Stand Back Stand Back

As a librarian, I have this habit of reading a lot. As a tech geek, I also have a habit of using a lot of computers, devices, and that kind of thing. When you combine those traits, it’s no surprise that the first thing device I touch in the morning is an iPad and the first thing I do is bring up Feeddler (a Google Reader linked RSS app) and pull up my favourite feeds. I start off light, perusing webcomics because my brain really likes funny things with funny art in the morning. Coffee and webcomics, I couldn’t start my day well without them.

After that, I mentally flip a coin and start leafing through either the library news feeds (conveniently labeled “library” in my Google Reader) or my geek news feeds (conveniently labeled “geek”). Sometimes there’s a whole lot of good information and great stories in either or both of those categories. Other times, it’s just a standard sort of Thursday morning and nothing is happening, but they have to write something anyway. That’s fine, an online news junkie knows well the ebb and flow of events throughout your average week.

After I flip through those, I check out some science feeds, pop culture feeds, then online culture, art, and some other miscellaneous news.  Then, after all that, I finally push the home button on the iPad, tap the little button at the top right to power off the screen, and head for the shower. According to the John F. Kennedy presidential library, JFK flipped through eleven newspapers on a daily basis.

Good start Mr. President. Let me know when you’re up to around three hundred separate news feeds.

Now, that may seem like a lot, and let me assure you that it is. The disturbing thing about that, or at least disturbing to me, is that I’ve pared back on my news intake significantly. I used to go through twice and three times that much every morning and then keep up with it throughout the day. (Those who say that people aren’t good at multitasking have never seen me work.) Then one morning, I powered off the screen as normal and looked at the clock. Oh yeah, it’s Friday and I’m off today. Hrmm….

And it hit me – “You know what, Dan? You probably don’t have to look through that many feeds to get your information and news fix. You’re a librarian. You’re all about maintaining a living collection. Why don’t you, ya know, do some weeding?”

Feeddler doesn’t really give you a good count of what your overall Google Reader subscriptions look like. So I got myself some more coffee and headed for the computer, rather than the shower. Look, I said it was Friday. I wasn’t dressed up which was fine because I had nowhere to go. Pulling up the Reader I took at look at my overall subscriptions.

I didn’t quite do the whole sitcom spit-take thing when I saw the results. I did, however, choke on my coffee. I was subscribed to 783 feeds. News, tech, comics, art, culture, music, photography, science, you name it. If I had any passing interest in it, there was probably a feed or two there for it.

No wonder it took me half an hour to get through breakfast, and that’s given that I wasn’t really looking at all the stuff then either. I switched the settings on Reader to show everything in the feeds. Normally I have them set to show only the unread stuff. Then, like a librarian should, I started taking a damn, good, hard look at my collection.

While Tina isn’t actually a librarian, many librarians wish that she was.

Now, a librarian popping out to the shelves to weed their collection is going to weed based on three major criteria. There may be more, but I guarantee you that those extras fall into subcategories under these three:

  • Condition of the materials (Do these books look like crap? Maybe we don’t need them crapping up our shelves.)
  • Age and timely relevance of the materials. (Here’s a book that classifies Pluto as a planet. Here’s a medical reference book that’s ten years old. Here’s a book about how Barak Obama cannot possibly win the presidency.)
  • Redundancy (Maybe we don’t need three books on the life of the fiddler crab. Maybe we pick the best one, or the best one and an extra.)

I had, and still have, lots of tech news sources. Linux, Apple, Microsoft, mobile, and so on and so forth. I looked through those and decided which were the best and which seemed to just recycle content from the best. In other words, I weeded this stuff for redundancy. Being that we’re talking tech news, age and condition really wasn’t a problem.

The next big task were the art and culture feeds. I seem to have went through this streak where I subscribed to a bunch of those things and, while many were interesting, a lot of them weren’t needed or desired. Combing through those, I found that redundancy wasn’t the problem so much as age and relevance. Some of these feeds hadn’t seen a whole lot of activity for a while. So anything that hadn’t been updated in the last couple of weeks got the can and after that, I took a look at what was left before weeding a few more out because I just didn’t care about them anymore. In other words, it was no longer relevant to my interests.

That Stalinistic purge with a librarian twist probably took care of 80% of my too-many-feeds problem. All that was left was the leftovers. For instance, Tumblr blogs.

See, I dont like Pinterest because Pinterest is Tumblr. Seriously, it works pretty much the same way, the only difference is you’re stuck in a grid layout without the control over your style and theme the way Tumblr allows. I like Tumblr because it is my opinion that sooner or later everything ends up on Tumblr. My problem was that sooner or later Tumblr ended up on my feeds. I had more Tumblr blogs than a hipster teenager and seriously, folks… Have you ever taken a good look at most of these Tumblr blogs?

Damn. As much as I love Tumblr, I think Tumblr is the reincarnantion of Geocities. As Geocities died, it looked out, and saw a long dark tunnel with a bright light at the end. It ventured toward the light, curious and full of trepidation as to what may be on the other side. It peered through the entrance, into the light, and it beheld:

So as much I like Tumblr, I don’t like it that much. Since I was subscribed to a bunch of feeds based off various interests, and since many of the Tumblr feeds involved re-blogging stuff from other Tumblr feeds… I picked the prettiest ones and dumped the rest.

If you take a good look at that last paragraph, you’ll see that I basically weeded my Tumblr feeds for condition.

I’m down to only 164 feeds now and it’s much easier to get through my morning. Then again, libraries have this habit of building upon their collection, even after a thorough weeding. I figure that, to keep things fresh, I’m going to have to do this once per year.

Maybe you could try it yourself. Information overload is real for some people, but there’s no reason you couldn’t do something about it. Dig into those sources of information, news, entertainment, and so on. Do you really look at all of them? Do you really need all of them?

Nah, probably not.

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