I spend a lot of time thinking about information, particularly how we consume it and what we do with it. I think most people struggle with the bulk of it, surely I do anyway. I think I do a lot more consuming and sharing than I do absorbing, which is why the “To Read” stack of articles often gets overlooked. The tools are a big part of the process, I do use a lot of them, but I use them in a way that as signals of what I might want to do with that information later. I share almost everything through Google Reader. I save almost everything too, but that’s so I can review things later (a second look at my Google Reader things is like going through the pile of papers on your desk and filing them appropriately). Then things get sorted again.
- Is this a website or service I wanted to sign up for? If it is then I take a few minutes and evaluate its worth to me… if it’s more involved than a quick sign up then it might go into the to do list (Remember the Milk is the list of choice here).
- Is this information this something I want to read later? If yes then it goes into Instapaper (and I have Instapaper Pro for the iPhone as well, which I actually prefer as a reading interface for blogs posts or articles).
- Is this a resource that I might want to use as a reference later? If it is then it goes to Delicious. The Delicious extension in Firefox is a nice way of accessing those later.
My feed reader has turned into a stream of information like Twitter has. I don’t fret if things go unread. I peer into my feeds when I have a few minutes and I share or mark the things that look interesting. The Feedly extension helps me manage items that don’t appear in my feed reader the same way (basically it turns the entire internet into my reader). Things found on Twitter or Facebook can be added to the information stream just as easily as things already there.
Of course this isn’t a fool proof process, things that I know I read go missing. Search becomes important in these situations. Since I save almost everything to Google Reader as a shared item then I can usually start there. Did I put it somewhere else? FriendFeed can often help me out if I did (lifestreaming isn’t always about sharing with others, it’s about remembering what you did).
So far this is a pretty reliable process for me… that is until I get to the “To Read” stuff. Let’s be honest, it never gets read, no matter what your method. I’d like to change that. I opened Instapaper today and realized most of things I have saved here are really great articles having to do with IA or UX topics. Things I should be reading! Not just reading though, absorbing and understanding. I’m going to try to build it in to my to do list as a once a week thing (as well as reviewing my saved items) and hopefully save or synthesize the information as I see the need to.
I do think there’s value in learning how to skim the surface of information. We can filter, pick, and choose what is relevant to us quickly and very efficiently. However, this should be balanced with some of the more traditional skills of picking apart and analyzing the information we do find useful.