This is a guest post by Shawn Kirsch, better known as thattalldude on just about every social network. Shawn is an awesomesauce social web lover who gives great tips and suggestions via Twitter. This is his story on Information Overload.
I am an information junkie. It isn’t enough just to get the information; I have to get it FIRST! I don’t want to be on Twitter 3 days from now and find out about something that happened this morning. I blame Dave Winer. He made it too easy.
The Initial Innocence of The Web
I used to be a regular guy. I played endless hours of basketball. I frustrated my parents countless days as I refined my drumming skills. I hung out with friends. Sure, I knew computers inside and out, and was skilled at bringing new life to PCs running Windows 95/98, but I was really only a part time geek. Besides, when I graduated High School in 2003, the newest computer in our house was a Performa 575 (which I loved dearly).
I opted to go to college at Mayville State University, which turned out to be my mistake. They provided a [Gateway] laptop for everyone to use, but neglected to teach me anything about a computer that you couldn’t learn by using one for a week. Nevertheless, having a laptop and "high speed" internet (complete with bandwidth caps) opened up a whole new world to me.
I spent massive quantities of time surfing the net. With a natural curiosity, and Firefox at my disposal, I learned new tricks, drooled over gadgets, and gained new perspective from many bloggers’ opinions. StumbleUpon guided me to places I’d have otherwise never discovered. I was becoming a proficient multitasker and a bigger geek with each day, right down to my voracious appetite for Mountain Dew.
Tragedy soon struck though. On Thanksgiving Eve, 2003, I was officially informed my National Guard unit was going to Iraq. Within 6 weeks, I was in Colorado training for our mission. Iraq had long lines and time limits for the computers, which left me with barely enough time to check my email, much less scour the net like I had but 3 months earlier.
It would be Sept. 2004 before I finally bought a laptop (HP), after we obtained satellite internet service for our living area. Once again, I spent my free time devouring all I could on the net and quickly become addicted to iCrack as the iTunes Music Store made it way too easy to spend way too much money on all the new music I had been missing.
Encountering Twitter & More Information
Finally arriving home in February 2005, I had nothing else to do all day, so I surfed the net. I found new sites like Engadget and MacNN which collected information from around the web and presented it to me. Time would pass as continued to intake what I thought was lots of information. Then I found Twitter .
I became active on Twitter about the same time Jeremiah Owyang followed anyone who followed him, and was letting you know it. I scanned his list of followers for familiar names and did searches for others that I thought were important. Soon I found myself involved in discussions with Scoble, Kawasaki, and Calacanis. These people led me to others, and suddenly I found out about Dayngr, iJustine, and Becky McCray.
Information Overload With RSS & The Social Media
It was around this time that RSS feed readers became much easier to use and online RSS readers were rapidly adding new features. In addition to the feeds I was already subscribed to, I added those of all my new Twitterbuds. Ben Tremblay got me to start my own blog (yeah, I was on Twitter before I had a blog), and then I was looking for quality blogs I could reference in my own posts. Twitter grew and I began to subscribe to more blogs. Scoble made his OPML file available to all. I was consuming more information faster than ever.
Then I got more involved in the ‘social web.’ I started tracking Digg, Mixx, Reddit, Delicious, and Ma.gnolia. Then Friendfeed came along (I know, I don’t use it enough). Facebook made link sharing more prominent. I culled some feeds consisting of nothing more than Flickr pics so I could more efficiently go through those with new info…then I subscribed to some more.
Recently, Socialbrowse became an integral part of my browsing. Fresh links, just like on the Diggs of the world, but right there in my sidebar. I don’t have to look for them. They just steadily appear without me having to do anything. Few things could be better for an info junkie than a steady supply of new content, no further than the left side of the screen.
Drawbacks of Information Overload
All of these things have drawbacks though. Mass quantities of info not only take time to go through, but present a vicious echo chamber. I could unsubscribe to some of them, but some will have the news before the others and I don’t want to wait. It’s also easy to become unorganized. Which leads to events like yesterday:
Google Reader was out of control. The chaos known as life caused me to fall many days behind on reading my feeds. Finding some spare time allowed me to go through each feed individually, removing some that were nothing more than crap. It was quite the undertaking, I timed it with my iPod:
- 0:00:00 – Start the process
- 1:04:20 – Completed ‘Twitterbuds’ blogs with names starting with A-O
- break – Walk the dogs, go through all my open tabs
- 2:08:36 – Completed ‘Twitterbuds’ blogs starting with P-Z
- break – Go through the open tabs
- 2:23:48 – Got the total unread items under 1000
- 2:26:56 – Completed going through ‘Random Finds’
- 2:57:23 – Finished organizing recent additions
- 3:05:51 – Finished scanning through ‘Friends Shared’
Result of the undertaking: I’m down to 575 subscriptions, some of which will be moved to Shyftr (my favorite feed reader) soon. My Shyftr account contains 153 different feeds. Those take longer to go through as it is the collection of my most important feeds.
It’s becoming more difficult to find the time to keep up with it all as I find more projects to work on. I have to keep refining and streamlining things where I can. I want to know what’s going on. Whether it’s the blogs of my Twitterbuds, the latest tech news, or a fancy gadget, I refuse to be left behind even if only for a few hours.
I’d love to connect with you wherever you may be online. Twitter, Socialbrowse, Shyftr, just look for my username: thattalldude. If you don’t find me, I probably need to be invited. I love checking out new stuff, I’m currently looking to play with a third online feed reader, know a good one? Google Reader users, let’s share contact info ( thattalldude[at]gmail[dot]com ), I want to see your shares.