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Tips for Handling Information Overload: Too Much Content

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The biggest problem with information overload for most people is that it is cumulative and it comes in from a variety of sources. In my past two posts, I provided some tips for managing information overload coming in via email and social media. Another source — and probably the one most people think about when you mention information overload — is the huge amount of content that we consume online.

We all want to keep up with the latest news and trends in our industry along with learning more about other areas of interest, like our hobbies. With only so many hours in the day, people often struggle with finding the information they need to be successful while not spending too much time sorting through massive quantities of data. Here are a few tips to help you whittle the information down from a fire hose to a trickle of only the most relevant content.

RSS Readers

If you don’t already use an RSS reader, you should find one, since this is the best way to get only the information that you want pushed to you while being able to easily see which posts you have read and which you have not. Google Reader (s goog) and Netvibes are good places to start. For the rest of you who already use RSS, there are many ways to make it more effective.

Firstly, change the way you think about RSS; it’s more like a newspaper than email. If you fall behind on the daily newspaper, you aren’t going to keep trying to catch up and read papers that are months old. RSS is just like a newspaper, so don’t worry if you don’t get to everything, and don’t feel like you need to catch up. Right now, I have thousands of unread items in Google Reader, but I am OK with it. If that big number of unread items bothers you, simply take advantage of the “mark all as read” feature once a week if it makes you feel better or, better yet, use an RSS readers that lets you hide the number of unread items.

Secondly, do some pruning and get rid of the dead wood. Spend a couple of hours looking at which feeds give you the most value and get rid of the rest. If you are feeling overwhelmed and overloaded, you are probably oversubscribed. Some RSS readers even have tools to help you find feeds that you rarely read or are rarely updated.

Third, spend as little time as possible in your RSS reader by prioritizing your feeds. I use folders in Google Reader to group my feeds, and I put the most critical feeds right at the top. I make sure that I read through those high priority feeds first to spend more time on what I need to know while hopefully having some time left over to read a little extra. I also encourage you to learn the keyboard shortcuts for your RSS reader, since this can shorten your RSS reading time.

News Aggregation

While RSS readers are great for the things you know you want to read, they are not the best way to find new sources of information or news from unexpected sources; this is where news aggregators really excel. My favorite aggregator is Twitter, since it takes the links from the people that I follow on Twitter and displays them in newspaper-like format, with the links that have been posted by more of my friends appearing as headlines on my Twitter page. I also use Techmeme to find the topics that people are discussing online. Depending on your interests, you might be able to find other news aggregation sources focused on your areas of expertise.


Filtering RSS feeds takes a little work, but it is worth it in the long run if it helps you find only the information on the topics that you want to see. While there are many filtering tools, my tool of choice is Yahoo Pipes (s yhoo). I use Yahoo Pipes to find out when people are talking about me or the topics that I am most interested in. For example, I have Pipes that comb through industry analyst feeds looking for a few specific keywords, which allows me to find the reports from analysts on those topics while ignoring the rest.

The best thing you can do to avoid overload is to stay focused on the most important information while not worrying about what you might be missing. If you can become more efficient at finding and consuming the right information for your needs, you can easily stay informed while minimizing the feeling of being overwhelmed. Read what you can and don’t stress about what you don’t have time to read.

What are your tips for managing content information overload?

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Photo by Flickr user See-ming Lee ??? SML, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license


15 Responses to “Tips for Handling Information Overload: Too Much Content”

  1. Great series of posts. This is a real problem for all and especially business professionals who have to discover, filter and consume new content continuously in both generic and niche domain areas.

    Our goal at Groofer ( is to to do just that. Help manage the information overload with intelligent filtering based on your business social graph. We are in private-beta now so let us know if you would like to participate.

  2. Nice post, thanks.

    I’ve been looking RSS readers and filtering pretty intently for past few months. I’ve done a few posts on my blog about this and some more to come re: filtering.

    A few points that I’ve found:

    I agree that Reader and Netvibes are the best available options. However, much as I prefer the readability of Netvibes, Reader is ultimately the better choice for a number of reasons. See details here:
    The dealbreaker issue with Netvibes is that it’s feed handling is not as robust as Reader. Meaning if you have messy feeds that don’t conform to W3C standards (like many filtered feeds off Pipes), it often won’t work. For regular normal wel-formed feeds directly off most blogs and so forth, it works beautifully.
    I’ve been testing 3 RSS filtering services: Pipes, FeedRinse, and FeedWeaver by comparing them over time on the same set of input feeds. These are, practically speaking, the only feed filtering options available, although there a numerous others that will combine feeds.
    My conclusion is that FeedRinse is the clear RSS feed filtering winner. I plan to detail this in a post sometime soon, but there are 2 main reasons: 1) it is much easier to use – UI is very obvious and intuitive – and 2) it processes feeds much faster. With Pipes I generally experience long delays in routing feed items, often as long as 6-12 hours. For instance, a specific post from today hit FeedRinse at 2:56am, FeedWeaver at 7:48am and Pipes at 10:46am.

  3. My personal favorite strategy is to display RSS items as titles only. That way I skim through them much faster and spend time reading only the articles that seem like they are of value to me.

  4. I love Google Reader. I have no idea how I would be able to get through online content without it.

    LinkedIn has some excellent groups where people who are interested in a specific area post links and news. It’s a great place to discuss professional and business topics as well. The best thing is they will send you a weekly digest for a group, so you can check back in with the highlights only once a week, very manageable.