Although summer is often viewed as a time when things quieten off and newspapers have a hard time filling their pages, you would not know it from checking what has been written recently. People seem to be getting over-whelmed with the sheer volume of inputs they are getting from a wide variety of Internet sources. Part of the reason for this is that usage of the Internet and particularly the mobile web is growing by leaps and bounds.
In this article, we will explore what is happening and suggest ways to stay on top of the flood while still having a good chance to be aware of important items. To put this into context, we will look at a little history. Think back to the days before Facebook and Twitter.
Before Social Media, there were RSS feeds
As we entered the 21st century, one of the innovations that helped us all stay abreast of what was being added to the Internet was RSS newsfeeds. Their wide availability gave instant signals when new items were added to our favorite websites. This was not intrusive like e-mail alerts, but rather could be scanned rapidly using a newsfeed aggregator like Bloglines or Google Reader when time allowed.
The one drawback was that there was no judgment applied in indicating which were the more valuable and interesting news items. The website hosting computers inexorably spewed out their coded lists. In your office your own computer faithfully displayed the newsfeed list in its entirety using your aggregator program.
Social Media Come With Recommendations
Far better than those neutral coded lists were recommendations from trusted friends. Initially such recommendations might be seen on bulletin boards and in forums. However these soon morphed into much more flexible community websites such as Facebook, StumbleUpon, digg or reddit. These social websites were designed to allow members to vote either for or against particular news items and to write reviews. Armed with this extra information, one could quickly home in on items that seemed to be important and popular in your community.
But Like Bill Gates, We All Have Too Many Friends
That simple notion that social media sites were like sub-communities with common interests has not stood the test of time. A number of high profile members of such communities are on record with their discontent. Apparently Facebook has lost its sizzle for Martha Stewart. Bill Gates also recently admitted that he had given up on Facebook because he couldn't work out which of his friend requests came from friends and which from very sad people. He also is not big on text messaging. All these tools of technology let us waste our time if were not careful, he pointed out.
Perhaps Twitter Will Replace RSS Feeds
If the more elaborate social media are having their problems, will the ultra-simple Twitter be the RSS feeds killer. You can find people on both sides of this argument. Mitch Joel states flatly that Twitter Is Going To Kill RSS. Another of the same mind is Steve Gillmor of TechCrunchIT, who suggests that it is time to get completely off RSS and switch to Twitter. RSS just doesn't cut it anymore. Eric Frenchman is equally sure that Twitter is killing RSS feeds.
In the other camp, Duncan Riley insists that the only thing Twitter will kill is Twitter clones. Corvida Raven, the self-styled Oprah of the web, does not see Twitter as the culprit although something is certainly Killing RSS Feeds in her opinion.
For her, it's the social interaction of Twitter where others may send you off in wholly unexpected directions that is the real attraction. She finds there is a dreadful inevitability about reading through a news feed list
With Twitter and other social media tools theres a different type of interaction going on while getting your news. Its way more social. You know that the person who led you to a specific article might even be looking for a response from you rather than just your eyeballs for traffic. You cant say the same about reading RSS in feed readers. Its a one-man battlefield in there.
Perhaps Corvida is right and for many the social interaction as you get the news is the real attraction of getting information from your Twitter colleagues. Nevertheless it still leaves the problem of whether you have enough hours in the day to handle all these social interactions. Undoubtedly this is a personal decision and what works for some people may not work for others. Let us explore what are the key parameters in deciding what will work for you.
Getting Information Versus Sharing Information
As Corvida Raven correctly points out, the key distinction is whether you get information alone or whether this information is developed through a social interaction. The newsfeed provides information but there are no side benefits. In working through a social medium, there can be bonuses in networking and forming relationships. Seeds may be planted for future mutual working opportunities. It is certainly more enjoyable to be working with others in a cooperative way than to be toiling like a monk over interminable information sources.
The major bonus in working on information by yourself is the chance that you will find something no one else has yet seen or heard of. If you are sharing information all the time with the same group of individuals, it may be there are less surprises, particularly if the individuals are not scanning the horizon for unexpected happenings.
Although different people will put different weights on the factors involved, it seems quite clear that it is best to have a mix of information sources. You need to budget your time to ensure that some important news sources are not neglected because others have taken too much time.
Robin Broitman has written an excellent Guide For Busy People = How To Boost Your Social Media Productivity, which gives many suggestions on how to best to apply your limited time. Another thought-provoking article on the same topic is Identifying a social media workflow by P Morgan Brown.
How Best To Handle Covey's Urgent And Important items
Given the time pressures we all work under, it is important to budget our time carefully. Stephen Covey has suggested some rules to help in this. In particular he believes it's important to make sure that urgent and important items receive most of your own available time. The problem in social media is that to an extent the urgency of an item is what someone else applies to it. The way to control such items is to budget your time and then use the time you have assigned in an optimal way to cover what seem to be the most important items.
Is there still a place for RSS newsfeeds?
RSS newsfeeds can themselves absorb a huge amount of time if not handled in the best way. This requires a news feed aggregator that displays the newsfeeds in exactly the format that you wish. You should then scan the results on a pre-determined time schedule. Such a regime brings two main advantages.
- You maximize the chances off spotting unexpected happenings that may not have been apparent in your social media group
- You also may well spot breaking developments early and have more time to react and take the right course of action.
Lee Bryant discusses the likely role for RSS in his piece: Going with the flow: whither enterprise RSS? He feels that currently there are only two decent enterprise RSS solutions that he is familiar with: Newsgator and Attensa. He notes that both are seeing much slower market acceptance than they would wish.
Despite this, I too feel that RSS Newsfeeds fill an important slice of the information gathering activity. Having been a long time user of Bloglines, I recently switched to Google Reader and now have migrated to Feed Demon from Newsgator. I find this the best of the three in how I can manage the feeds and see them displayed in a format that I find particularly effective. Since it is used in a number of short sessions every day its performance characteristics are critical.
We'll give the last word to Corvida Raven. However, dont cross RSS news feeds off just yet. Theyre too important for bloggers, PRs, and power users. They just may not be whats right for the mainstream until they start to get a better grasp of these tools.
Barry Welford is an Internet Marketing expert with SMM BC Internet Marketing Consultants in Langley, BC, Canada.
(Mobile website for SMM BC) He is a consultant and coach to small and mid-sized businesses of all types and has extensive international business experience with major multinational corporations, particularly in marketing. He can be found on Twitter at @bwelford and writes frequently in BPWrap and the other SMM blogs