My content consumption strategy

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]

Recently I have giving more thought to how I source and consume digital information. Without a bit of deliberate effort here, it is easy to slowly outsource the job of curation to social media feed algorithms, until one day you wake up and realize you are living in a filter bubble.

Ideally I would like to construct an information diet which fulfills three criteria:

  1. I am guaranteed to see all the content published by my most valued and trusted sources.
  2. I am able to discover relevant and interesting new content from sources I was not previously aware of, and hence do not directly follow.
  3. The content surfaced is not algorithmically optimized for engagement/outrage/controversy.

My current solution consists of:

  1. RSS subscriptions (via Feedly) for my most trusted sources.
  2. Email newsletters, most of which focus on curating information around a specific topic, and therefore enable discovery.
  3. Podcasts, which tend to include a combination of original source-driven and curated content.

Below are some thoughts on each medium, and a list of my six favourite sources for each.

RSS feeds

What’s great about RSS feeds is that you are guaranteed to see every single piece of content from that source. If I find that I want to read 75%+ of the content published by a source, I try to subscribe to their RSS feed.

Some of my favourites:

Seth’s Blog – Seth Godin is a marketing superhero who writes short daily blog posts around the theme of trials and tribulations of doing creative work in an organizational setting. Each post is thought-provoking, insightful, and more often than not resonates eerily with a problem I am currently or have recently faced in my own work.

Erik Bernhardsson – Erik is a former data scientist at Spotify who writes monthly about both technical topics and broader organizational topics related to data science (hiring, enacting change, marketing, etc.).

Raptitude – David blogs about mindfulness in the context of daily life. I find his articles to be excellent reminders to revisit and embody concepts that I already know, but inevitably forget to live on a day-to-day basis.

Slate Star Codex – SSC is a self-described blog about “science, medicine, philosophy, politics, and futurism”. The author Scott Alexander has a bit of a cult following, and even has his own sub-reddit with 25k+ members. I don’t read everything Scott writes, but I find his blog frequently surfaces interesting topics, papers and research that otherwise would not have come to my attention.

Yanir Seroussi – Yanir is a data scientist at Automattic (Wordpress). His articles give insight into the day-to-day struggles of remote work and the discipline of data science.

A Learning A Day – A Seth-godin-esque daily insight blog written by Rohan Rajiv, a PM at Amazon. Similarly great content, with slightly more of a focus on spirituality and family.

Email Newsletters

Email newsletters seem to be having a renaissance lately. Almost everyone has a newsletter these days. When possible, I opt to subscribe to the RSS feed instead. But there has been a resurgence of topic-focused weekly email newsletters on the web, curated around a specific topic by a single person. These newsletters are excellent for discovering new or emerging sources of information around a topic.

Hacker Newsletter – A curated selection of Hacker News posts from the past week. Strong focus on tech, sometimes esoteric, but frequently interesting. The quality of HN comments threads are very high, and I frequently spend as much or more time reading the comments than the articles themselves.

Weekend Reading (Asaaf Arkin) – My weekly source of tech memes, tweets, and frontend-development-related content. I look forward to this in my inbox every monday.

Stratechery (Ben Thompson) – Deep analysis on the tech industry, with a focus on the big tech companies (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google). Ben explores broad topics of market dynamics and business strategy, similar to Clay Christensen’s work.

Two Truths and a Take (Alex Danco) (Alex Danco) – Alex is a VC who writes weekly long-form articles about tech and VC from a futurist perspective. Some interesting perspectives about how industries and the world will look in 5-10 years.

Data Elixir – A curation of data science topics from across the web. There is too much DS-related stuff being published on Medium to keep track of, but Data Elixir does a good job of surfacing the best.

Farnam Street: Brain Food (Shane Parrish) – A curation of content around the topic of mental models, cognitive biases, and decision-making. This newsletter will help you think better.

Podcasts

I have quite a bit of “hands-free” time in my day which is well suited for audio consumption (walking the dog, commuting, doing dishes, etc.). So I try to prioritize audio content whenever available.

99% Invisible – It’s difficult to describe 99pi to non-listeners. Obstensibly it is a podcast about “design and architecture” but that doesn’t quite do it justice. Each episode explores a seemingly disconnected and overlooked element of society or the built environment, all connected by the perspective of design thinking. I particularly enjoyed the episode on curb cuts, a design element I encounter daily but whose origin and history I had never considered.

Sam Harris: Making Sense – Sam Harris’ podcast is an exceptional source of thoughtful conversations with a wide variety of guests, focused around politics, religion, and world affairs. What I appreciate here is the breadth of perspectives and opinions of his guests. Even you don’t share Sam’s political alignment, you’ll almost certainly get something out of this podcast.

The Tim Ferriss Show – Tim has evolved beyond his earlier Four Hour X self-improvement writing to become a talented interviewer of other high-performing individuals. His podcast includes long-form conversations with some big names, with on the habits, rituals, etc that make world-class performers exceptional in their given craft or field.

David Perell: North Star – I don’t always agree with David’s viewpoint, but I appreciate his ability to get interesting lesser-known guests on his podcast. I particularly enjoyed his conversations with Andy Matuschak and Alex Danco.

Seth Godin: Akimbo – Seth Godin is a master of short-form insights, and I have long enjoyed his daily blog posts. In this podcast, he extends these insights to medium-form (~30 minutes) and explores the same sorts of topics in a bit more depth.

Shane Parrish: The Knowledge Project – Similar to The Tim Ferriss Show but with more of a focus on the business world. The topics are similar to his newsletter, but the format is long-form discussions with interesting individuals.

© Geoff Ruddock 2020