Friday, April 08, 2011


This quote is from Clay Shirky. A wonderful way of looking at the often mentioned problem of 'information overload'. If I say I'm reading and following 100 blogs people are really shocked and I quickly add that they don't have to. Clay Shirky is turning it around: the problem is not information overload, the problem is that people don't know how to filter. With the result that they don't make use of the possibility to access relevant information and develop connections. Watch Clay Shirky talking if you have time:

He explains that because of the low cost of publishing on the internet everyone can contribute. The web editors and publishers are no longer working as quality filters. This means that the filters sit on the other side, with the users, with us. So we have to filter out quality. This is empowering, but also demands quite some skills.

I've seen the firehose metaphor going round and I really like it. If you are thirsty: how are you going to drink from a firehose? So if we are floaded with information and conversations through social media how are we going to filter?

There are two basic helping frames:

  • Focus on builing a relevant network (the people)

  • Use handy tools to filter ( technology)

Beth Kanter has a good blogpost and developed a diagram (shown here).

Three tips for the first filter: People and Network

  • Make deliberate choices for the number of networks and people you want to engage with. These networks may be formal as well as informal. You can not be as active in 50 networks (I've seen NGOs in Ghana try this!). But through social media you can be active in a few and still scan the other networks. The danger is that you remain in scanning mood throughout. Decide to be active, ask questions, react on forum discussion, blogs etc. Invest in face-to-face contact with your closest networks. If you are busy, don't drop your whole social media engagement but go back to your best network.

  • If you are less busy and have more time at hand, invest in new relationships or exploring new networks too. Make sure investing in new relationship is not at the detriment of your close ties.

  • Evaluate regularly whether your network is working for you or whether you need to shift gear. Probably if you change jobs or focus, you need to refocus, but even in the same job, this evaluation is needed. Unfollow people that are not helping you in any way. Better a small effective network than a large network that makes you lose your interest in social media.
Three tips for filter 2: Technology and Tools

  • Use tools that allow you to scan information and make it easier to get an overview like RSS readers, email subscriptions and tools like Hootsuite. Make sure your start up pages in your browser are supporting this too. You can find more information about RSS readers here. Learn to scan quickly and bookmark things for later reading.

  • Make use of the options in tools to filter out through making categories, for instance in your RSS reader. This allows you to focus in busy times. For instance, in twitter you can create lists of people who would like to follow. I have several lists by type of network.
  • Make use of a blog to digest, reflect and process. A blog is a wonderful way to may sure you reflect on all you have read and scanned. Scanning is not enough, but you need to digest. Personally I use social bookmarking for scanning. Later when I need to dig into a topic a read everything carefully. Sharing your insights through a blog is a nice to share back and be part of the conversation.
There are probably many more handy tools. Share your tips in the comments if you have one!

Finally there is a blogpost with 6 lessons Steffan Antonas. De five lessons I consider to be very important are (read the sixth in his blogpost if you are curious):

  1. Use the tools to build relationships, don't see it simply as information

  2. Prioritise offline contact, make sure you don't waste valuable offline contacts by trying to read up online and keeping an eye on your iphone, computer or ipad

  3. Be open and personal, people are not looking for very dry information, but are also looking for anecdotes, humour etc. (oeps did I do that in this blogpost?)

  4. Stay focussed on your own interests, it is easy to get carried away and waste time

  5. Having many followers are fine, but focus on your 'strong ties' your close network

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