have been given three invite codes and I am more than happy to send them along to the first three people who email me at the address under my contact page.

Happy (lazy) hunting!

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