A Business Technology Place

Finding social rhythms

We have limits on the number of digital profiles we can keep active.
I have six digital profiles that I use regularly for various purposes. Here’s the list in no order of significance: Blog site, RSS reader, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. My activity on each varies from week-to-week based on a variety of factors including my schedule and purpose of communication. I’m not closed minded to changing in the future. But at this point in time those are the areas that comprise my digital life.

I don’t know for sure, but I suspect six digital areas are far more than most people try to maintain. I’m not active on Pinterest or Instagram or (insert your favorite site not listed here). It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy learning and exploring, but my capacity to participate is limited by my other choices.

Our digital participation is subject to change.
I think we all gravitate towards the spaces that give us the most value. By that I mean, a place where we connect with people and information. This is a place that we can consume information that provides knowledge and benefit to us, but it’s also a place that allows us to contribute information back to the space.

We may create profiles and try them for a time before abandoning the profile for something else. Twitter is a good example. I see abandoned profiles all the time. Many have created a Twitter account to see what it’s all about but have never contributed any information on their own. LinkedIn is another good example. One could argue it’s a professional expectation now to have a LinkedIn profile. But most people don’t use LinkedIn for professional activity such as networking, knowledge share, or research until they are actively pursuing a job.

We develop social rhythms based on the platform and content.
Maybe you don’t think of it that way. But we are all creatures of habit. I know I try to find a rhythm for producing and consuming digital content. It’s a challenge and requires dedication each day. As I see it though, my digital lifestyle is about learning, thinking, and growing. Even though contributing content isn’t directly related to my compensation at work, keeping an expertise and knowledge molds my thinking and knowledge for work activities.

Here’s some examples from my routine:
* My RSS feed is like my newspaper. It contains profiles of information sources that I want to read regular updates. Some of them are media outlets while others are blogs from individual thought leaders.

* LinkedIn is a always-on professional networking forum. I can keep track of my professional connections changing jobs, adding skills, or sharing pieces of information.

* Google+ is like combination of a RSS reader and discussion forum. I’ve created circles based on topics and when I view the stream from an individual topic it’s like reading a RSS feed. I’m finding that Google+ is more rich with discussion about topics than a typical blog or media publication. Much of the value of Google+ comes in reading and participating in the comments after each post.

* My blog is a my thought sandbox. I use the blog to record my thoughts, practice writing, and experiment with digital publication.

Platforms may come and go. But our basic need to communicate doesn’t change.
Regardless of what digital platform(s) we use or how we use them, we are driven by a need to communicate. “Social media” is just a term to wrap around social creatures. Maybe the current platform we use is discontinued in the future. But we’ll find another one to use because of our basic need to communicate ideas with one another. How much or how little we contribute is based on our rhythm for consumption.

I’m always searching for ways to stay in rhythm or to develop a more complete set of habits in my life. Let me know what works for you.

Recipe for a digital diet

The digital information flow in our lives is increasingly complex to manage.
Think about how you manage digital content in your life. News, blogs, streaming video, books, music, etc. The options for consuming digital information are changing rapidly. They include not only hardware devices but also software tools made specifically for managing our digital intake. Chances are that if you are reading this post that you use multiple tools and those tools change over time.  For example, I remember using Delicious and Plaxo at one time. But today, I’ve replaced those two  with Evernote and LinkedIn. I use other tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and Google Reader and have more in my toolbox. I bet you do to. Which is exactly my point. It’s complicated.

We are making choices everyday choosing what to consumer and what to ignore.
As with food, the abundance of the information in our lives creates a decision for what we will and will not consume each day. There’s just too much to consume it all and we have other activities in our lives, outside of processing digital information, that are important. Our choices are  individual decisions:

  • What tools to use
  • What information to read, watch, listen to
  • What new information to add (status updates, shares, comments, etc.)

So what’s your game plan for managing a digital diet?
How do you make those daily choices of what, when, and how you’ll process information? My answer to this question may be changing over time as I try different techniques and methods. One principal that is very clear to me is that even within my information filters, such as people and site follows/subscriptions, there is too much information for me to consume it all. That means there are social status updates, blog posts, news articles, published videos, etc. that I never see to consume.

