Monday, November 05, 2007

Aggregating and Filtering

In my last post I talked about a "Need Aggregator" for the SMB Universe.

There's no denying that the means of communicating and participating are expanding almost as fast as the information on the internet.

With Yahoo groups, news groups, email lists, blogs, podcasts, etc., we've become as overwhelmed with communication tools as we are with the communications themselves.

Some of this is just plain fun. People like toys. Sometimes they're physical toys (cell phones, cars, computers) and sometimes they're virtual toys (computer sites, online communities).

Some of this is business. Some is a combination.

If you consider all the types of communication technologies, and the quantity of information being fed down each pipeline, you can see why some people simply opt out.

If you believe the premise that the forms of communications will continue to expand, then you need some strategies for dealing with it. Here are a few tips.

First, find filters. These are people, processes, or programs that help you find the information you need and avoid what you don't. Examples:

- People. If three MVPs tell you to pay attention to something, it's probably a good idea to check it out. Same should be true with your PAM or PAL.

- Processes. Don't just poke around a little here and a little there. Find some things that work for you and do them consistently. This might mean checking specific blogs, reading a specific magazine, or contacting a specific list of friends and contacts.

- Programs. Whether it's Google Alerts, Newsgator, BlogPulse, or whatever: You need to find some tools that help you narrow down what you are exposed to.

Please note that last line very carefully. You do not need more tools to find more things. You need the best tools to find the best stuff related to your business.

If you believe the analogy that working with Microsoft is like drinking from a firehose, then you need some serious filters. On top of Microsoft you can add every hardware vendor, every software vendor, all the major technology news outlets, all the blogs, etc.

Now you're drinking from every firehose in the world!

So you don't just need a filter, you need a few good filters.

Second, look at yourself as a producer of information. After all, when we participate in yahoo groups and news groups (or create a blog), we put out ideas out there for other people to chew on. As part of the community, we can help others by reducing the need for filters.

Here are two frequent examples.

One example is that small group of people who engage in lengthy pointless debates or flame wars. These don't happen very often. But when they do, they discourage people from participating or even following the rest of what's going on.

I grew up in a house with six boys. Sometimes we were loud. Sometimes we argued. Sometimes we even fought. I don't recall my mother telling us no to do these things very much. But what she did say was: "Take it outside."

It's too bad the domain name is already taken. It would be nice to push a button and have people take their debate over Commodore vs. Atari to another realm where we don't have to scroll past it to read our newsgroups.

A second example is that small group of people who admit they have no experience or information, but jump in with lengthy opinions. "I've never installed a phone system, but I'd choose asterisk over response point . . .." Or "I've never hired an employee, but . . .."

I don't mean to squash open and free discussion, but give me a break.

People come to these sites -- and come back -- because they are looking for useful information and find it. We all have things to contribute, and most people could contribute more than they do. But when someone asks a question that's truly important for his business, it would be good to get responses only from contributors and not just people who want to post.

In other words, be a good citizen by contributing more when you have something to add. But also limit your posts.

It's always fine to ask questions and get discussions going. That's part of the community. Again, if more people did this, we would have a wider variety of discussions.

Third, look at yourself as a consumer of information. Are you an educated and discerning consumer? Or do you try to take it all in?

Remember, you're drinking from all the firehoses in the world. You have to accept the fact that you can't read it all, you can't take it all in, and you can't internalize all the information -- even the information relevant to your field.

If you want to hang out on a dozen sites telling B.S. stories, go ahead. But don't call it work and don't complain that you don't have time for what's important. Decide what's important and develop good habits -- muscles of success.

The hard part about community is that you begin to KNOW these people. After you attend a conference or two, you start reading these sites and saying "I know her. I met him." So you want to read what they have to say. But there were 700 people at SMB Nation. Plus 200 at this conference, 150 at that conference. Pretty soon you have thousands -- tens of thousands -- of posts and blogs and stuff to keep track of.

See item one: you need filters.

Your most important filter will always be yourself.

Unless there's a hot topic addressing exactly what you need in your business today, it's okay to skip discussions about all the other "stuff" out there.

Are you going to miss some things? Are you going to find out about some key technologies a little bit late? Yes. Has this happened in the past with zero ill effects? Yes x 1,000,000.


Who, oh who, will build us a tool for aggregating AND filtering the internet?


  1. Anonymous12:10 PM


    I have a great system that works for me.

    1) Newsgator to track hundreds of blogs. I have the blogs categorized: SBS 2003, Mobile Phones, XP Troubleshooting, Business News, Vista Troubleshooting etc., this way I can get all blogs read in about 20 minutes.

    2) I have a paid Yahoo mail account which includes unlimited storage. So every forum I participate in has a Yahoo mail folder for those posts keeping all of this stuff out of my Outlook mailbox.

    3) SharePoint 3 on our internal server with RSS integration pulling in all the RSS system status feeds from our key vendors, if no RSS then a link to our key vendors' system 'status' page.

    4) Outlook and a Microsoft Smartphone for business email.

    All day I'm caught up on email while in the field thanks to the SmartPhone, everytime I open the web SharePoint lets me know of any potential problems with vendors, open Newsgator at 4:30 all my blogs are in and quick review, then if time allows a peak at my Yahoo mail for the forum posts.

    Then a few trade magazines a week and of course a re-read of "Relax, Focus, Succeed" next the "Super-Good Project Book!"

    ~ Brian Williams

  2. Another great post Karl, it certainly gives us plenty to think about.

    One tip I'd offer is to re-direct some of those Mailing List Digests, E-Newsletters and Vendor Technology Update e-mails to some Exchange Public Folders. You find them useful to dip in and out of, but they clog up your inbox (or sub-folder) if not read for a few days?

    If you've got more than one Techy Employee in your business, chances are they'll want to read the same information - so centrally locating those mailings means reducing duplicates e-mails in everyone's mailbox. Plus new Junior Techy's joining the business get an instant archive of relevant information to search/read.

    One final point - everyone knows Atari is better than Commodore, so let's drop that subject. :-)


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