Monday, February 26, 2007

Information Overload!

There is too much information available over the Internet. There are news sites, newsletters, search engines, blogs, message boards, podcasts, news readers, news feeds, and wikis. I am constantly finding and checking new sources of information like widgets for weather. And, that doesn't include all the old sources of information like calendar alerts, favorite lists, voice mails, faxes, IM, and cell phone messages, not to mention newspapers, postal mail, and my favorite "post-it memos". What is the best strategy for information management?

First, you have to organize. What information is critical vs. interesting? Which are news sources vs. reference sources? Which form of communication is most efficient? How can I find the information I need quickly?

Second, you have to find the best tools. By "best", I mean which tools are best for the way you work. If someone wants to get my attention, email is still my first priority. I do everything I can to filter out nonessential email (by using the Rules and Alerts feature in Outlook) into separate mail boxes. That way only clients and personal contacts appear in my Inbox.

Third, you have to customize your news sources. I like the notion of having a personalized newspaper by selecting my favorite news feeds and favorite blogs. The only problem is that I need a personalized editor (the old fashioned newspaper kind) to avoid all the less interesting information that inevitably gets mixed in.

Fourth, you have to be inventive. There is just too much information and too many different tools. You have to continually think of new ways to use existing (meaning "free") tools that will make your life easier.

I was intrigued by Erik Heel's suggestion to use the "shared items" feature in Google Reader, which makes it easy to tag news items and share them with your friends (or your blog readers). So, I tried it. You will notice in the lower right hand column of this blog a section called "News" where I quickly tagged a few articles I thought were interesting. It's a nice alternative. Rather than post a news feeds with random articles, I simply tag the articles I want to share as I browse through my morning newspaper.

The new Google Reader made me realize that RSS feeds are essential to the distribution of blogs. No one has time to check a blog site every day. I would expect in the near future, if a blog doesn't make its content available by an RSS feed, no one will read it. Even traditionals news websites need to make available by feeds. The days of "surfing the web" may be numbered.

Today, there are more and more ways to filter out information on the Net. One example is Dave Taylor, who uses Newsgator to do sophisticated keyword searches to track the buzz about the book he authored. The blog and the newsreader may be fast converting users from actively going out and searching the web to passively specifying what information and waiting for it to be brought back from the web.

For my law practice, what I would like to do is to create a customized news readers for each different legal subject matter. For example, a customized newsreader for finding new articles on LLC formation or software licensing. I can imagine the newsreaders of the future would allow me to specify key words, author ratings, content ratings, and various style settings with smart logic that over time more and more reflect my preferences.

How do you keep track of all that information? What kind of customized news sources can you envision?

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