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    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
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A little less information, a little more action

My New Year’s resolution was to cut the current – to step away from the real-time information flow so that I can spend more time thinking and reflecting.

The first part of this has gone very well. The second part hasn’t – though I have reflected enough to realise that a third, related, aspect should have been included in the resolution.

I’ve successfully stepped away from the real-time more out of necessity than choice – my schedule has been unrelenting for several months now. I’m hoping that this will soon change, and that I can spend more time on both reflection and the overlooked aspect.

Before I divulge that, a brief review of three months of being more distanced.

On the whole, I’m happy with the decision. I may be less active on social media nowadays, but I’d argue I’m more efficient (albeit starting from a low base).

Despite potential benefits around phatic communication, the online signal-noise ratio problem is well-known.

Arguably a deeper problem is in filtering the signal strength – not all useful or relevant information is equal. What seems meaningful or resonant at the time can quickly turn out to be transitory or inconsequential.

I sincerely doubt that I’m now more discerning or incisive in my reading choice, but I do feel like my filtering of priority information has improved.

To give an example, I have a broad interest in technology and social media. As a consumer researcher, I need to understand trends, and ideally identify them before they reach critical mass.

But realistically, Austin is so far removed from the Home Counties that the information is largely superfluous. Beyond a basic knowledge of what the likes of  Beluga, Color, Path, Groupme, Quora, Instagram et al are providing (not least to see if they would be relevant to my atypical needs), I don’t need to know any more about them.

At least not yet. Do you know the proportion of the UK population that has heard of Foursquare? Not used, but heard of. How about Quora? The figures are 5% and 1% respectively (data comes from the digital media tracker I run).

They may morph into the next Twitter, but they may not. Furthermore, it isn’t the products or technologies I’m interested in, but the behaviours – Kevin Kelly has a nice diagram of benefits vs. company. And consumer behaviour (let alone attitude) is pretty slow to shift.

They may morph into Twitter, but they may not. Wired’s top 10 tech start-ups of 2008 doesn’t fill me with confidence. Only LinkedIn (21% UK awareness) and AdMob are relevant to me. That’s a 20% success rate from a small sample size – it would be much lower if you counted every company on Wired’s radar.

The slow speed of shifting attitudes and behaviours are why  so many of the “classic texts” – Ogilvy, Ries, Drucker, Peters, Collins, Covey, Pink, Gladwell etc – are still relevant.

Shamefully, I’ve read very few of these. This will hopefully be rectified as I make better use of the time spent away from the firehose.

Once I improve upon this, I can move to the next piece of the puzzle.

Doing.

It is good to improve upon my sources of reading, but it is also a very limited ambition. In the same way that innovation builds upon invention, I should seek to create a practical outlet for my reading. Ideas are good, execution is great.

Given that I deal with knowledge and information, my definition of  “doing” is going to be far narrower than that which Neil Perkin has been excellently espousing. But the likes of Noah Brier, Neil Charles and Rich Shaw have shown that it is possible to merge technical proficiency with clarity of thought.

My short-term goals are going to be small-scale – I haven’t managed to port my blog over to a .com address (admittedly, procrastination has been the main obstacle) so I’m not going to be coding any apps.

But even a better understanding of Microsoft Office will help me improve as a researcher – both through more efficient uses of what I already know and the introduction of new functionality (macros?). Reading informs of the overt or already discovered trends or approaches, but a merging of reading and doing widens the scope to not only think of something new, but to actually implement it.

This entry also acts as a good excuse to repost this Dolph Lungren video

Cutting the current

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, particularly since I never actually seem to keep them. But I start with good intentions, so I suppose that is at least something.

In 2009, I vowed to read less, but better. That sort of happened, but the mass of information makes it difficult to resist.

In 2010, I attempted to widen my reading sources, by rotating my online sources of news. I lasted for about a fortnight, but more pressing priorities meant it quickly fell by the wayside.

Nevertheless, I return once again with a resolution for 2011.

