How To Filter The Social Web, Part 1: Webicina

This week I'm going to be exploring filtering tools on the Web, with a particular focus on general interest topics like health, politics and sports. The Web is often an overwhelmingly noisy environment. Even the best social media services - like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ - can quickly drown you in a deluge of real-time updates. Last week, I explained that the new generation of publishing tools is beginning to address this problem, with more topical organization and a focus on quality. But because those tools are early stage and experimental, they don't help the current consumer of Web content (which is all of us). So this week, I'm hoping to uncover some useful tools for you all to use now. I'm starting with a service that curates medical news and information from social media: Webicina.

Webicina was founded in 2008 by Bertalan Meskó, a doctor from Budapest, Hungary. He also runs the well regarded medical blog, ScienceRoll (one of my personal favorite blogs). Webicina is aimed at both medical professionals and "e-patients" (the "e" in this case stands for "empowered"). Included in Webicina is an RSS tool called PeRSSonalized Medicine, which creates personalized feeds of your favorite media sources.

Webicina covers over 100 medical topics - the latest addition being COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It's able to cover so many topics because it crowdsources the curation of each category.

Tracking Medical Topics With Webicina

Here's how to get started using Webicina, using my own medical interests as an example. I have diabetes type 1, so I clicked the e-patient option and sure enough diabetes is covered in Webicina.

For each topic, Webicina has curated resources in a variety of content types: news, blog, podcast, Twitter, and so on. For example, the Twitter page listed thirty leading diabetes-related Twitter accounts.

You could simply browse the Webicina topic pages, but to get the most use out of Webicina I recommend you set up at least one personalized RSS feed. Click on the "Follow this category on PeRSSonalized Medicine" button (see bottom-left in the screenshot below) and it will open up the filtering options.

Firstly, sign up for a free Webicina account. This option only seems to display when you land on the PeRSSonalized Medicine front page (one of a number of design issues I noticed in Webicina). However, it's a simple sign-up process from there, as you can register using your Facebook, Twitter or Google+ credentials.

Now it's time to create your personalized feeds. To do this, go to a category of interest and click each of the four tabs (for example, "Medical Blogs"). Click "personalize it" in each tab to select your sources. You can choose to either create four separate feeds - one for each tab, using the "follow this page" RSS button - or create a feed for the entire category by clicking "follow this category."

Since there are no descriptions of the sources, it's difficult to know which to select. Also, in a rather confusing design choice, you need to check the sources you don't want.

In the blogging tab, I decided to choose just five diabetes blogs - in order to keep the noise down. I then clicked "save settings," which displayed the five blogs I chose.

You can either use that filtered webpage as your regular checkpoint, by bookmarking it in your browser, or subscribe to an RSS feed of the page. RSS is preferable if you plan to monitor the topic regularly, since updates are sent to your RSS Reader. Unfortunately, this is where the design got awkward again. I initially clicked on the "follow this page" button and it saved the RSS file to my desktop. Not very practical. I eventually figured out that I need to right-click and save the RSS link, then copy it into my RSS Reader (I use Google Reader).

As you have seen, the trouble with Webicina is that it isn't particularly user friendly. Even a simple thing such as explaining the difference between "follow this page" and "follow this category". It may sound obvious - the former is a feed of just that page (in this case, of diabetes blogs), the latter is a feed for the whole category. But it could be explained much better by Webicina.

In conclusion, the personalization of Webicina is a little clunky and the design is, well, very web 2.0 (we're now onto 3.0 at least!). But the curation of Webicina, judging by the diabetes topic I saw, is high quality. Overall, Webicina is a useful resource for anyone who wants to track a particular medical topic.

Series Summary: 5 Social Media Filters To Check Out

  1. Webicina (niche content example; in this case health)
  2. Reddit (community topic filter)
  3. Engagio (Gmail integration)
  4. Bottlenose (automated topic filter)
  5. Prismatic (mobile filter)