12 Filtering Tips for Better Information in Half the Time: RSS, Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon

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OK, I need to clear something up…

Despite how orgasmic it makes Gawker feel, their ace of spades insult from my recent NY Times piece is a partial misquote: “Mr. Ferriss says he gets most of his news by asking waiters.”

The NYT article was very well done, but the truth is that I get some of my information from many different sources, including friends, professors, and occasionally — yes — even the much maligned service staff.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Let’s start with something we can all agree on: In a digital world, the race goes not to the person with the most information, but the person with the best combination of low-volume and high-relevancy information. The person with the least inputs necessary to maximize output.

So how do you do it?

For some, filters takes the form of a secretary. For others, it’s a matter of letting the Robert Scobles or Techmemes find the gems… or finding a virtual assistant who creates personalized executive summaries each week.

But what if you had hundreds of people with similar interests filtering for you? An army of attention gatekeepers? Bottom-up instead of top-down information distillation?

That’s just part of this article—collaborative filtering—covered by Ryan Holiday. Ryan, 20-years old and another friend from SXSW 2007, works for NY Times bestselling authors like Tucker Max and Robert Greene. Smart lad.

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12 Filtering Tips for Better Information in Half the Time: RSS, Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon
by Ryan Holiday

In the search to stay informed but free and fluid, I’ve found a way to let collaborative filtering do the work for me. Here is how I do it:

RSS—Really Simple Syndication

This comes as a shock to everyone in the tech crowd, but most people don’t use RSS.

If you don’t use it, you should start. It can fundamentally simplify your online life.

Why would you check back to Tim’s site everyday to see if he’s posted when you can be updated only when it happens? RSS does to your web habits what Tivo did to your television–utterly revolutionizes it. Grab Google Reader and subscribe to Tim’s feed here.

Robert Scoble reads 600+ feeds a day, which nearly no one should, but if you subscribe to his feed, he’s filtering those 600+ for you, hence his nickname, the “human aggregator.” [From Tim, as true with all brackets: Rather than browsing the web for what you need and getting distracted by the irrelevant but interesting, RSS essentially gives you your own personal newspaper with carefully selected content. Here a general rule of thumb – The 70% Surfing Rule: if you surf vs. subscribe, assume you will spend at least 70% of your online time consuming interesting instead of actionable information, and 70% of the time, you won't return to the task you initially set out to complete].

RSS is the first but casual line of defense in your war for efficient information consumption.

Tips for Using RSS Effectively:

1) Don’t Use Categories
Organizing all your feeds by genre is tempting but will burn you out. It is better to list them all out in a single view and use the “j” and “k” shortcuts [hitting the “j” key move you down, hitting the “k” moves you up] on Google Reader to navigate your feeds. This inserts variety into your daily read and lets valuable material stand out, as opposed to reading 30 posts in a row from the same author.

2) Don’t check it on the weekends
By batching it up and adding a sense of urgency to the process, you’re much less likely to waste time on crap. Be ruthless. If it’s good and you miss it, it will come back to you, I promise.

3) Clean House

You’re in charge. Your time is valuable. You’re too good to put up with someone who phones it in. If your friend told boring or pointless stories, would you call them up in the middle of the day and give them your uninterrupted attention? If an author isn’t delivering consistently, cut them out. If they ever improve enough to be worth reading again, you’ll probably hear about it.

4) If it Piles Up, Throw it Away
If you fall too far behind, don’t dedicate 4 hours to catching up on 1,256 posts. Just click “Mark All As Read” and move on. If you’re utilizing Delicious and StumbleUpon correctly, both later in this article, all the important stuff will come back to you.

Stumble Upon

StumbleUpon is a valuable tool as a reader or a blogger. As a reader, it allows you to hierarchically rank the Internet–thumbs up or thumbs down, Gladiator style. Based on your voting history and interests, it lets you “stumble” on to pages that you’ll like (somewhat like Pandora in music). The term “stumble” is a bit misleading because what you’re really doing is outsourcing your searching/filtering to a computer and to a highly dedicated crowd of 2 million people. They help you catch the crucial things you may have missed in your RSS reader.

