If information discovery plays such a central role in how we make sense of the world in this new media landscape, then it is a form of creative labor in and of itself.
— Maria Popova, Brainpickings.org
I have been thinking recently about how we source the digital information that we consume.
I myself started back in the day subscribing to RSS feeds in Google Reader to ensure I stay up to date on anything and everything posted by a specific site in the future. This works well enough until you amass enough subscriptions that reading through all new items becomes a daily task. This i complicated by sites that post frequently but from which you may read only the occasional article. (like Lifehacker or Dornob)
Eventually you need some form of curation. I started with Digg—back when it was still a social media powerhouse—and eventually settled into reddit. However the danger with reddit is in simply browsing the most popular sub-reddits (called subs) on the homepage, which are usually pictures of cats, etc. To really use reddit as an effective information curation tool, you need to create an account and build your custom homepage from a list of more specific—and sometimes obscure—subreddits. Whatever your interests, you can usually very specific pocket of activity around those topics in some obscure subs. Subscribing to a bunch of these gives you something like a curated version of an RSS reader.
Lately I have been discovering most of my “new” information through a surprisingly basic medium – email. There has been a resurgence of daily and weekly email newsletters on the web, curated around a specific topic by a single person. At first it seems to be the polar opposite of using reddit for discovery, since the decision of what goes to the top is made by a single person instead of the “wisdom of the crowd”. But in practice I have found that curated email content plays the aggregation function well enough, but where it really excels is helping you discover new content. A list of rss feeds is static, and unless your sources cross-link to new content, discovery can be minimal. Aggregators like reddit have a similar problem in the way that front-page content often conforms to topics and formats that will get the most upvotes by appealing to the community’s core demographic. That’s great if you are part of that demographic, but if not, the content will be less appealing to you.
I often find myself asking interesting people about what newsletters they subscribe to. Busy, interesting people often have some curated source of information in their back pocket to stay up-to-date with minimal time investment. I am always interested in learning what sources these sorts of people trust for their digital information.
Here is a list of some of the email newsletters I am currently subscribed to.
Blinkist Daily – I have previously expressed my fondness for Blinkist Daily’s weekly list of free book summaries. The newsletter is a great way to stay in the loop on new summaries, and so I read it even though I have a full subscription to the service.
Brain Pickings – Self-described by it’s creator Maria Popova as “a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why… an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life”. Brain Pickings is a weekly curation of Maria’s book reviews/summaries on some interesting arts/humanities books that I probably would not run into otherwise. I use her articles as discover and vet the addition of more liberal books to my reading list, which rounds out the non-fiction nature of Blinkist.
Now I Know – Dan Lewis runs a newsletter that sends you a story about an interesting fact every day. I like to think that reading these helps build the breadth element of the T-shaped skill model, by keeping your mind fertile with interesting tidbits in totally unrelated areas, ready to make unexpected connections between.
Andrew Chen – Some fantastic essays on tech and startups, specifically around areas of marketing, growth, and user acquisition. I filter these emails into my “must read” gmail label.
Benedict Evens – Thoughtful analysis on startups, particularly about mobile. Benedict is a partner at a16z, and his opinions seem to reverberate quickly through the tech world.
@pmarca tweet storm – I don’t fully understand why VC Marc Andressen uses twitter to publish long-form content, which often spans 10+ tweets. Nevertheless they are usually interesting and thought-provoking, so I use the above site to be notified of one of these “tweetstorms” after the fact, when I can review the entire thing in a chronological format.
Mattermark – A good daily curation of news and opinions in the tech startup space, with a focus on the financing side. Covers a lot of VC-run blogs that end up giving thoughtful product advice, which is what interests me.
Quartz Daily Brief – I will admit that I don’t keep up with these as often as I should. But if you care about more temporal news, Quartz is a high-quality daily source of information. Another good newsletter in this space is Dave Pell’s NextDraft.
Springwise Daily – Springwise is an “idea database” that curates innovative ideas in design, business, and technology. They offer a $400+ annual membership for access, but if you don’t have an urgent need you can subscribe to their “innovation bulletin” where they showcase 2-3 ideas per day.
Curated “Best of”
Medium Weekly Digest – Sends a weekly selection of Medium articles that may interest you. This is a good source of some relatively long-form weekend read material.
Product Hunt – The newsletter is a good way to stay up-to-date on interesting new startups without the need to obsessively check the front page throughout the day.
Hacker Newsletter – A curated selection of the best posts from Hacker News sent to your inbox weekly. Content is largely startup related, with a strong focus on the technical.
The Wirecutter – A consumer review editorial website that has become my definitive source of information for technology buying and product comparisons. They aggregate and comment on other reviews, but ultimately provide a strong editorial opinion. After a few great buys, The Wirecutter has earned my trust as the primary source of information for my personal tech purchasing.