It is quite similar to the 2009 resolution in that it is another attempt to combat information overload. But rather than simply say I will try to read more but better, this is hopefully a process that will help me achieve it.

In 2011, I will take a conscious step-back from real-time content consumption, and intentionally read (most) news and commentary much later than their time of publishing.

I’m not going to be as prescriptive as saying it will be 12 hours, or 48 hours, a week or a month. Particularly, since posts on MediaGuardian will be more time-sensitive than those on New Yorker. But I’m going to avoid the regular refreshing of Google Reader, and let links build up.

The last couple of months has proven the efficiency of this appraoch to me. An incredibly busy November and December meant I had to cut down my reading and surfing. Over the Christmas break, I have largely caught up on my RSS feeds and bookmarks. Google Reader trends tells me that in the last 30 days I’ve read circa 2,500 items. That would previously have been circa 3,500, while the current figure also includes items over a month old.

But there are many other benefits.

In the character of C’s, here are five interrelated reasons why I think this approach will suit me.  No fancy graphics. Sorry.

SIDENOTE: I’ve exaggerated it for the purpose of this post, but what is with the proliferation of lists consumed with Cs – is it the most alliterative word for media and technology related content? Whether Brian Solis5 C’s of community or Srinivasana et al’s eight factors that influence customer e-loyalty, its popularity is clear.

1. Concentration through centralisation and classification

What I found most striking in my catch-up of links was that I was far more selective in what I chose to read. When caught in the fire-hose, I may have read the same story four times from four different sources, not knowing who else would be picking up on the topic. Now, I’m able to select from a complete list of sources on my radar. A more discriminating selection process will also free up more time to do other important things. Like sleep.

It also benefits long-form content consumption, since I’m no longer in a hurry to steam through articles. Recently, I’ve been enjoying Vanity Fair, Atlantic and New Yorker pieces courtesy of services such as Give Me Something to Read – here is their best of 2010

2. Curation through collation and compilation

I’m not totally sold on curation – services like paper.li just annoy me. But trusted editors can make a difference. I don’t necessarily need to scour every link looking for the most interesting pieces, when people such as Neil Perkin crowdsource recommendations or people like Bud Caddell point to interesting things.

Incidentally, I may once again resurrect my link updates. I may not. It depends how this experiment goes.

3. Conversation through community and comments

Although the number of comments might be dwindling (or merely refocusing on the biggest sites with an active community), they can still be incredibly valuable.

Initial comments tend to be from sycophants or – in the case of social media monitoring blogs – companies such as Alterian or Radian 6 proving their scraping technology works but later comments can be insightful in their critiquing or extending the authors points. Helpfully, Disqus now sorts comments based on popularity (I should really start voting).

4. Context through critique and connections

Whether it is through comments or from myself connecting different commentaries or posts, different items can be combined or juxtaposed for context and additional understanding. And often it is the connectors that are more interesting than the nodes themselves.

5. Contemplation through consideration and cogitation

Finally, moving away from real-time motivates reflection and critical thinking. The need to rush into a response has been marginalised. I can ponder and muse before I decide whether to write a response to something or not. Nicholas Carr would be proud.

To make this work, each person will have a unique system that works for them. Mine is using Read It Later – a bookmarking service that syncs across devices. It also works within Google Reader, though I suspect I may need to also use stars if the volume of bookmarks needs additional features to distinguish information (on time-sensitivity, if not topic)

Of course, there are drawbacks to this approach.

  • It effectively makes me a lurker rather than an active contributor, so I’ll be taking more than giving.
  • I will continue to link, comment and blog but most likely after the fact, once people have moved on and the topic has lost some relevance. A balance will undoubtedly need to be struck.
  • I’ll have lower visibility through not being not being an early commenter or tweeter, and link-baiting my wares – though Twitter does seem to have made blog commenting and responding far more infrequent anyway. I think I can live with a lower Klout score, since I’m not doing this to reach an arbitrary number of undifferentiated people.

Let’s see how I get on.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36593372@N04/5198073390/

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