As a blogger, SU is far superior to Digg, Reddit or any other service in terms of delivering traffic. Last month, Stumble Upon sent 23,000 people to three sites I work on to posts that are almost a year old. 91% of those visitors were totally new to our pages and 69% of them stuck around (31% bounce rate) compared to the abysmal 4% stick rate (96% bounce) that came from a front page story on Digg. This happens because they’re being sent to pages that fit with their interests–because the algorithm works.

Getting the Most Out of StumbleUpon

1) Actually Joining the Community
How can you expect to get returns from a service you never bothered to invest in? Everyone in your organization, even if it’s just you, should have an account, and you should be a regular contributor (which really means an extra click when you see something you like). If you develop a high-quality, genuine account, no one is going to have a problem with you voting on your own stuff–you do like it, don’t you? But your votes won’t mean anything if you haven’t voted often and voted well for other pages you actually think are worthwhile.

2) Guide, but Don’t Direct
If you’re not going to vote for your own stories, you should make sure they’re in the right category. When I looked over Tim’s pages, one of his best posts “The Art of Letting Bad Things Happen” was categorized under travel. It’s not about travel; it’s about living life on your own terms. So go through your archives and make sure anything that has been submitted is in the right place. By keeping up on this, you can optimize your site for the traffic it deserves.

3) Dial in Your Interest, Let Computers Do Your Work
Every time you vote, tag, and review a story, the Stumble Upon algorithm gets to know you that much better. Start by voting in all your favorites, sites who’s feed you subscribe too, and writers you read everyday. Knowing that you like psychology, that you recently voted for an interview with Richard Dawkins and a Wikipedia page on Cognitive Biases, allows Stumble Upon to serve you with Time Magazine’s newest story on evolutionary psychology instead of you having to subscribe to the magazine’s RSS feed, or worse yet, drive to the store and buy it.

4) Use Only the Essentials.
After you install the toolbar, get rid of all the excess. Go to “Toolbar Options?Position Options” and place it anywhere you want (I keep mine at the bottom in my status bar). And then uncheck little buttons in the same window and select “icons only”, and all you’re left with is the thumbs up, thumps down button–everything that you need.

Del.icio.us

Delicious, if you use it right, not only makes your bookmarking system [highlighting good pages for later reference] portable but it hires all your friends as personal news shoppers for you. If you were looking to outsource your morning read, but didn’t want to pay those Indian MBA’s, this is how you do it.

Making your Bookmarks Del.icio.us:

1) Use the “Links for You” section
Delicious’ killer app is its ability to facilitate sharing. When friends read a story they think you’d be interested in, they tag it to you and it shows up in your account to be read at your leisure. I’ve set it up so my network of friends and co-workers hit me with 5-10 of the day’s best stories–the things I can’t do with out. If done right, you’ll have an army of friends out searching for the things you need to read instead of you taking the massive burden on yourself.

2) Give to Receive
While you’re doing your regular read, keep your friends in mind. If you see an article that’s relevant to a friends business, tag it “To:UserName” and it shows up in their account.

3) Mark them “To_Read”
When you see something that you know you have to read, but don’t have time for now, set up a category that delineates that you’ll go back to it. Think of it as a DVR that saves the stuff you need to watch but didn’t want to be chained to the clock for. I mark stories “To_Read” and every few days I go back through and get caught up. The last thing you should do is rush through something important when you can go back later and get the most out of it. I also have “To_Do” tag that I use to mark things I need to install or complete.

4) Be Simple
Use the Classic Del.icio.us buttons and nothing else. In Firefox, it puts them right next to your navigation bar, one for tagging and the other to view your bookmarks. Use as few tags as possible. Use the description section to highlight the meaty part of the article. And lastly, only befriend people who provide quality material. The last thing you need is the website equivalent of chain-emails showing up in your account.

The Bottom Line

Each one of these services is useful in and of themselves, but used in combination, they can dramatically improve your results while simultaneously cutting the bulk of your information load.

