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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Broad and Narrow

I love finding new and interesting stuff.  One of my greatest joys is finding a new Science Fiction author to read that I haven't read before.  One way to do that is to browse stores, but another way is to talk to really interesting people about the books they like to read.  That's one of the reasons I like Twitter and other social media outlets as a way to find interesting reading material.  But it is still too narrow a venue for me, and I have other ways to find content.

I have two different media aggregations apps I routinely use.  Flipboard is what I use to browse through the various articles that friends, tweeps, links and plussers have posted to Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and Google+.  I'm fairly conservative in who I follow, sticking in a somewhat narrow band within my particular field, although necessarily NOT sticking just with those I agree with (in fact, a sure way to get followed by me is to be a smart and articulate person with an opposing view).  Even so, I think of Flipboard as being a narrow-band receiver of content for me.  It really is based on my choices of people to follow.

To stretch my view of content, I've been using Zite to broaden my perspective.  Until recently, I had pretty good evidence that was working.  There's been a ton of stuff that didn't matter, along with about 1 article in 20 that I wouldn't have run across in my usual day that was very interesting.  In other words, high recall and cruddy precision, with the very occasional gem.  But after a recent upgrade, and somewhere along the way having given Zite a way to track me better, I fear that I may have made a mistake.  I went through my top news today, and found not just one or two or even three, but more than a half dozen articles that were right within my zone of interest.

For some this would be great.  For me, it's a cause for alarm.  What I'm afraid of is that the rest of the content I ask for will be filtered based on what it knows I will like.   But, I don't trust those hidden algorithms not to filter out some jewel that I might like despite my prior reading history.  I'm not looking just for stuff I know I'll like, I'm looking for hidden jewels.  I then looked past the "Top Stories" section, into a few topic areas that are also within my zone of interest.  Yep, indeed, they have. The frequency of "favored" sources seems to be much higher, and the stuff I'm seeing is also very much what I actually get in my day-to-day reading.

Dang, they figured me out, and in the process, I think the jewels may be lost.  Now I'm just going to have to find another app to bring me random content that is still interesting, and "outside the zone".  I wish someone would be smart enough to develop that app.

How does this apply to my day job?  Have you ever been searching for an answer to a question, only to find a dozen articles that simply don't cut it for you?  After hours or even days of digging, eventually you find it in some obscure place.  I'm trying to find the obscure places that I should be looking.  It isn't about what you know, but what you know about how to find out that matters in the long run.

1 comment:

  1. Off topic, have you read China Miéville? His latest, Embassytown, gets pretty deep into semiotic linguistic theory, but it's a great story as well. Reminds me of Sterling's Schismatrix in a number of ways.

    I still love twitter because I can ignore it for months, jump in for 20 minutes, and extract some value - consistently.