Ruud Questions: Steve Rubel

by Ruud Hein April 23rd, 2010 

Steve Rubel has this obsession with information harvesting that I recognize and share. His series of posts on using Gmail as a database and Personal Nerve Center hit home with me. Intention, attention, focus, knowledge work; these are some of areas where I find Steve fascinating and am happy to see not only a fellow geek but a think one step ahead person.

There is
no
room for
generalists anymore We
all need
to specialize
He was among the first people I followed on Twitter. Having some time with him to ask questions seemed great to me.

I asked for, and got, an interview.

You've become a big fan of Facebook. I like to think that's on a practical basis and not one of preference — or is this how you would prefer people consume the Internet?

Steve Rubel Yes, this is on a practical basis. I am finding it's a terrific way for me to engage with my audience. I have slowly become a fan of all that they do.

In terms of preference, I want people to engage with the Internet however they want. It's up to me to adapt to meet them where they are spending time, rather than expecting that they will come to me on my terms

The main difference between AOL then and Facebook now is that Facebook opened up enough to let the web in. Do you expect that the generation that comes of age on Facebook, will leave Facebook to go visit "the real" web the way people left AOL for the real thing?

Steve RubelThere are actually many differences between AOL and Facebook.

AOL in many ways imploded because their model of proprietary software and closed access gave way to one where people brought their own broadband and began instead to find what they needed on the Web.

This is a different era.

There's too much information and people are focusing on their friends and family more and relying on them as filters of information. Put another way, we believe that  news will "find us."

So if anything, I expect that as the Facebook algorithm improves, and it curates what we need to know, their position will only solidify not weaken.

Over the years I've noticed that what you like in (social) tools is how it helps you consume information. You turned Gmail into an information command center, use Google Reader as a huge database, and are favoring Facebook now because of the way it helps you manage your (information) attention.

Is attention management the new "personal information management"?

Steve RubelI believe that, for knowledge workers at least, attention management is becoming the most critical skill we need to possess to thrive in today's environment.

Those who can mine/process  the information that is most critical to their roles, easily collect, access, act and share it will develop an information advantage that results in competitive advantage, particularly if you can get a number of people mobilized  the same direction.

It's also just as important to know what not to focus on – what Jim Collins calls a "not-to-do-list."

With information a common commodity and easily accessible via Google — what's the value of consuming, tagging and storing information?

Steve RubelGoogle has what former Ask.com CEO Jim Lanzone calls "a ten blue link" problem. For any search they dump you in 10 blue links and leave it to you decide how best to process what's there.

to extract and communicate the meaning of information, not just find itAnnotated information – whether it's something you do on your own or rely on others for – in a perfect world helps mitigate this by adding a layer of curation. This is essential and information continues to explode with no end in sight.

We all need to extract and communicate the meaning of information, not just find it.

Two sides of marketing through social vex me. To have something meaningful in the social space you need to be genuine: a company cannot be "genuine". And on the other side: we don't want to be the friend of a company or have them be our friend — we want it to "just work".

What's the space you suggest companies carve out for themselves then?

Steve RubelAt its essence, I believe you are correct.

We want to have relationships with the people inside a company (or their sanctioned delegates), not a faceless entity.

If you activate/mobilize people to engage in transparent conversations, under the umbrella of the corporate entity, it leads to enhanced trust. That's the best way to make social media "work." It's basically human relations 101.

I took exception with your idea-in-the-rough that "SEO as we know it really could one day be extinct". Counter point?

Steve RubelThis is all in how you define SEO.

To me it is one pillar of the four required to create/maintain a digitally visible business:

1. Paid,
2. Owned,
3. Learned,
4. Social

SEO is optimizing your owned spaces. However, to be visible online you increasingly need to operate using all four pillars – and in an integrated way.

So yes, there is a place for SEO – but it's part of much bigger puzzle now and this specific piece may be waning in influence since thanks to Google's increasing personalization, no two people see the same web (SERPs).

Intent is the master of prevention for "information overload", I believe. What's your intent? Why are you consuming the information you do?

Steve RubelI am pretty much singularly focused on collecting/managing information in a way that gives me and the teams and clients I support an information advantage.

Some of the information that I process I share with others on Twitter and elsewhere, but in the end it's all about growing Edelman's business and that's why I do what I do.

Do you "just write" or do you have a process in place for your larger pieces?

Steve RubelVery often I get an idea an just go with it.

I keep lists of lots of posts I would like to write but I often don't get around to do because of the demands on my schedule.

Couple of tools I want to throw out there; MindManager, Evernote, PersonalBrain?

Steve RubelTried them all.

I look for applications that give me a unified experience on the devices I use: PCs, Macs, iPhone, Blackberry (an Edelman client) and now especially the iPad.

I also like simplicity. So right now I am using Mindnode (I don't mindmap on some of these devices, so this covers me) and Evernote. It's also why Iove Gmail and IMAP – simple and effective everywhere.

Which browser do you use these days as much of your Gmail workflow relied on the "Send To" button in the Google toolbar.

Steve RubelRight now I am primarily using Safari on all of my devices along with bookmarklets over extensions as I like to standardize my tool across platforms and keep them as simple and as "cruft free" as possible.

Few services: Digg, Stumbleupon, Slashdot?

Steve RubelReally don't use them. I need to make choices on where I put my attention, so my focus is on Twitter, Facebook and to some degree blogging and my bylines in AdAge and Forbes.

Let's say some of the new "permanently" unemployed make their move and try to make a living online and you'd have the chance to advise one of them — what would you tell them to help ensure their project will work and their life will change?

Steve RubelFigure out what you want to be known for and how it differs from everyone else out there. Then use online tools to be that man or woman – and don't veer from your individual strengths and talent.

Fuse this into the services you provide and the way you engage online to build your business.

There's no room for generalists anymore. We all need to specialize.

Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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