RSS is your first line of defense. You pick the sites that deliver quality content and are informed when they’re updated. No need to live and die by it–treat it like scanning the newspaper headlines.

Then, by employing collaborative filtering, you use other people’s time to weed out the things that would waste yours. In fact, Del.icio.us and Stumble Upon polls your friends and people with similar interests for the most crucial sources of information and anything else you might have accident skipped over. If The Wisdom of Crowds has taught us anything, it is that a large group of people is drastically more efficient than you’ll ever be on your own.

Unless you enjoy grinding yourself to the bone, use this principle—whether you call it “crowdsourcing” or otherwise—to stop drinking from the information fire hose. It’s not more information, it’s better information, that distinguishes the real winners in business and life.

Related resources:
Download Google RSS Reader
Subscribe to this blog’s RSS Feed
How to Create a Paperless Life, Never Check Voicemail, Never Return Another Phone Call
How to Take Notes Like an Alpha-Geek
The 10 Most Common Words You Should Stop Using Now

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Odds and Ends: Anyone in Punta del Este?

Looks like I’ll be in South America for a bit enjoying some surf and turf. Does anyone have a room or house in Punta del Este available the first or second week of January? I’m happy to share (same true for good wine), and the closer to La Barra, the better :) Just email amy-atsymbol-fourhourworkweek.com or leave a comment.

Posted on: December 28, 2007.

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62 comments on “12 Filtering Tips for Better Information in Half the Time: RSS, Del.icio.us and StumbleUpon

  1. You should prefilter RSS with aiderss if you have RSS feeds that have a ton of articles per day. For me, I don’t care about 90% of the stuff on Engadget or Metafilter and it severely reduces the amount of noise.

    Like

  2. A different perspective indeed! All I have to say is that I tried out the RSS feed recently and think it is a useful and effective tool. The best thing to do is just try different things out until you get the result that you have aimed for.

    Best

    Jose Castro-Frenzel Dallas, Tx

    Like

  3. I read over 500 rss a day. I am anal with how I read it. If I don’t read it and it keep on piling. I throw it away. It is just like those clothes you don’t wear for a year, purge it.

    The purpose of over 500 trends is for trend catching. With finances ability, I will consider hiring personal assistants to filtering the informatons.

    Information is power!

    Like

  4. While I have great compassion with the overweight individual in the photo, I love that you picked that shot and related it to information! I often use the analogy of life’s buffet… just because the spread is so diverse, ample and yummy, eating it all or stuffing oneself is certainly not getting the most out of it! Thank you, Tim, for continuing to help others be selective!

    I used to speed read and have a list of “regulars”, the stuff I just gotta know/read/skim/check out/check in/etc. I don’t anymore. I drop by here and there, no RSS whatsoever. What relieved me from all of it was a realization that I get exactly what and how much I need to know, no matter what I do. Even your book… a friend mentioned it before I ever came across all the buzz. The magic of the Universe, . :-)))

    Happy New Year to all! Count your blessings, drop a note at http://www.IamThankful.com .

    Like

  5. Hey Tim,

    Good article – one thing I liked here (and you could include in future articles) is the links to related posts at the bottom.

    Adding 2 or 3 related posts at the end of every article would really help facilitate navigation and keep the cognitive ball rolling.

    Thanks!

    Like

  6. Cleaning up the information inputs is the big new years resolution. It is going to be drastic this time :S I think a light diet of rss SU could be just the fix for the hundreds of feeds in my reader that I’m about to delete.

    Like

  7. Hey Tim,
    I really enjoyed this post. I must admit to being a little behind the times regarding an RSS reader and how to properly use it. I remember signing up for the Google reader about a year ago, and using it once… bet there is a bunch of junk piled up now!

    Anyway, keep up the good posting… your one year anniversary for publishing your revolutionary book is coming up in April! Anything special planned?

    Enjoy South America!

    Erik

    Like

  8. Tim,

    one more time saver tip that has helped me:

    Tabbed browsing in Firefox. Set up your important bookmarks, One click and you are set. This can also help prevent time wasting web surfing.

    Kudos, enjoy your surf & Turf!