My information management plan has evolved into a strategy of quality over quantity.
Gone are the days with trying to skim and consume it all. I found that with this ‘quantity’ approach that I really did not benefit from the information because I did not have time to think and process the information. After all, the goal of our reading, watching, and listening is to learn, think about, reply, and apply the information in our lives right? Otherwise why are you doing it?

So my consumption routine has slowed down a bit. I’m finding it is more valuable to skim content headings and summaries to find information that potentially gives me a deeper dive into a topic of interest. A quick preview of the information will confirm or deny this. But if it’s information that I want to enjoy then I try to slow down and absorb it. What I’m really after is thinking about what I’m consuming. This means be engaged, respond, contribute, share, maybe even write a blog post about it. 😉

So the thought of quality or quantity is to choose wisely and then make the most of what information you allow in your life. I realize that’s not a new concept or any startling revelation. But it’s a necessity in this age when a digital stream of data flowing at rapid rate is facing us each day.

Happy eating.

RSS has an identity problem

Here’s something you already know. RSS reader usage never hit mainstream acceptance despite its acceptance in the tech community. If you’re reading this article chances are you are not within the group of people that doesn’t know or has never heard of RSS. For entertainment, I conducted a quick poll of 8 coworkers who are what I consider high technology users. They work with digital and print art design and all use mobile devices regularly during their personal time. I asked this simple question “do you use an RSS reader?” Most of the responses I received were in the neighborhood of “no, and I’m not really sure what that is.” One coworker who had used RSS before said that he didn’t find value in looking at article headings and preferred to visit each site on his reading list to look for fresh content. Really?

It occurred to me that RSS has an identity problem
Most people don’t get it. Despite it’s ability to simplify and reduce the amount of time to read internet content, people haven’t made a connection with the tools or applications for RSS. The main problem is that descriptions of RSS applications are usually in techno-speak such that the mainstream won’t bother reading it. Look at the definition from Wikipedia.

An RSS document (which is called a “feed”, “web feed”, or “channel”) includes full or summarized text, plus metadata such as publishing dates and authorship. Web feeds benefit publishers by letting them syndicate content automatically. They benefit readers who want to subscribe to timely updates from favored websites or to aggregate feeds from many sites into one place.

The name itself, Really Simple Syndication, is not a name to catch the attention or provide incentive for someone to understand what it is. Mix that in with a definition that includes terms like metadata, web feeds, and XML and you’ve lost most people. So despite the fact that there are an abundance of applications available, including within most popular email programs, RSS reader usage has not cracked mainstream use.

There are competing options in the market today aggregated content
Mathew Ingram provides a good analysis on RSS use with competing products on GIGOM. I agree with his thought that Twitter and Facebook organize data differently than a RSS and thus serve a different purpose. The mainstream has adopted the model of Facebook information flow because the way information is transformed and presented is hidden from the user. The user only recognizes they are communicating with friends which is the value-add for them. Tools like Twitter will take away from RSS reader usage, but reality is, it’s just splitting usage from the same people who already highly used RSS readers.

Why do I care that people don’t use RSS?
There are a couple of reasons. First, I like to help and share with people ways to make their life routines more efficient and productive. I truly believe if they knew and understood how a RSS application could collect, group, and summarize data that they would use the tool to change how they process information. Second, it’s a good marketing case study in branding and customer adoption. RSS is a good tool that serves a need. It just needs to be branded by the value that it provides, not how it works.

I asked the wrong question
So with all this thinking I’ve come to the realization that the question I originally asked was flawed. Rather than “Do you use an RSS reader?”, I should have asked something like “How do you read news or other recurring information from internet sources?” It’s likely the answers may already include products and applications that use RSS at their core (whether browser or mobile app). That’s where the identity of RSS is. It’s the plumbing that helps transport messages to various programs. The mainstream doesn’t care about XML and syndication. They care about the information they are reading.