I posted recently some of the ways Google and Facebook, by ‘personalizing’ content are heading towards an internet that is actually more isolated and less connected. After all, if we only see things that pertain to our interests, we’ll potentially miss out on a whole bunch of other stuff we might want to know. As I’ve been thinking about the implications of this, I’ve been thinking about just how much I use Google and Facebook for information. Ultimately, neither site is bad and I don’t plan to stop using them. I do think, however, there may be ways to explore the resources of the internet better.
So here are the problems, first of all:
- I depend far too much on Google as a content provider. If I want to know something, I Google it. If I want to find something, I Google it. If I want to learn about something, I Google it. Now, Google is great, but as the video and my post observe, Google does filter content in the name of ‘personalization’ (even if you aren’t logged on to Google, it will base search results based on where you are[1. Your IP address gives away your location], what other people are searching for and finding, what sites have the most links, and so on). This means that you might not find everything you may want to look at with Google.
- I depend far too much on social media for my information and news. I regularly follow links that my friends share on Facebook and Twitter. This is especially a problem with Facebook, since Facebook ‘personalizes’ your news feed. I thus miss out on a number of posts and links from my friends, who Facebook has decided I don’t want to see.
- I am sometimes frustrated with the content Google does deliver me. Not really a fault of Google’s, but the internet is filled with poorly written and poorly researched content. It is hard to find sites with good content sometimes. I’m also surprised how many ‘articles’ I run into that sound shockingly similar to whatever I just read. Plagiarism abounds.
My goal, then, is to find ways and tools to use the internet better than I am now. Some of my tips are tools I have been using for a while, and some are new ideas I’ve found. Anyway, without further delay, here are my 5 tips on how to fight this trend towards isolating personalization and use the internet better:
- RSS Feeds: use them. Nearly every blog, newspaper or website that continually updates it’s content provides what is known as an RSS feed. There are a number of ways to utilize them, but my favorite is Google Reader combined with Feedly. RSS readers, like Google Reader, work much like an email application in that you can see recent, unread posts from whatever sites you add. Feedly builds on Google Reader by reformatting the frankly rather dull default (no offense Google!) into a ‘magazine-like start page’. It really does look nice. Thanks to lakesidegirl for recommending Feedly to me. While of course limited to the content you subscribe to, Feedly & Google Reader are a great way to stay on top of things and is how I generally try to keep up with the news, not to mention my friend’s blogs. You can see Google Reader here, and Feedly here. Add my site to your favorite RSS reader! Here’s the link to the feed, also available on the right column via the RSS button.
- View your Facebook news feed in ‘most recent’ rather than ‘top stories’ mode. Up at the top right is a wee (read: little) button that allows you to change this. The problem with ‘top stories’ is that it is Facebook’s algorithm deciding what you do and don’t want to see. While convenient, it means that you are not seeing every post, no matter how deep you dig. Sorting by ‘most recent’ does just that: shows you the most recent posts. Now you’ll only miss out on whatever older posts you don’t get too. It obviously isn’t a perfect solution, but it does give you a different view of what is happening with your friends.
- Twitter. I have been on twitter for some time, and growing more and more fond of it. You can ‘follow’ newspapers, politicians, companies…just about anyone really. Many Tweeters, myself included, will post links to content they publish as well as stuff they find on the internet. Twitter’s website isn’t a bad way to navigate the feed, but Tweetdeck and Hootsuite are two popular tools that enable you to really harness Twitter’s content and power.
- Use StumbleUpon to find content on the web. If you haven’t used StumbleUpon before, you should. Essentially, SU allows you to ‘stumble’ through the internet, and shows you different sites based upon you interests (like photography or politics). You can Stumble through all your interests, or just a particular category. If you like what you see, you give the page a thumbs up, and if you don’t like it you give it a thumbs down. This tells StumbleUpon what you like and don’t like, and also determines what others will find. Using SU isn’t foolproof, obviously. StumbleUpon delivers sites that others have liked, thus it will not point you to content that no one else has found. Still, with millions users ‘stumbling’ content, it isn’t as though the pool is all that small. The other drawback is that it too is feeding you content based on your own interests. It won’t show you everything. Still, it is fun if nothing else, and might be a good way to find content you wouldn’t otherwise. Start at StumbleUpon’s website: www.stumbleupon.com.
- Remember what you’ve found. I use Evernote for this purpose, it has a great Chrome & Firefox extension that allows you to ‘clip’ webpages. I basically use like a file cabinet, saving articles I read that are useful. You could, of course, use the bookmarking feature of your preferred browser, but I tend to forget about that and I also find my sloppy use of them to be too chaotic to be useful. There are a number of ‘social bookmarking’ sites that might be worth checking out. I ‘stumbled’ one the other day (see? #4 is working!!) called Pearltrees. Haven’t used it much, but it looks like it could be interesting. Check it out at pearltrees.com. You can also check out Evernote here.
- Don’t’ stress (and yes I cheated to add a sixth point). It’s only the internet. Seriously though, it isn’t bad for content to be filtered out. The vast amount of information that is available via the internet is fantastic. But it also means there will be some natural filtering one way or the other. My purpose has been to show some ways to find content you and I may not be finding otherwise, and to be better, more informed users of the internet.
Ultimately, I think the main thing is simply to realize how much information is out there that. Even the best efforts probably won’t find you everything, and that is not entirely bad. The purpose of this post is just to explore some ways that we can better utilize the internet, without depending on one source of content.
There are tons of great tools and tricks out there. What do you use to scour the internet? I’d love to hear from you!