A year or two ago, as Twitter and FriendFeed in turn made headlines, much was made of how we were increasingly consuming information as a stream. Last January I blogged along those lines on why and how I followed 2,500 people on Twitter – why? I dip in and out rather than expecting to read everything. How? I used filters and groups for the bits I didn’t want to miss.
That behaviour now looks like a precursor to a broader change in my information consumption facilitated by new features in Twitter and Google Reader. And I wonder what that says about wider information consumption now and in the future.
From a stream to a delta
The features in question are Twitter lists and Google Reader bundles.
Now that lists are integrated by Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck and Echofon, it’s easy to switch your default view of Twitter from ‘all friends’ to ‘List X’ – and from ‘List X’ to ‘List Y’ and ‘List Z’ and so on.
I have lists for my MA Online Journalism students, for my undergraduate online journalism students, for data geeks, for people I’ve met in person, for formal news feeds – and I’m switching between them like TV channels.
Likewise, as I start to gather my Google Reader subscriptions into some sort of order, I’m moving from a default behaviour of dipping into ‘all items’, to switching between particular bundles of feeds along the same lines: data blogs, technology news, my students’ blogs, and so on.
To continue the ‘stream’ metaphor, I’m breaking that torrent into a number of smaller rivers – a delta, if you like. (Geographers: feel free to put me right on the technical inadequacy of the analogy)
Follow, Then Filter
Just as the order of things in a networked world has changed from ‘filter, then publish’ to ‘publish, then filter’, it strikes me that I’m adopting the same behaviour in the newsgathering process itself: following first, and filtering later
Why? Because it’s more efficient and – perhaps key – the primary filter is search. And you have to follow first to make something searchable.
In fact, Google itself is a prime example of ‘Follow, Then Filter’, following links across the web to add to its index which users can filter with a search. (another good example is Delicious – bookmarking articles you’ve not read in full because you may want to access them later).
When bandwidth ceases to become an issue – when storage ceases to become an issue – then we can follow as much as we like on the premise that, later, we can filter that information to suit our particular needs at that moment, for the one thing that does have a limit – our attention.