Drinking from the Fire Hose

Information, information, information, and yet more information.

Being in business school is being in a wash of information. Processing and reading this information is somewhat like being a contestant on Stanley Spadowski’s variety show on UHF. Case readings, regular readings, book readings … where does one find that time for the ever important personal readings or research needed to develop our specific interests and business knowledge?

What follows are a few tips that I’ve used over the past two years that have really helped manage the way I process news and information, and presently keeps me from being overwhelmed by the torrents of water directed at my head.

Say Hello to My Little Friend RSS

There is a little guy on the Internet you may not have noticed, his name is RSS. RSS stands for really simple syndication and means nothing more than “a special file websites publish that make it easy for computers to read content”. I certainly don’t have time to read everything of interest to me, so why not let the computers do it for you. Here’s how.

If you’ve ever seen one of these or something similar on the Internet or in your browser, chances are, you’ve already been exposed to RSS.

XML Icon RSS Icon

These icons represent the availability of an RSS “feed”. Subscribing to a feed is as simple as putting this link into your newsreader. A newsreader is just an application (either desktop or web-based) that keeps track of these feeds and periodically checks to see if there are any updated articles contained within those feeds. Often times these applications are also called News Aggregators (definition). Most browsers, like Safari and Firefox have built-in support for RSS. There are also many, numerous, online aggregators applications that are worth checking out.

CNET.com also has a great tutorial on how to get the most out of RSS.

Let Google Do the Work For You

Another method I found useful is to sign up with Google to receive free news alerts. Simply type in the phrase or topic you are interested in, tell Google how often you would like to be notified, and simply start receiving information about that topic instantly emailed to you. This is a great way to stay updated without having to know about specific sites to search those topics from.

As an aside, this also works great for keeping track of what people are saying about you. Simple type your full name in quotes and wait for articles relating to yourself to begin rolling-in. Hopefully, all good of course.

Taking It to the Next Level

Ok. So having been exposed to RSS for quite some time, I’ve amassed a large collection of sites that I love to read. So much so that I still now do not have the time to read them all. So what does one do?

Some of the desktop based aggregators offer searching within the subscriptions you have specified. This is a great way to keep in touch with the topics near and dear to you while letting the very important juicy cream float to the top. Applications such as Newsfire for the Macintosh, let you even group subscriptions and search for topics or keywords in those groups, creating an additional layer of dynamic searching to suit your reading habits.

This, my friends, is the golden goose. I have found this type of functionality indispensible for business school. Subscribing to The Economist print-edition RSS feed, there are nearly 100 articles per week that are published. Valuing the opinion of the editors, I naturally subscribe to that feed. However, I also have a smart feed rule that pulls in anything containing the word “Japan” from my various feeds, therefore retrieving the most poignant and relevant business news that I need from my trusted sources.

So let’s all try to spend less time reading better information, work smarter not harder – more time by the pool in the South Carolina heat. Next time, we’ll share what sites are currently powering my coffee-filled Sundays.

What personal tips have you found to be helpful in reading less and getting better information?

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