Sebastiaan at IWC Nürnberg last weekend did some cool stuff with visualising feeds he follows, as well as find a way of surfacing stuff from outside his feeds because those in his feeds talk about it or like it. That is very exciting to me as it creates a peripheral view, and really puts your network to use as a filter. He follows up with a good posting on readers.

Towards the end of that posting there’s some discussion of how to combat ways of feed overwhelm.
That Sebastiaan, reminds me of what I wrote about my feedreading strategies in 2005 (take a look at the images there, they help in understanding the text that follows).

I think it is useful to think not just of what you yourself consume in terms of feeds, and how to optimise that, but also in terms of the feedback loops you need/want back to the authors of some of your feeds.

Your network is a filter, and a certain level of feedback is needed to be able to spot patterns that lift signals above the noise, the peripheral vision you described. Both individually and collectively. But too much feedback creates echo-chambers. So the overall quality of your network / network’s feeds and interaction is part of the equation in thinking about feed overwhelm. It introduces needs for alternating and deliberate phases of divergence and convergence, and being able to judge diversity and quality of your network.

It’s in that regard very important to realise that there’s a key factor not present in your feeds that is enormously useful for filtering: your own personal knowledge about the author of a feed. If you can tag feeds with what you know of their authors (coder, Berlin, Drupal, e.g.), and how you perceive the social distance between you and them (from significant other to total stranger), you can do even more visualising by asking questions like “what are the topics that European front-end developers I know are excited about this week”, or by visualising what communities are talking about. Social distance also is a factor in dealing with overwhelm: I for instance read a handful of people important to me every day when they have posted, and others I don’t read if I don’t have time, and I therefore group my feeds by social distance.

Finally, overwhelm is more likely if you approach feeds as drinking from a tap. But again, you know things that are not present in your feeds: current interests you have, questions you have, things you’re working on. A listener more likely hears those things better that are close to them. This points to less a river-of-news approach, and more to an active interrogation of feeds based on your personal ‘agenda’ at a time of your choosing.

Fear of missing out is not important, especially not when the feedback loops, that I mentioned above, between authors exist. If it is a signal of some sort, and not noise, it will bounce around your network-as-a-filter for a while, and is likely to be there in some form still, when you next take a look. If it is important and you overlooked it, it will come up again when you look another time.

Also see my posting about my ideal feedreader, from a few months ago.

Abraham Lincoln famously said in the 1860’s “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.“, and he’s right of course. George Washington already warned us a century earlier that “the greatest thing about Facebook is that you can quote something and totally make up the source.” Add to it the filter bubbles that algorithms create around you on Facebook, fake news and the influencing that third parties try to do, and you can be certain that the trustworthiness of internet is now even worse than it was in the 19th or 18th century.

“Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”, Abraham Lincoln hit the nail on the head in 1864 already. Image Franco Folini, license CC BY SA

Dealing with crap on the internet however sometimes seems something only for professionals. Facebook should filter better, or be more transparent. Online forensic research like Bellingcat does is the only way to disprove online deception. The problem is that it absolves you and me way too easily of our own responsibility in detecting crap. If something seems too funny, coincidental or too conveniently fitting into your own believe framework, it should trigger us into taking a step back. To take time to determine for ourselves whether Lincoln really said that, whether a picture was really taken where and when it is claimed, and if a source really exists or can be determined as trustworthy.

To be able to detect crap on the internet, you need crap detection tools. My Brainstorms-friend Howard Rheingold and others have put together a useful list of crap detection tools (of which I very often use the reverse image search tools like Tineye, to verify the actual origin of a photo). The list is well maintained and growing. The listed tools help you quickly check-up on things before you share something and reinforce a vicious cycle making more and more social media platforms toxic.

Not spreading dubious material is a civic duty, just like cleaning up after yourself in a public space. This makes crap detection a critical digital information skill. Download or bookmark the list of crap detection tools, add some of the mentioned tools as plugins to your browser, and use it to your advantage.

(public domain image)

Work Life Balance?
In the conversations during Elmine’s Birthday Unconference at the end of August we talked a lot about work-life balance. Basically I concluded some time ago that the whole work-life distinction has disappeared for me. I just do stuff. It used to be that work and the rest of life were separated by location and time. During work hours I would be at a certain spot, and when I wasn’t, I wasn’t working. That of course has all changed. I am somewhere, doing something, and time and location can no longer serve as boundaries to help me distinguish between aspects of my life in quite the same way.

Using our living room for meetings

The question became what kind of boundaries help me to be balanced in my activities and help me to experience flow (see how I avoid using work and life as opposites here)?
The week after Elmine’s Birthday Unconference I attended Dave Snowden’s Cognitive Edge seminar, about applying what we know about complex adaptive systems to organizational and work contexts.
There too boundaries are an important notion, next to attractors and barriers. Also in my work with the Future Workspaces consortium, flow and balance are frequently discussed issues.

Attractors, Boundaries and Barriers
So I have taken thoughts, questions, ideas and key words from the output of Elmine’s Birthday Unconference and sorted them into attractors, boundaries and barriers, and those that seem to fall between two of those categories.

The lists below are transcribed from this photo

Attractors (or things that I think will improve my flow):
Owning my learning path
Fun tools (flow is fun)
— Create my Digital habitat
Casual transparancy
Into productivity because I am lazy
— Planning is energy conservation
— Acquisition
— Production
— Development
Events/choosing events
— That inspire me
— That help me commercially
— That make me better visible to my network
Surplus energy
— Choosing where to spend it or not
In what places do I want to be? In terms of:
— Financially
— Bridging Academia and Business
— Recognition
— Research
— Physically
New routines
— Effect of complexity
— Information strategies
Boundaries (or things that I think help me to stay in flow):
Self reflection on current boundaries
Law of 2 feet
— On value
— On meaning
Value in my system
Places as boundaries
— where to work
— where not to work
Constraints for creativity
Knowing when to stop
Between Attractors and Boundaries (things that may be an attractor or a boundary):
Attention giving
Obligations outside-in vs quality inside-out
(Dis)connecting from spheres selectively
Between Boundaries and Barriers (things that may be a boundary or a barrier):
100% mobile productivity is a myth
— assumed expectations of others
What is it I get paid for?
Barriers (things I think impede my flow):
Blurred boundaries
Work as a job is a 19th century concept
Communication style resulting in more work/promises
Not communicating
— Boundaries, expectations, terms of acceptance
Hating must/should
Own thinking makes things urgent
Stress sources
— Macro / over contexts
— Micro / within contexts

Me working on the train. Photo: Elmine, license CC BY NC SA

This is thinking in progress so I am nowhere near conclusions yet. I have changed part of my routines already though. I have been playing around with place: not using my laptop for serious work on the couch. Only allowing myself to work on e-mail or simple stuff (like uploading pics) at the dinner table, all other laptop based activities taking place in our home office. But that’s just a piece of what might become a larger set of different notions about my activities.