Howard Rheingold: Hacking RSS to Reduce Information Overload with Filtering Tools

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Howard Rheingold
Howard Rheingold

Since Google ditched Google Reader, RSS has receded from many people’s awareness. Yet RSS and versatile RSS readers such as NetVibes continue to exist, and if you want to learn information skills to support attention skills, you can do no better than Dawn Foster, who can tell you simply and step-by-step how to arrange for the information you want to come to you, and to filter out the information you don’t want.

How to Hack RSS to Reduce Information Overload

Dawn Foster

GIGAOM, 25 March 2011

Summary: The key to cutting information overload is to more efficiently find the data that you want among the data that you don’t care about. I wanted to share some of the techniques that I use to hack and filter my RSS feed to prioritize relevant information.

Last week, I held a session at SXSW Interactive titled Hacking RSS: Filtering & Processing Obscene Amounts of Information, where I talked about creative ways to use RSS to manage information overload without using any programming skills.

There is more information available in the world than any one person could hope to consume (hundreds of exabytes of data), but most of that information is uninteresting, out of date, inaccurate, or not relevant for you. The key to reducing information overload is to more efficiently find the data you want among the information that you don’t care about. The tools that I talked about in my SXSW session are focused on discarding or de-emphasizing the data you don’t need, while highlighting the data that’s relevant for you. I wanted to share some of what I talked about during my presentation.

Individual RSS feeds from blogs, news and other sources are a great starting point for your information overload reduction efforts. Some individual RSS feeds from friends’ blogs or the top people in your field might almost always be relevant and won’t need any other work. But what about the blogs where one in five or one in 10 posts are relevant for you? How do you narrow them down to a manageable flow of information that allows you to keep up with at least the most important content?

While there are some simple ways to make better use of your RSS reader to manage information overload, the real magic is in filtering. My favorite filtering tool is Yahoo Pipes, which lets me filter an RSS feed using various criteria: URL, author, date, content and more. Some examples of filtered feeds in my reader right now include industry analyst blogs filtered to only find posts about online community; searches across social websites where my projects are mentioned; and my some blogs filtered for just the best posts using PostRank. The image on the right contains a simple Yahoo Pipes filtering example from my SXSW presentation.

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