    Nate

    Like

  9. Tim,
    Speaking of mini retirements, you should come to Utah and Ski or snowboard. We have “The best snow on earth” it is even on our liscence plates! We get a lake effect from the Great Salt Lake, which dumps 200-300 inches per year of the driest fluffiest powder you have ever seen.

    Try it out some time. If you do, let me know!

    Nate
    SLC UTah

    Like

  10. A fine article, but ‘The 70% Surfing Rule’ cheapened it a bit for me. Or should I say, only trust 70% of rules based around made up or unprovable statistics ;-).

    I’m just nitpicking. Good job on everything else :-).

    ###

    LOL… it’s just a rule of thumb. It’s more like Murphy’s “Law” than gravity or E = MC2, for example.

    Lots of “laws” or “rules” fall in this category when you think about it: the 80/20 rule, Metcalfe’s Law, etc. They are approximations of a general trend or principle, but not exact in their descriptions.

    Hope that helps!

    Tim

    Like

  11. Tim,

    Great piece. So far I use only Google Reader (GR)and delicious, and pretty much do what you say. It really saves a tremendous amount of time have feeds aggrgate to GR and the ability to use shortcuts to scan, delete, read, “star” an item, etc. etc.

    I however DO use categories. But, I will sometimes read the entire list and sometimes read by each category. If i have lots of feeds, I read the more important cateories. There are certain categories that I place more importance on…such as health matters, exercise, GTD, etc.

    If I have like 100 feeds or less to read, I “scan” and/or read the entire list. I love that google reader has a condensed view. All I do is scan the headlines, if I likhe a particular feed, I either expand it, “star” it, or open the feed in a new tab.

    #3 Clean house, yes! Add only those feeds you really think is important and DELETE any you don’t want to waste you time on. What is important? We all have only a limited amount of time.

    #4. Yes. Mark all as read (aka Shift A) is very powerful indeed. Especially after you come back from a week’s vacation and you have 1000 unread feeds, you are very likely to just press SHIFT A.

    Like Nate said, it’s even more productive if you use tabbed browsing while reading your feeds. If sometime is superimportant, I either bookmark or delicious the page, print it out (most of the time) or cut and paste the information to google notebook.

    Like

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  13. Tim,
    Excellent post as usual.

    I think netvibes is worthy of the list – http://www.netvibes.com/static.php?show=about.

    “Netvibes:

    – Helps you manage your digital life and share it with your friends

    – Brings all your favorite MySpace, Digg, YouTube, Gmail, Flickr, eBay, del.icio.us accounts – you name it (no, really, you can rename our entire site) – together on your own personal Netvibes page

    – Share with your friends or colleague your favorite modules

    – 100% customizable – no ads, no logos, no corporate control”

    Great stuff.

    Like

  14. Hi Tim,

    Great post. I used to spend an hour a day reading RSS feeds. I used to take pride in knowing about every new thing on the internet before anybody else. After about two years of this, I realized most of those things don’t exist anymore and it wasn’t really worthwhile knowing about them.

    I’ve now switched to organizing my feeds by how often I plan to read them (daily, weekly and whenever) – with daily feeds limited to 2 low-volume feeds and 1 high-volume feed that I scan. I now spend about 10 minutes a day reading feeds, and catch up on the rest as projects require it or as my time allows. It no longer feels like yet another to do list and that was the goal.

    josephcp – thanks for the link to AideRss. I’ve been looking for something like this for the high-volume feeds I can’t cut altogether.

    Teresa

    Like

  15. Interesting (no, sad actually) how overweight people are singled out and ridiculed without conscience or repercussion nowadays.

    These are real people with real feelings. Think about it.

    ###

    Hi Jason,

    Please note that I’m not making fun of this person. He is overweight due to the decisions he has made, just as people are overwhelmed day-to-day because of the decisions they make. It is possible to be predisposed to becoming fat, but decisions and behavior are what make it so. I chose to uphold a societal structure where people are responsible for their decisions, not blameless.

    He is not to be ridiculed, but he is fat. There is no malevolence in making an observation of the obvious.

