Real-Time Web making news consumption better or worse? In a Wired magazine article, book author Nicholas Carr argues that the Internet is reducing our ability to comprehend content on the Web. In a separate blog post, Carr even suggests that websites and blogs should move hyperlinks from the body of an article to the bottom - apparently, links distract readers and cause them to understand an article less. I don't buy that particular argument, but it's clear that we need better strategies to cope with news overload. Particularly as these days we're not only getting more content, but getting it much faster.Is the
In this post we offer you some advice on how to manage your consumption of news in this real-time era.
How the Real-Time Web Has Changed News
The Real-Time Web, where new or updated content is delivered to you instantaneously (or very near to it), has significantly changed how people consume news. Twitter is the most obvious example. Using Twitter you can track people, events or topics and receive a real-time stream of information. It may or may not be useful news, but it certainly keeps you more up-to-date. Also you may discover nuggets of wisdom, whilst casting your eye every now and then over your dashboard of Twitter streams.
You also discover more news these days from your social network - Facebook, blogs, friend recommendations in your RSS Reader, and more. Much of this is real-time information now, thanks to Facebook's news feed and technologies such as Google's PubSubHubbub, which allows you to receive content by RSS almost immediately after it was published.
The downside to these real-time technologies is that they add a great deal of 'noise' to your daily news consumption. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, email, IM - there is no shortage of information wanting to interrupt your concentration and work flow.
The question is: despite the increased noise, are we still better off by having more and faster news to choose from? I would argue that more choice is always good, and that the challenge for the news consumer is to pick and choose what you follow - and when.
Advice For News Consumers in The Real-Time Web Era
ReadWriteWeb Real-Time Web Coverage:
- Google Tests Mind Reading, AKA Full Page Previews
- Semantic Startup Evri Goes Mobile
- Twitter Goes Live with Real-Time Streaming API
- Rapid Innovation: The Philosophy of Betaworks CEO John Borthwick
- Bing Now Recommends Interesting Twitter Users
- Live Matrix Launches a TV Guide for the Scheduled Web
- Seesmic Desktop Goes Beyond Twitter: Becomes a Platform for All Things Real Time
- Google Docs Gets a Taste of Wave with Collaborative Highlighting
There are ways to deal with information overload, which will go a long way to solving the issues that Nicholas Carr raises.
The 'what' part of the formula - pick and choose what you follow and when - needn't be just choosing a few news media websites and blogs. Why not take advantage of the fact that news sources have multiplied and become much faster to update news. Here are some ways you can fish from this vast ocean of news in a clever way:
- 10 topic tracking tools that you could try out (see also an extended list). The most common is Google Alerts, but others we like include LazyFeed, Topikality and PubSub. Use topic trackers, which allow you to subscribe to keywords or phrases. The best of these tools output RSS, so you can subscribe to the output in your RSS Reader. Many of them also send email notifications. Earlier this year, we listed
- Use news aggregators, such as Topix - or more targeted services like Techmeme for tech news. These services essentially filter news from multiple sources for you. A news aggregator that I like a lot currently is an iPad app called Newsy.
- Try a single feed of various sources. For example if you want to get the best World news, you can create a mash-up feed of the world sections of the New York Times, BBC and Wall St Journal. This is as simple as creating a folder in your RSS Reader - clicking on the folder name gives you a single scrollable list of all of the feeds. Or you can use an advanced RSS service such as PostRank to filter more.
The above suggestions will give you more varied and better filtered sources of news, but it won't solve your comprehension problem if you try to consume all of the resulting content. Therefore, you need to figure out when and how often you'll dip into this news.
When should you check your news? Your mileage may vary. If you're the easily distracted type (and Carr argues that an increasing number of us are, due to the Internet), then try limiting the times that you check Twitter, Facebook and other real-time information streams. I've recently resolved to 'tune out' things like Twitter, Skype and email during parts of the working day, so that I may focus on work tasks.
Be Smart With What News You Track and How You Track It
In my view, Nicholas Carr's theory about links takes the information overload argument a step too far. Links are an integral part of the Web browsing experience and their placement by publishers conveys meaning, context for the reader and respect for original news sources (not to mention it helps Google rank pages in its vast search index).
However, there's no doubt that it's difficult to focus and truly comprehend articles if you try to consume too many of them in one sitting.
The bottom line is that real-time technologies are bringing us more news, faster. That's great progress in the media world. However, in order to cope with the increased volume and speed, our advice is to be smart about what you track (and how you track it) and turn off the firehose when you need to concentrate on work.