April 12, 2015
Staying well informed is important to every professional, but how do you navigate the sea of infinite content? How can you filter out useful information from political nonsense, irrelevant junk, and clickbait? As someone who tries to focus the essentials, I don’t want to waste time separating the good from the bad. I want useful information that helps me in my life. To address this need, I’ve created an information funnel. I get news from a variety of sources and filter out the best stuff. In this post, I’m going to describe my information funnel and how you can use a similar process to get your own slice of news.
The most important thing to do when trying to find good information is defining what you are looking for and what you want to avoid. I’m looking for the following things:
This list represents a combination of things I need for my job, things I’m interested in, and potential future technical investments. I’m interested in a lot of different things, but the goal of this list is to focus on the technology.
I also want to avoid any unactionable news. If it doesn’t help me, then I generally don’t care about it. Heres some examples:
Additionally, I don’t want to waste a lot of time finding news. Being well informed is a good, but this endeavor has diminishing returns. News is the information equivalent of carbs. You need a few, but not too many, and you want to stick with high quality sources.
The next step is to find decent news sources. This is a huge challenge because there are so many news sources. I get my news from a variety of places and have tried various methods of filtration to avoid the junk. I find that a combination of Podcasts, RSS, Twitter, and Prismatic works well for me. I get a variety of sources, which is important to avoid filter bubbles, but I also get some selection, so I’m not buried in junk.
Here’s a list of news sources I use now or have tried in the past:
I listen to a variety of podcasts on technology. Podcasts are great for getting in depth information about technical topics. Podcasts are also great because you can listen to them while doing other things, like driving to work. It’s a good way to multitask. The only disadvantage is that podcasts can be long. Here’s two of my favorite podcasts:
While other media has chipped away at my RSS feeds, I still subscribe to a few blogs. RSS is good for following specific products or people. The disadvantage is that you can get behind if you subscribe to too many news sources. I subscribe to less than 20 feeds.
I get a lot of news on Twitter now. There are two things I like about news on Twitter. First, because it’s a social network, the good stuff tends to find it’s way to the top. Second, if I don’t pay attention to it for a while, I don’t have a huge inbox waiting for me when I come back. It’s also great for keeping up with organizations, like PEW or the Visual Studio team. The big disadvantage of Twitter is it can be a cesspool of ignorant political bickering. You can’t have a political discussion in 140 characters. The key is following the right people. I tend to unfollow folks who use Twitter for politics or idle chit chat.
I’ve recently started using Prismatic. It’s a service that delivers content to you based on your interests. It also tries to learn from you and deliver increasing good content (like Pandora for news). I’m still getting the hang of it, but Prismatic offers interesting articles. I check it every few days. The key to making Prismatic work is only starting with a few interests. I’m interested in a lot of things, so I checked lots of boxes and had to filter out a lot of noise. I ended up removing about 2/3’s of the interests I started with.
I used to read Hacker News, but it’s become too whiny and political for my tastes. Hacker news still has some good stuff though. I check it once in a while.
Google News is good for getting news for a lot of sources, but it’s not specific enough for me. Google Now, however, has delivered some interesting content to my phone. It’s finds things related to what you’ve searched for or read in the past. My biggest Google Now win is when it delivered the answer to a problem I unsuccessfully searched for the previous day. It’s creepy, but amazing.
I’ve recently started using Reddit. While I don’t use it for tech news, you could. There’s a subreddit (a topic specific group) for almost every technology. I found that the same thing that applies to Prismatic also applies to Reddit. It became much more useful once I stopped following so many topics.
I prefer to do my reading in long sessions, so I use a “read it later” app to save links. I check the sources mentioned above when I get bored and save anything interesting to my “read it later” app of choice (Pocket). I ignore the vast majority of what I see, but filtering has gotten easier as I’ve gotten better at selecting news sources.
If I find something good, I’ll save it to Evernote so I can refer to it later. I only do this for evergreen articles that won’t lose their value over time. Usually these are on business development, software best practices, or personal development.
Separating the signal from the noise is tough in the age of infinite content, but we have many tools at our disposal. What do you do to stay well informed?