Posted by: Christian Verstraete | May 19, 2010

How to cope with Information Overflow

Doing some research on innovation yesterday, I ran into a small cartoon that got my attention. “Today a person is subjected to more new information in a day than a person in the middle ages in his entire life!” The problem is that amongst all that data are information items that would be really useful for you if you could find them. As companies become more and more dependent of what happens in their ecosystems, finding related information may be critical for them to react quickly. So, the question is really: How do we sift through the information to get the appropriate alerts.

Well, if we know what we are looking for, things are straight forward. We just need to look in the right place. Unfortunately, most of the information can be found in rather unexpected places, so the problem is double, finding the location and then the information. Unfortunately today no real good tools exist to sift through tons of primarily unstructured data and identify what we are looking for. So, I use a couple of approaches that have worked for me. Let me share those with you.

The first one is the set-up of daily Google Alerts on specific subjects. The key is to choose the subject carefully, as one only has a couple words to identify what Google should search for.  In return, you will get a daily (or even on the spot, if you wish so) report of articles, blog entries and other information appearing on the web about the subject you choose. A quick scan through the mail allows you to find the interesting information. It does not do all the work for you, but at least gives you a good starting point. You will probably have to experiment with the tool, but it is really easy to set-up and delete alerts.

The second one is to register to some key newsletters. You would be surprised about the amount of free newsletters you can find with relevant information. I have a number that suit me, and they include for company news, for IT technology news, for electronic component information etc. These, daily or weekly newsletters give me more detailed information on specific subjects, but you have to realize that probably 80% of their issues will not contain useful items. So, the delete button works very well in that case.

Both those approaches fill up your mailbox, but it is for the good. I typically spend 30 minutes scanning this information at the start of my day, storing relevant items in a folder and deleting the others.

A third item is Twitter. A lot of things have been written about it, and you find anything and everything in there. Setting-up a twitter account and carefully choosing the people you want to follow, is critical to receive relevant information. I can tell you that, once you achieved this, you can find real useful things. There are a number of sites pointing out how to find people. Let me direct you to one very comprehensive one from Mashable, titled “10 ways to find people on Twitter”. Google also just released a tool, but it requires you already have some followers, or you start from the followers of another user, that has similar interests as yours. This tool is called the Google-follow-finder. I just tried it out and it gave me some good new names. Using a small client such as qTwitter, you can keep an eye on your tweets without taking too much footprint on your desktop.

So, in a nutshell, know what you are looking for, set-up appropriate alerts and link with the sources that will give you relevant information. This is the best I can do in the current information overflow. Good luck with it. And give me any suggestions, I am sure I can learn from you.

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