Too Much Information: A More Productive Model than Getting Info via the Fire-hose that is RSS


It may just be nostalgia, but when I think about how I stay informed I always go back to memories of my dad reading the LA Times in the morning and watching TV news in the evening and that being enough. Granted, it is kind of part of my job to stay on top of a large host of information but it seems like I just can’t quite seem to get a meaningful handle on this. There has to be a more productive way of staying informed that doesn’t require trying to drink from the fire-hose that is RSS based feeds.

On my iPhone I’ve subscribed to 18 audio podcasts and on my iPad I have 34 video podcasts subscriptions (using the Downcast app). Three audio podcasts and five of the video podcasts are daily, three of the video podcasts are two times a week and the rest, 41 podcasts, are weekly. In my RSS reader I’m subscribed to 86 feeds with anywhere between 200 to 1500 articles waiting in my queue (depending on how frequently I scan the lists). In my two active Twitter accounts I’m following 551 persons in one account and 146 in the other averaging about 200 tweets to read whenever I check in. I have sixteen news apps on my iPad, subscribed to one magazine in Newsstand and five magazines using Zinio. And any of the seven TWiT video podcasts that I regularly watch are available live when recorded or 24/7 on-demand. Yeah, I don’t have a life.

Like my dad, I could just pick a few sources to go directly to for my info. All the mainstream sources have their own apps: ABC news, the BBC, CNN, PBS, NPR, LA Times, New York Times. Hell, even the Orlando Sentinel has an app. But, wasn’t it the promise of this information age, that I don’t have to depend on a curated version of the news but can get my news from sources much closer to the story. In fact, when I do skim through the Sentinel most of the local info is police blotter stuff and all the rest are wire stories that I could probably get much more in-depth coverage from where-ever the story originated from. I mean, I would only try to get my tech news from CNN if i wanted to see the mainstream media spin on a tech story. Thus the 52 podcasts, 86 RSS feeds and hundreds of twitter sources, resulting in many hundreds of news items per 24-hour period. It does seem wise to prune the stream back.

One thought I’ve had is, because many of the news items are just quoting or getting their information from other sources, I’d love it if I could enter all of the sources that I want my news stream to come from, but only view news items as close as possible to the original post. I’m guessing that that alone would reduce the number of articles skimmed by easily one-third. I don’ t know if that app or service exists (I would most definitely want it on my iPad, my news viewing platform of choice). Any suggestions would be most welcomed because I’m tired of the fire-hose experience.

In the News: Newspapers/Magazines on the iPad, Part 2

Man Reading Newspaper at Beach - Microsoft Office Clipart

Newspapers on iPad examples by Joe Bustillos

So when we last left our hero, I was looking for the best way to consume my daily news via my iPad… I had discovered that the Amazon kindle edition of the Los Angeles Times was much improved from earlier versions. My guess is that earlier versions, because of limitations of the kindle itself, were black and white images only and attempted to mimic the look of the print edition in a single column fashion, which led to some navigation difficulties. I really don’t know because by the time I decided to subscribe to the LA Times they had switched to an Onswipe-like layout with side-scrolling and section navigation on the left. See A) Los Angeles Times – Amazon Kindle edition on the right.

Imagine my surprise when I checked out the free LA Times iPad app and it looked pretty like the Amazon Kindle version that I was paying $9.99 each for. In fact, the free version was a little more advanced in it’s usage of screen real-estate, giving the reader a bit more information and options on each single screen. See B) Los Angeles Times – iPad App Edition (free) to the right.

The free version had the better screen usage because the section menu was drop-down, so it was out of the way when not needed. See C) Los Angeles Times – iPad Edition – Sections Menu to the right. And the free version was not lite on content by any stretch of the imagination. Granted, the last time I saw the paper version of the daily I was shocked at how small the newspaper was. It was hardly a shadow of it’s former self. So my guess is that the free iPad version has all of the same content as the paper version.

Finally, one thing that was very frustrating with the Kindle version of the Los Angeles Times was that if I found an article that I wanted to share or clip there was no way to do that in the Kindle version. I couldn’t select the article to copy it or even select any text that I might want to share. Now that might have been a limitation of the iOS interface but it really made the Kindle version feel like it was just for reading and not for sharing or research. The free version had social-networking built-in. Yeah. I cancelled my Kindle-edition. See D) Los Angeles Times iPad Edition Social Networking Menu to the right.

