The web is a powerful information resource for individuals and businesses alike. Whether it’s to keep up with the sports results or keeping up with industry news and the activities of the competition. It’s invaluable but with a with a wealth of information there is the risk of overload.
Have you ever felt like it’s all too much? That you should just give up and stick with the newspaper?
Well, there is a tool that I think is superb at helping keep on top of the firehose that is information from the web – Google Reader. Read on to see how you can use it effectively.
Before we go too much further, you’ll need to know a little about RSS. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a technology that publishes information from websites in a computer readable “feed” so that you may use a piece of software to subscribe to and aggregate information published from multiple websites in one location.
Google Reader is Google’s RSS aggregation software and is based on the web, i.e. you’re able to subscribe to and organise your feeds through your web browser and access them from anywhere. For more information and to sign up check out the Google Reader homepage and the Google Reader help page.
So, you might be thinking now “Great! I’ll just head on over to Google Reader and add in all my favourite sites!” Well, if you’ve only got half a dozen sites that you regularly read, go right ahead. If you, like me, have quite a few more subscriptions (last count I had somewhere in the range of 150 sites), then you need to spend a couple of minutes to make sure you don’t end up drowning in information.
Organise your feeds
Until recently I simply organised all my subscriptions by topic. This, while seeming logical, does lead to information overload. For example, I had a category of subscriptions called “Tech” that held all the sites that dealt with technology news. If I wanted to know about tech news then I would click on this category and manage to get through 20 or 30 headlines out of 1000+ unread articles. The reason there are so many unread articles case is that there’s about 50 different sites. Many publishing over 100 articles a day. I found it impossible to find the pieces of information that were really relevant due to the noise of the high-volume sites.
Prioritise your subscriptions
So, how do you filter the important from the fun? The read now from the fun? Categorise your subscriptions in exactly that manner. I sat down for a few minutes a while ago and jotted down a quick structure to prioritise my subscriptions. I structured it so that I had subscriptions that I wanted to read daily, weekly or whenever and I tried to limit high volume subscriptions to the “whenever” category to make sure they didn’t drown all the other subscriptions. This works spectacularly in eliminating the noise and overload.
After that, I extended the categories further with the Frequency that a particular subscription updates (firehose, moderate, low), Relationship (me, friend, colleagues, other) and then Topics so that I can read information from different contexts. For every feed I now categorise by priority, frequency, relationship and topic, however I would say that all apart from priority are optional.
To set up your categories sign into Google Reader and go to “Settings” (top right) and select “Folders and Tags”. You can get the list of tags that I started using here.
Add your information sources
All you need to do now is get out there add your new subscriptions and categorise them as described above. You’ll be right on top of that piece of that competitive intelligence!
So, how did you go? Hopefully you’ll now be able to sift through that wealth of information quickly and effectively. However, I’m sure there are plenty of other ways this could also be achieved. Share your approach to sifting through information on the Internet or the way you use Google Reader by leaving a comment.