Sunday, January 02, 2011

Information Diet Planning – Newsletters


Given the amount of information that is out there it’s difficult to throttle back and actually digest it. A quick look at any web page will set that context; hit StackOverflow and you’ve got several dozens of links to follow, each a rabbit hole on its own. The same can be said for Hacker News, Channel 9, and just about every other popular developer site that is out there.

What tools exist to process this more efficiently? Perhaps, I hope, one of the oldest tools out there: email.

I came across this solution reading the Washington Post’s email newsletter I subscribe to one morning. I realized I’d get more out of the news by scheduling a more deliberate reading of the newsletter than by going to the site and being bombarded by stories and links that, while no doubt interesting, would result in an overflow of words that would invariably lose their depth.

I decided for the next week not to visit any news site directly but rather to subscribe to several newsletters and schedule the reading from directly from my email inbox. I also turned off the radio so that rather than hearing multiple versions of syndicated stories from the Associated Press, I would be able to dive more deeply and think more at length about what I read. The goal was to buck the trends of the modern day information seeker:

“characterised as being 'horizontal, bouncing, checking and viewing in nature. Users are promiscuous, diverse and volatile.' 'Horizontal' information-seeking means 'a form of skimming activity, where people view just one or two pages from an academic site then "bounce" out, perhaps never to return.' The average times users spend on e-book and e-journal sites are very short: typically four and eight minutes respectively.”

I wanted to get more vertical with my reading rather than surfing through multiple versions of the same piece of news.

I was so pleased with the results that I decided to use the same strategy with technical news and articles. I have long been a member of The Code Project and of the software development newsletters I receive (surprisingly few) theirs is probably the best. Each day, and then in a weekly digest, there is an email in my inbox with a decent roundup of technical articles. Although not all of them pertain to my skills set or interests, there are usually one or two good links to follow up with; in this newsletter received on the last day of the year I could easily spend an hour on The Best Technology Writing of 2010 or catch up with Rob Connery giving his sentiments on BizSpark.

The experiment will continue and although I do admit to “skimming” from time to time, even the tepid commitment that I’ve made seems to make my time online much more efficient. The next steps regarding newsletters is to find some more development related ones that come in a digest form, preferably weekly so that I can spend a full week on the contents.


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