I don’t often talk about tools and productivity stuff here, but I thought a quick digression would be in order. I consume a lot — okay, an awful lot — of information on a daily basis. Sometimes it gets overwhelming, and I’ll come back to that, but I thought I’d first mention a few tools that have become indispensable to me in the last year:
- Launchy. Command-line app launcher on Windows. Lots of other versions for Mac and elsewhere, but this is the best for Windows. Lets me do things at hyperspeed without lifting a finger from the keyboard.
- Twhirl. The best desktop Twitter client, bar none. And for those of you that don’t use Twitter, it’s sort of an experiment in open semi-synchronous chat over the Net. I use it as a kind of realtime information filtering system, and it has become crucial. Send me a note if you have questions, because it’s admittedly a baffling service when approached cold.
- Windows Live Writer. I do all my blog posts writing & editing via … a Microsoft product. Yes, it’s true. But Windows Live Writer is all the things most Microsoft products aren’t: Fast, appropriately-featured, extensible, standards-based and free.
And now some notes on the funeral. It has, in essence to do with Google Reader, my primary RSS reading tool. As recently as a few months ago I subscribed to something like 600 news feeds. As of today I’m down to about 150, so a host of feeds have been unceremoniously dumped.
Why? Not because of anything to do with Google Reader, per se. It has much more to do with the info-clutter. I had largely stopped going, mostly because I didn’t have time and wasn’t finding enough interesting stuff. I like TechCrunch, for example, as well as a host of blogs, but I don’t need more feeds/services telling me to go read article XYZ "your friends & colleagues are reading article XYZ". No thanks. Because if my friends and colleagues are, then there is no urgency for me to do it: The news will find me (pace Brian Stelter). Nor do I need more marginalia, with people adding fractionally to other articles without really moving the info ball, giving me investable information, or changing my worldview.
So I stopped reading most of it. I don’t want volume or comprehensiveness; I want surprise and interestingness. And to be even more clear, I don’t want surprise or interestingness in a Digg sense of the word, with naked nonagenarians or raccoons with their tongues stuck to metal poles, etc. I don’t want an information freak-show. I want things that I would have normally read, but wouldn’t have found, nor would have most people that I read. Something that changes the way I think.
It is all about interestingness, and algorithmic detection of interestingness remains one of the big unsolved problems out there. It’s a combination of recency, intelligence, and freshness of perspective, and it’s badly needed — and nowhere near here.