Mathew Lowry

How do you sort through the firehose of information coming at you every day?

Soon after starting this blog I posted about the toolset I was using to manage information, figuring that if enough eurobloggers used the same tools we could easily coordinate our efforts and help each other out. Typically, everyone uses a different toolset, so nothing happened.

The past couple of months have seen me radically revise the toolset from a set of disparate tools to an integrated process based on GTD processes. I thought I’d describe it in the hope of getting ideas from how it could be improved by anyone out there, and to see whether there’s any convergence that would allow low-cost crowdsourcing of use to EU-oriented bloggers.

[20/7 update: just realised I forgot to include podcasts, which is a real weak point of the system.]

Diverse InBoxes …

Where does information come in, and what is the first action on it?

  • I access Twitter via Tweetdeck on my 2 PCs and Gravity on my phone. With an enormous effort of will, I only check it a few times a day. When scanning, I follow the 2-minute rule, immediately replying or retweeting if I can – but there are generally too many, and often there’s a website to check out.
    So I Favourite it. The RSS stream of Favourited tweets become part of my ‘in’ feed into Reader (below).
  • I categorise blogs into 3 or 4 categories in Reader. I usually check the ‘High’ category a few times a day, as it’s the homepage on my phone’s browser. Bloggingportal‘s home page selection probably makes up at least half of ‘High’, as it is already a curated selection of 600+ blogs.
    Whenever I see something that needs further action, I Star it.
  • Until my Nokia’s podcast app mysteriously stopped working (ARRGH), I’d listen to on average 40-60 minutes of podcasts every day as I walked and metro’d to work. I’d store ideas for followup in my phone’s voice recorder, transferring them to a Google doc when I got to the office. And there they’d stay! ;-(
    I have to figure out a better way of getting these Items into the rest of the iGoogle system, below. All ideas welcome.
  • Email is where information goes to die. I usually try and get it out of there as quickly as possible.
    • If an email points to a website, I generally follow the 2-minute rule and check it out, classifying the site in, below. At the very least, I’ll give it an ‘IN’ tag in delicious, which makes it appear in a dedicated widget in my iGoogle (next).
    • If the email has to become some other sort of action item, I use the Gmail ‘SuperStars’ extension to classify them or – in extremis – email it to my Outlook, and from there to Tasks. This could be a whole lot better, but I got the wrong phone.

… But One ActionBox: iGoogle dashboard

All of these Inputs feed into the iGoogle dashboard I’ve set up, which has widgets for Gmail, Reader and a range of feeds from – notably the abovementioned ‘in’ tag.

Reader, in particular, displays:

  • the new blogposts I have subscribed to by category
  • the blogposts I’ve already Starred for actioning (from phone or iGoogle)
  • tweets I’ve already Favourited for actioning (from phone, web or Tweetdeck)

It also has all the other widgets one tends to add to iGoogle: translation tools, daily quotes, weather forecasts, etc.

Actioning an item

So I’ve sifted through the firehose of tweets, posts and emails, and have favourited, starred and tagged the stuff I want to action. They’re all in iGoogle: time to run through them.

Most Items point to a website, so I usually end up tagging a site it in delicious, which I’m still using after all these years. My most common tags classify useful resources for my companies, family and so on. There are also specific tags to track things like the active conversations I am having around the web, and piped into places like this blog (see sidebar, right).

The one thing I don’t tag it is ‘IN’, as otherwise the whole thing will just go around in a circle.

For a long time I had a ‘blogme’ delicious tag – it was a graveyard. So if it’s something I want to blog about (either here or on our intranet – see below), I summon a huge amount of optimism and create a draft post immediately using the PressIt blookmarklet on the spot: select text, Bookmarks>PressIt, and you have a post, looking at you reproachfully from your Drafts Folder. It should keep me on my toes. Well, at least, that’s the theory.

And then?

The key to this is that all Items either end up as draft blogposts or as tagged pages on delicious.

Whether a blogpost draft ever sees the light of day depends on time, but the other items have now been curated, and so can be auto-fed via delicious’s powerful RSS feed system to wherever they need to go.

In many cases, that means they go into my company’s ‘best practices’ intranet. This covers a lot more than it’s name suggests: tips and tricks from lifehacker jostle alongside useful resources for designers or programmers, information sources on EU affairs, news relevant to projects, and much more.

But they don’t get there directly, because I’m not the only source.

Colleagues around me are doing the same thing. All our feeds – however we personally tag them – go into Feedburner, which combines them together according to the intranet’s categories before injecting them in to the right place.

Crowdsourcing the European online public space

I figure if my colleagues and I can collaborate in this way, something similar could be done by people interested in the same thing.

The key is that noone has to work in any particular way – my colleagues and I, for example, are free to tag whatever we like in delicious, using whatever tags we want. It’s sourced totally from the bottom-up: it’s only in setting up the Feedburner that we decide that what I tag ‘best practice’ and ‘design’ should be combined with the page Valerie has tagged ‘wow’ and ‘graphic’.

But that’s just a thought. I’d really like to hear any tips and tricks you have for handling the firehose.

Author :


  1. Wow! I thought I had problems of information overload – I don’t know how lucky I am…

    I can offer no real tips or tricks to help you manage that more efficiently, except one. When it becomes too much – as it has in the past – I switch one off. Permanently.

  2. Excellent tips – especially feeding your starred tweets RSS into reader – I’d never thought of that.

    Personally, I use hootsuite as my twitter client. I prefer to use web-hosted solutions as much as possible, so I can switch terminals and keep my set-up. Hootsuite is also likely to include tweet translation in an update soon (it’s already available for their iphone app) which will be vital for the European context.

    I have to disagree with you about e-mail “being the place information goes to die.” We have some of our best Bloggingportal conversations through e-mail, and I think the reason is because e-mail is the lowest common denominator. Not everyone uses Wave or Google Docs, but absolutely everyone and their grandmother can use e-mail. If you work with a group of tech-minded people, then it might seem like information dies in e-mail – but with a mix of techie and non-techie people, e-mail is the only way to go.

  3. Hi guys, and thanks for your comments.

    The phrase “e-mail is where information goes to die” is not mine, you know – it’s a commonplace among people who manage information within organisations.

    You’re right that our best conversations about Bloggingportal’s future are via email. But that’s not because email is brilliant – it’s because we are such a heterogeneous bunch. With so little in common and no organisation to speak of, email is the only common denominator.

    But that doesn’t make it good. Email’s inadequacies are why organisations have intranets, wikis, Jammer, fora, internal blogs, document repositories, share drives, databases, etc.

    If email was so great, none of these would be necessary.

  4. Impressive! I really like the way you make RSS the central tool for your workflows – and at the same time the lowest common denominator.

    I use Things, a GTD application for Mac and iPhone/iPad, since a bit less than two years for organising my todos. Websites can stay open in Firefox tabs for a day or two, until I just trash them or save as bookmark/todo in Things. Admitedly not the best workflow – and moreover not very collaboration-friendly.

    But I also noted that even many of my closest colleagues and friends just use email. So sharing the occasional link is indeed done by mail.

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