Friday, 4 January 2013

Looking for influence

I often have the problem when I feel my sources are repeating themselves. RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN. I'm getting yet another 'Top 10 PHP snippets' and 'How to make a JavaScript singleton class' articles. Doh. Sometimes I feel the same commercial sense when a popular service forgets to provide relevant information anymore. So I decided to tell some practices I've found when looking for new sources.

It's pretty interesting. First think about the main channels you're using. I guess you know well the aforementioned services like Twitter or LinkedIN. I don't have to introduce RSS for you. On purpose I'm not going to mention media companies like BBC, Gizmodo or Engadget. I think I care much more about unique items, rather than strategical or tech-political news.

Let's start with social networks. I joined to Twitter almost 4 years ago. I started with friends - the typical food&mood tweet culture. I think the massive realization of the underlying power drove companies and individuals to overplay the service. Anyways, the thing is it's not easy to find valuable content. From the 200 - 300 hundred account I've followed there was 3 - 6 very great. (Important to mention - due to the network effect the rest also drove useful information - but in a less efficient way.) So I was thinking what made that 3 - 6 guys so worthy. Probably they had also great sources. So I made a little trial project, it was (was shut down a year ago due to low interest - I can show you the site if you want, it's a bit tough to access it now).

Screenshot about the former service.

It worked the following way:
  1. you entered 3 of your valuable Twitter contacts
  2. the service fetched couple of hundreds of tweets from those accounts
  3. it was looking for retweets, references and other metrics
  4. the higher score that reference got the more likely it's a similarly great source
  5. at the end it outputted  the highes 3 results
That simple. I you hopefully found new interesting contacts.

Another method I applied regularly is the follow Friday. I followed dozens of new account and selected very early. Boring tweet > unfollow. Statistics works.

I really would like to do on Facebook or Google+. I may miss something on those platforms but it's just not built for that or a pain to do. Facebook's subscription system would be awesome - it's just the discovery part.

On the other hand I guess that user-following structure killed Digg, the popular top-content promoting service. I think those sites are designed for discovery. I've tried many of them, Stumble upon, Slashdot, Reddit, Digg or Hacker News. They all have their special ecosystem and certain selection of new contents - but I think they are the best way to get new valuable content. They not tied to any publisher, like BBC or Engadget like sites. They have score system. They often have categories. And that's really important that it's kind of a random system fueled by communities, not an engine (that has a different benefit, of course).

Just tonight one of my friend told me about, which is a content discovery service. Just set your preferred keywords and it looks up for relevant content. You can even teach it - such as Google Reader. This latter - however - produced some funny results. On Google Reader you have recommendations - with the usual vote up/down system. I've started a pretty random compilation, doing validation for a while and Google thought at some point I'm interested in motorcycles. I was able to tell the engine that it's not cool - so it came with hundreds of wedding pictures. And then recipes and kids. Well, it was a funny journey for sure. Now my only fight is to kill all the Lifehacker references, which was one of the biggest disappointment on the internet a year ago for many including me.

And then there is Google Reader - which is for me still the heart of the system. Many don't know that its [add] textfield accept not only fields but keywords as well.

In the last couple of years more and more "magazines" or issues are becoming public and more and more worthy. Drupal has The Weekly Drop or there is the general developer oriented Status Code. I loved to get the monthly Hacker News issues too. (Update: there is a JavaScript Weekly too.)

One thing that shouldn't be forgotten is your friends. I usually make a note or check out immediately all the new things I hear about. It's amazing how much knowledge a group of people can pile up :)

As a sum up I think I can state that proven sources are coming from random channels. Just like the way evolution does it. Never ever miss a reference. The very few one will be the most important. I guess I'm just an end-of-the-long-tail-guy anyways :)


Did I miss any important medium? Let me know.



  1. In my experience, the bigger issue is information overload, that's why I don't watch the news, read newspapers or my twitter stream. The important stuff always reaches me through the company Skype chat, or locally through my family.

    There are a few people I follow like Seth Godin, Brad Feld, Kevin Kelly, but I don't want to be on the lookout sifting through seas of information, I rather go searching for specific topics when I'm researching them for my blog...

  2. I agree on that. It's like a child's mind sometimes, has to be filled and that's all. However for me there is this cherry-picking mode, when I don't really know what I want. I just need something new and interesting. When I'm on r/programming or HN I look for something I didn't know it exist. Or I never want(ed) to learn.
    But it's true. Information density on common channels are attenuating. 5 minutes in a bus stop is enough to swipe through ~100 titles and make an almost good decision if it worth to save later or not. And it's already highly selected :) Sometimes I feel search is old and we need something new.


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