During BarCamp Amsterdam, see previous posting, we talked about how I can use my tools to better suit my working needs. One of them being social filtering. In this posting I explore the thoughts on rearranging my feed reading habits this triggered for me. I’ll describe how I filter information now first, before exploring how I can adapt those routines.
How I filter information
For my information gathering I have two lenses. Back in September 2005, I wrote about my filtering, and created this illustration, that is still valid:
The first lens is the outside-in lens, on the left of the funnel. The second one is my inside-out lens, and is directed by specific questions and tasks I have at a certain point in time. My RSS reading serves both lenses. The outside-in in real time (what is going on now), the inside-out mostly through searching in the archives or full text search in the current items. All my RSS feeds are people-based. I e.g. subscribe to your blog feed, delicious feed, Flickr pics, and other feeds that contain your personal on-line traces. I rename all those feeds to start with your name. From it I construct an overview of what is happening in the circles and communities I am part of.
Current feedreader organization
In my feedreader, I have grouped all feeds in to only a few sections. One for ‘Dutch context’, one for ‘German context’, one for ‘ Keeping track’ which collects all internet traces I leave myself (self reflection as it were), one for clients, and one ‘all’ which contains the long list of people writing stuff I usually find worthwile. All in all I track maybe about 300-400 people, though it fluctuates over time.
My wiki may point the way
In the wiki I use on my laptop for personal note taking I also keep pages of people, where I write down some of the context we share. Where we met, the type of exchanges we’ve had in the past, and where they’re from. I have about 240 people in my wiki, largely different from the ones in my feed reader. The way I categorize them is what is of interest here. I put the people pages in my wiki in circles based on social distance. These circles are roughly based on Dunbars number and ‘natural’ group sizes. As you can see in the screenshot below I have circles / categories for 1 (meaning <12), 12 (<50), 50 (<150), 150 (<1000), and 999 (>1000) where the number in the category name is sort of the minimal social distance I ‘feel’. Remember: this is not exact science, it is just an approximation of my own intuitions. It means nothing more, but nothing less either.
If you were to draw these circles as a social networking graph, you would get what in SNA terms is called a network of spokes. Me in the centre with connections radiating out.
Tags or folders to add contexts
To be able to not only look at my social network (as an information filter) from the above perspective, i.e. me at the heart of several circles, I need to be able to add contexts. Single facet contexts like ‘my old fraternity’, ‘people working at client x’, ‘living in or around Berlin’, as well as multi-faceted contexts like ‘coders in Amsterdam’, ‘Drupal community members in Germany’, ‘coders in Ruby on Rails’, ‘start-ups around mobile applications’, ‘ stakeholders around client system x’. The former would form community ‘blobs’ on my circles above. The latter would add spider-networks to it.
Social distances with community and multi-faceted contexts plotted on them
Adding the single faceted contexts could be easily done by splitting feeds into folders, or rather allowing the same feed to be in multiple folders. The multi-faceted contexts can not be done with folders I’d say, but need some sort of tagging, where you can filter on combinations of tags to get the context you need. Like drupal+Germany, to give me people working on Drupal, based in Germany. Tags can of course also replace any folder structure completely.
Inside-out and Outside-in
As I said, all the usual feedreading is for outside-in information-filtering. To get a feeling what is happening in the world of people that mean something to me in one context or another. For finding answers to my own current questions, information pertaining to current tasks, or refinding links to things I want to point to in what I share on-line myself, I like to use an archive on my laptop. Insdie-out information filtering then amounts to full-text searches on that archive. Also because I spend a lot of my reading and writing time off-line e.g. in the train, I like my feedreader to store stuff off-line. Therefore on-line feedreaders are not a workable option for me.
Finding the right RSS reader
Now I can start out with arranging my feeds in my feedreader (currently using Vienna) according to the circles of social distance shown above, but tags and one feed being able to live in multiple folders is a different thing. Do you know about an off-line feedreading client that provides these functionalities (one feed in multiple folders and tagging, or at least tagging)?