    Thanks for contributing to the conversation,

    Tim

    Like

  16. Tim: You should post your delicious, stumbleupon, and other social websites that you belong to. I’d like to see what you’ve bookmarked or what you find interesting.

    Like

  17. Tim:

    Loved the post.

    At this point, I need to keep my life somewhat segmented. So I do use a few tags (Categories).

    I use Me (my posts), Home, Work, Reference (stuff I may refer to later), and Sunday (to read then). It works really well for me and doesn’t slow me down.

    One more note: when I don’t want to be distracted by the numbers changing in my Google Gadget for Reader, I change the filter to “Me”. That way, I don’t see the other categories.

    Craig

    Like

  18. Tim,

    Got your book for xmas and love it. It is affirming an project I am launching in February to break free of my albeit successful (financially) cubicle-bound life. You mention how valuable it is to contact successful people for information and inspiration. So, are you willing to speak to me for less than 5 minutes, via email or phone? I am putting together a “How To” digital download for first-time authors in a niche market. Would love to quote you or interview you for the project.

    ###

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the kind words! I’d love to help, but I’m currently blocking out time to focus on a few big projects and had to stop doing one-on-one advice a while back. My apologies, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out :)

    Good luck!

    Tim

    Like

  19. Hi, Tim.

    I want to thank you for introducing me to Meetup.com this year. I’ve made a number of wonderful new friends, whom I otherwise wouldn’t have met.

    Also, thanks for introducing all of us to outsourcing. I’ve had experiences ranging from poor to very good with the various VA’s that I’ve tried. All in all a great learning experience.

    I’m still struggling with cutting down on my daily e-mail checking, but I’ve learned to balance my life better.

    It was great to see you on “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch” the other night.

    Thanks again, and Happy New Year!

    Like

  20. I use LiveJournal and bloglines. Bloglines is good with a 24″ monitor in portrait mode. People talk about signal-to-noise, but learn to skim ultra-fast and you can handle a whole lot of noise. Let’s see: Enormous viewspace, tiny font, aggregated feeds, less than a second to evaluate. Spin off some browsers to follow leads later. It works for me.

    Like

  21. Something else to consider, since you’re talking about Firefox extensions, is the Wizz RSS reader plugin. It works like the bookmark sidebar, but it takes all of your RSS feeds and displays headlines. Additionally, if you hover over the headline of an entry, a preview is displayed right there in the sidebar, saving you a few seconds of load time just to find out that interesting headline didn’t have anything worth reading below it. And the best part is how incredibly easy it is to subscribe to feeds: you click the search icon and drag the resulting feed line into the sidebar. Simple and damn-near idiot-proof.

    Thanks for the StumbleUpon tip. I’ve incorporated it into my browser!

    Like

  22. Tim, I agree that the “Related resources” links at the bottom of the post is a great idea–it helps your readers find more information related to the current topic and also boosts your page views as people work their way through your site.

    I think I may add that approach to my own posts.

    Like

  23. There were some good tips in the article, thanks for that.

    Love my RSS feeds. I remember when I switched over from checking blogs to using the RSS feed and what a difference. There was quite a while where RSS was just confusing to me and I wanted nothing to do with it.

    I also don’t see the point of the overweight person and I was honestly wondering ‘who is he?’…

    Like

  24. I really do think that filtering will be the primary skill we will need to learn to cope with this information-loaded world. I would love to hear some filtering tips to help filter actions/to-dos and emails. That is where my information overload really affects my life and sanity. I only have a few RSS feeds (about 25) and there is no way I can keep up with them. If I really break them down, most of them are really just junk information.

    Like

  25. These are some great ideas. I did sign up for the google reader last year, but never really used it. I also signed up with Digg and started to drift away from it. I will definitely come back to the RSS reader now and also look into SU and delicious. Thanks so much,
    Cyrus

    Like

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  27. Information overload is a massive problem these days. There is so much stuff out there. Even with RSS readers it is a lot. I like the StumbleUpon Concept. I use Pandora and love the hell outta it. Anyone that doesn’t use Pandora is missing out.

    Like