Monday, November 19, 2012

The value of a signal is inversely proportional to its frequency

In recent months, a host of startups have arisen that help keep me informed about my friends' information habits.

We've gone far beyond the days when we could simply follow people via RSS or our RSS readers and Twitter homepages are so choked with information that we generally only view a tiny subset.

I regularly visit only three of my Google Reader folders: People, Delicious, and Basketball. The ironically named "High Priority News" hasn't been visited in years. Same for "High Priority" and "Daily Reads."

What do my three lucky feeds have in common? Through very different mechanisms, they provide a high signal-to-noise ratio in a low-volume setting.

The People folder includes only a few selected friends; this allows me to actually read all of their posts.

The Delicious folder includes links from my two good friends, Ben Casnocha and Ramit Sethi, and are a great source of interesting information on some of my favorite topics.

The Basketball folder feeds my obsession with my favorite sport.

The first generation of aggregators simply created a firehose...and it's apparent this isn't sustainable.

The second generation includes things like Summify (bought by Twitter) which sends me a daily email digest of the links and tweets that are most popular with my friends. I actually find these very useful, and they are a part of my daily information diet.

But I'm starting to see some third generation aggregators that are going down precisely the wrong path. These products put the emphasis on discovery, and are even more of a firehose than their first-generation predecessors.

Privacy concerns aside, I don't want to know all the articles my friends are reading--I only want to know the ones they care about enough to save to Delicious or tweet about.

Giving me direct access to their reading habits is a bug, not a feature. I want less information, not more.


Andy said...

I enjoyed this post as this sort of information filtering is quite necessary now. I also find it odd that Google seemingly does not innovate much on their Reader product.

Jeff Huber said...

The content curation "problem" is a funny one. Most smart and educated people I meet have no issues finding great content and have a long backlog of books and articles they want to get to eventually.

So why do smart motivated people think this is a problem? I think they project their motivation onto their peers whom they observe to be unmotivated. "Why isn't John reading lots of good stuff and instead sitting around all day playing video games? He must not know what to read! If only he could see how smart I am by all the things I am reading - he would read them too and be smart like me."

Of course knowledge or access isn't the problem, it is motivation. And so the Lookmark "solution" is a top-down one that does not address the real core of the problem.