Critical Section

Bloggers as Filters

Wednesday,  08/27/03  07:23 PM

Bloggers are interesting sources of information and analysis, and entertainment as well.  But did you ever think of them as filters?

I did an interesting thing yesterday; I subscribed to Yahoo's new headlines RSS feed in my RSS Reader.  Suddenly I was inundated with news entries.  Some of them were interesting, most of them weren't, and many of them were duplicates of other feeds I already subscribe to, like CNN News.  So, what to do?

This has actually happened to me before.  It happened when I first subscribed to Wired News.  It happened when I first subscribed to DayPop's Top 40.  It happened with Salon.  Each time there was this glut of new entries, many of which I didn't care about.  And each time there was this question, do I keep it for the good stuff, or drop it because the signal to noise ratio is too low?

So here's my answer.  I'm going to drop Yahoo, and rely on other bloggers to filter it for me.  If there's anything interesting or important, I'm counting on one of the blogs to which I remain subscribed to point it out! 

Now think about that for a minute. 

A digression.  There is way more stuff happening in the world every day than I could ever comprehend.  If I subscribed to every feed I possibly could, I would never be able to read all the items, it would be like drinking from a fire hose.  The compression of information from websites into RSS feeds is really good - RSS is a great thing - but even just reading the item summaries would be impossible.  So I want to filter "everything" to just a managable trickle. 

I want the most interesting things only, the most interesting things to me.  How is that done?

One way is to filter "everything" is to subscribe only to feeds which have information I really care about.  That's great in principle, but there are few feeds like that.  I have a wide band of interests, and outside that band there are sometimes weird things which peak my interest.  Most of the feeds I find interesting have a signal to noise ratio of about 10-40%, meaning I skip past a majority of their items.

Another way is to use other bloggers as filters, and this is exactly what I do.  In fact it is probably exactly what you do, too.  The reason you are reading this is because you read my blog, and that's because you rely on me to be a kind of filter.  If I think it is interesting, maybe you will, too :)

Much has been made of the dichotomy between "thinkers" and "linkers".  Some bloggers mostly originate information, or add analysis or commentary to daily events.  These are thinkers.  (Steven Den Beste would be an A-list example.)  Other bloggers mostly link to things which are off their site, usually adding some light commentary or opinion.  These are linkers.  (Glenn Reynolds is an A-list example here.)  Some bloggers do both, they alternate between thinking and linking.  (Dave Winer does this, and I try to do it too :)  Thinkers add information to the blogosphere, which is a good thing.  But linkers contribute too, because they inherently act as filters.  Consider Boing Boing, one of my favorite blogs.  They cast a really wide net and consistently come up with wacky things I find interesting.  In so doing, they are creating value; there is no way I could monitor all the information sources they monitor, and filter it down myself.

So although I think it is a great thing that Yahoo and a bunch of other news outlets are summarizing information as RSS feeds, I'm not going to subscribe.  Instead, I'm going to subscribe to your blog, and count on you to filter the feeds for me.  Thanks in advance!

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