As I continued to explore the free Los Angeles Times iPad app I couldn’t find anyway to “subscribe” or become a subscriber in the traditional sense. I’m guessing that the free iPad version is being supported by the few ads along the bottom of some of the screens. As much as I love getting the whole LA Times for free, I’m concerned about the sustainability of the free model. That said, I’m not happy at the confusing subscription model being promoted by the New York Times that favors paper-subscribers over iPad/online subscribers when there’s so much less waste in the iPad/online model. Note that when you look at the iPad version of the New York Times all of the sections are locked for non-subscribers – see E) New York Times – iPad Edition – PAID Sections.

So, do I enjoy a free-copy of the LA Times every morning on my iPad with my Wheaties? Not so much. It’s tough to settle into the sit-and-read-the-paper-with-breakfast model that I’ve aspired to. Also, I’ve gotten used to skimming dozens of news sources at a time via my iPad RSS reader of choice, NewsRack. There are dozens of more visual newsreaders that mimic the slider model, but my purpose is to skim and select what to read and if I have to wade through tons of images it’ll slow down the process. I guess I’ve chosen a method of going through dozens and dozens of news sources instead of trusting a couple, or as in my dad’s case, one source.

Actually, now that I think about it, part of my problem is that I’m used to skimming and get a lot of my research links via my Twitter-stream. I tend to skim my Twitter resources before skimming my RSS articles. So, there’s a definite disconnect from the traditional news/magazine publication cycle and how I consume my information. As beautiful as some of these news apps are (like the ABC News and BBC apps) I don’t want to go to dozens of iPad apps or virtual magazines. It’s the web2 model: I don’t want to have to go to the apps, I want the news to seamlessly come to me. Man, this is much more difficult than I expected. This is going to require more thought… to be continued…

image: Man Reading Newspaper at Beach – Microsoft Office Clipart,|mt:2| retrieved 1/14/2012.
image: Newspapers on iPad examples by Joe Bustillos, retrieved 1/14/2012.

In The News: Newspapers/Magazines on the iPad, Part 1

Newspaper forest green by NS Newsflash/Jon S

I have memories of my father spending every morning of his life reading the LA Times, weekdays and weekends. He was up at the crack of dawn and gone before we invaded the kitchen most mornings, but the evidence of his presence was there in the refolded sections of the newspaper. In later years I tried to emulate the morning newspaper practice but my mornings never seemed to be either that consistent or that “leisurely” in having time to read the paper, so the papers just piled up mostly unread until the guilt of the waste would prompt me to cancel my subscription.

These past fifteen years or so, keeping up with tech trends has been my business, and back in the beginning the newspaper would have been of no use (except for the computer store ads in the Saturday Sports section). Local user groups (NOCCC was strong back then) were the first sources of news and computer magazines like Byte and PC World were essential links to information. Eventually TV shows like C/NET TV and the Computer Chronicles and eventually ZD-TV/TechTV filled in the gap as user groups began to fade and virtual communities began to grow through the Internet. TV shows were then replaced by audio and the video podcasts mostly done by full-time podcasters. But I still hadn’t found a consistent “news gathering” process.

When I got my first iPad I was hoping that I would find a much more Eco-friendly way to consume daily news and tech news. I was really looking forward to reading newspapers and magazines on my iPad. One of the first publications to make it’s debut, The Daily, was buggy and I wasn’t really impressed with the quality of the writing style, so I never subscribed beyond the one-month free trial. At the time there were newspaper apps but they were geared for the small iPhone screen and were hardly better than a crippled webpage. This was not the experience I was looking for. In fact the best magazine/newspaper translation to iPad that I’ve found has been the Zinio version of National Geographic. Zinio is an app or wrapper that previously appeared as a Mac and Windows desktop app, but in it’s iPad incarnation not only does it preserve the feel and layout of the magazine but it all offers photo galleries and videos not possible in the paper version of the magazine. The only draw-back is that I have to remember to launch the Zinio app to get to my magazine library, but everything else is pretty seamless. Now that Apple has it’s own “newsstand” version I wonder what the difference might be. Also NG has it’s own stand-alone version. As far as look and feel and multimedia options Zinio works.

Newspaper-wise, in the beginning there was nothing, except for the iPhone versions. Being from the West Coast I was hoping to get the LA Times, but the Times was a Flash-only subscription that wouldn’t work on my iPad. Amazon had a kindle version of several newspapers, but reviews were critical of the offering, mostly related to poor editing and poor image support. But then some time late in the summer I discovered that Amazon had improved their newspaper subscription service and signed up for the Los Angeles Times via Kindle. Ten bucks a month for the daily paper with all of the sections from the original in a semi-blog/onswipe kind of layout. Not too bad. Well, except for when I happened to find almost the exact same version available apparently directly from the LA Times (via an LA Times app), FOR FREE! Doh! To be continued…