20070710

OT: How to Read More in Less Time

Off-topic...

While security and development may be my profession, it's certainly not my only passion. I read blogs in a lot of different disciplines, not only security. Prior to RSS, keeping up-to-date on all that information would have been a nightmare. But even with RSS, separating the signal from the noise can be very difficult. I don't consider myself to be an expert on reading a large volume of material, but I thought I'd share how I at least make it manageable - while still only reading about twice daily.

Without trying to push a particular reader, my mind works well with the "river of news" model. Rather than read a feed, then another feed, then another feed, or even a subject, then another subject, then another subject, it's easier for me to just process all of my reading in a single stream. This is probably my first step in being able to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. There are a handful of ways to do this. If you prefer to use your own reader, even if it's not "River of News", there's always FeedBlendr. There are a handful of desktop readers that display in RoN as well, but unless I have a specific need for one, I'm not a big fan of desktop readers.

Having said all that, you can probably surmise that what's left are web-based readers that support River of News. And while there are others, I personally use Google Reader. I know in the industry a lot of people dislike Google because they harvest so much information, so when they have a vulnerability, it's a big deal with a wide impact. I feel relatively safe with my Google Reader reading, though - I don't watch anything uber-sensitive in Reader, and don't use Google Docs/Spreadsheets.

So how do I use Google Reader in only two or so passes a day? Here's a bullet list:

  • I only subscribe to one "World News" site and one "Local News" site. Those change from time to time because of technical issues with the feeds on some of them - I don't like to read the same information twice. But keeping the number to two, I'm able to see what's going on in the world (to a degree) while those feeds not dominating my reading list.
  • I visually filter in one pass, read in a second pass, and sometimes research in a third pass. There's far too much information to actually read every item, so I skim in the first pass and snipe off the items I want to spend some time looking at. There's a lot of stuff that goes into this first pass:
    • Who wrote the post.
    • Keywords
    • Link density (if there's going to be more to read about it later)
    • Timeliness
    • Source feed - if it comes from an aggregate site, it might be older or pre-picked before I get to it.
  • I use keyboard shortcuts. For the first pass, this is crucial. So my two requirements for any reader are River of News and Keyboard Shortcuts. In Google Reader, I keep my fingers on the home keys - J is next, K is previous, S is for Star (or in my case, snipe).
  • The second pass I do by going to the Starred (or Sniped) items - "gs". Then I'm back to the keyboard shortcuts. Here, 'v' opens the item if I need to read the whole thing (see later about synopses), but generally I use splodge-click so that the site (or link in the post) opens in a new tab but does not get focus - this I do in preparation for the third phase, which is research.
  • I prefer feeds with full posts as opposed to synopses - except in my local and world news feeds. I know that some of you have ads or fancy-schmancy graphics you want people to see, and I can understand with the ads. But I prefer to be able to read the whole story without having to visit your site.
  • I generally don't subscribe to aggregating sites. While I think Planet Websecurity is fantastic (thanks christ1an for standing it up and maintaining it), the aggregated sites generally lose some of the formatting and often include more line-noise to begin with. If there's a site that aggregates, I prefer to get a feed of the blog of that site so I can see what blog got added and why. Then I look at the actual site that got added to see if it's something worth watching ongoing.
Readers that have search/filtering capability intrigue me to the degree that I can use a search or regex to kinda' reduce the signal-to-noise ratio to begin with, but I've not found one yet that I'm really happy with. I suppose that's what Yahoo! Pipes, Google Mashup Editor, and Popfly are for, so I suppose I'll start looking that route to pre-filter some of my feeds.

Now a lot of you are going to give alternate reading methods that you think are vastly superior. But for those who don't read a lot but would like to read more, that's how I get away with it while still only reading twice a day.

3 comments:

  1. why use one reader? opml lets me use multiple readers. why aggregate all your feeds and still not keep them de-aggregated? opml supports this.

    i usually prefer to use firefox live bookmarks with the bookmark toolbar expanded to allow unlimited bookmarks. in order to do this, you have to modify userChrome.css

    this works well because i prefer to have tor, privoxy, and various firefox plugins enabled. i also prefer to use rss-cache (which uses Google Reader in an interesting way), so that the owners don't even know that their feeds are being pulled. it's basically untraceable, which is nice because people could certainly identify me by my list of feeds.

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  2. @dre - somehow I knew this would get posts from even the most technical of the readers.

    I use opml when I want to import my feeds into other readers. I prefer to use one reader because my feeble little mind doesn't like to deal with reading the same things over and over again. When I mark something as read in one place, I want it to be read everywhere - off the plate, and out of mind.

    I actually use firefox live bookmarks to collect bookmarks as an RSS feed from bookmarking services - this is how my friends send me links. But I've not used live bookmarks for actually reading in a very long time because I prefer to see everything at once.

    One thing I failed to mention is that I do view my feeds de-aggregated on occasion - like if I've been out for awhile, it's a way to mark everything of high noise-to-signal ratio read at once.

    Again - I knew some people would have differing methods on this. It's just what I do to keep current on several subject areas at once.

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  3. Tomek12:59

    I've just started using Yahoo Pipes - as I'm subscribing to some planet-like sites (www.planet-php.net, www.planet-websecurity.org, etc.) often entries get multiplicated, thus I created a pipe that merge all the feeds into one

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