Information overload: Is it time for a data diet?

There aren't many people today who haven't experienced some form of information overload

Many worry about missing out on something. "People fear a disruptive technology or business model will come on the scene and they won't have time to act," says Steve Borsch, CEO of Marketing Directions, a US consulting firm. "It's becoming exponentially more difficult to tap into the collective consciousness and stay on top of changes in an industry or area of interest, or even stay relevant in the workplace."

He admits to struggling. "I now am skimming and reading articles on dozens of news sites and technology journals, clicking on sources linked to by a blogger, and a whole lot more," Borsch says. "The river of content is turning into a flood, and my instinct is to get to higher ground."

IT professionals and information management specialists say that higher ground can be reached. Some use technology to combat the information overload, while others suggest putting yourself on an information diet and taking control over how much you allow yourself to be exposed to.

Turning to Technology

Borsch firmly subscribes to the belief that what technology has gotten us into, it can get us out of. He has studied customizable RSS feeds and "smart" news-aggregation sites that allow him to choose the types of news he wants to see as well as submit content and vote on items to promote their visibility.

On his PC, Borsch has arranged his browser into about a dozen workspaces. Three are always open for e-mail, the Google Reader RSS feed and three news aggregation sites: Techmeme for technology news, Blogrunner for general news and Wikio for global coverage.

Techmeme not only aggregates links to technology stories but also provides a visual sense of how important each story is through a list of links to the discussions each generated. If the list is long, Borsch says, he knows he should pay attention to that item. Similarly, compilation sites like Digg and Hackernews use social promotion techniques to help readers discern what's important. As readers vote on items, the most popular get more visibility.

Borsch says he has spent lots of time customizing Google Reader, editing what he wants to see and organizing how he sees it. He has created 20 folders for topics such as venture capital, video, technology, marketing/public relations, virtual worlds and gadgets. One is labeled "above the fold," for the 15 blogs that he considers must-reads, including Boing Boing. That feed pulls information from 171 blogs and various other sites, for a total of about 225 feeds. On one recent day, Borsch had 926 articles waiting for him. "I'll probably grab a sandwich and skim through them all, unless I get hooked into an article that burns up all my time," he says.

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