So this column is devoted to that topic. Every time I see a news headline, such as yesterday's announcement that Twitter and LinkedIn, have, well, linked up, I know the stream is becoming not only broader but will probably even sprout new tributaries. That's good in general, but it also creates major problems. When you stop and think about it, information overload is sometimes so debilitating that it's on a par with having little information; it becomes that dizzyingly hard to figure out what's really going on.
With that, here are some tools Social Media Insider readers are using to sort through the clutter. The most fun of those suggested to me, by far, is Twitter Times, a Twitter application that launched in September and expands upon the idea that the tweets of the people you follow are a custom newsfeed. Twitter Times takes all of the links shared by those you follow (and the friends of your friends) and turns them into a custom newspaper, with headlines, text, the whole works.
I got to peruse the first copy of my Twitter Times this morning; it's a wonderfully clean, uncluttered look at what the hot news of the day is in my part of the Twitterverse. Does the whole idea of an online newspaper sound like kickin' it old school? Sure. But newspapers didn't survive all of these years because they were horrible; it's just that something better came along, and Twitter Times does a great job of advancing both customization and news. Thanks to @catherinventura for referring me to Twitter Times.
Another way people are managing their information flow is through the proliferating number of tweet aggregators (tweet-a-gators?), which tend to approach the business of aggregation in different ways. Of course, there's Federated Media's ExecTweets, which allows Twitter users to follow the tweetstream of top executives. Sawhorse Media's MuckRack aggregates tweets of journalists, but only of those who apply and are accepted -- the fine print states clearly that if you're a journalist whose tweets consist solely of your stories, you don't make it in, which gives the site a certain honesty. (Thanks to @ahoving for pointing me to it; now I just hope that it accepts me.)
Another example is the site started by my alma mater, Adweek, calledTweetfreak, which puts intriguing tweets from people in advertising and marketing into a blog format, and adds in a dash of #FollowFriday by suggesting five people each week that its editors deem worth of following.
Other recent advancements, such as Twitter lists, may also help refine social media quantity, but that product is too new for me to know what to make of it. Will it refine the flow, or just make the stream widen once again?
But there are other ways of refining social media content that have little to do with the above forms of customization and are much more important. One thing I certainly wasn't thinking about when I started to look for a way to make sense of all this myself was that the current state of social media affairs has essentially blunted its ability to be a life-saving tool in a crisis. So what are some of the solutions being worked on for that problem?
If you find the above a bit overblown, contemplate the following, as The New York Times' Noam Cohen did in a story over the weekend: last January, the daily number of tweets was 2.4 million; by October it had swelled to 26 million. Thus, as he points out, during a crisis such as the tragic shootings last week at Fort Hood, tools such as Twitter Search become pretty useless as a means of hearing from people who are actually at the scene. Most of the tweets on the topic are from people who have no connection to the actual event. Contrast that with the Mumbai terrorist attacks almost a year ago, which elicited real information, and you'll see there's a problem here.
Cohen's column went on to talk about Twitter's coming geolocation tool, which should help refine tweets around big news stories. Not only will people using Twitter from mobile devices be able to easily state their location, but a search tool that allows people to search by area will become available at the same time. And you thought geolocation was just for retailers who wanted to tweet deals to passersby!
Cohen also mentions an open source project started in Kenya called Ushahidi that tracks text messages by time and location and "was developed to track reports of ethnic violence in Kenya in 2008." If that doesn't prove, once again, that for every technological problem, there are at least 100 people in 100 metaphorical garages working on a solution, I don't know what does.
Funny that this is one of the longest columns I've written, and yet I feel like it's tremendously incomplete. Hell, I didn't even mention Google's or Bing's entrees into real-time search! Please add more ideas below. It's a deep topic that I'd like to explore further in future columns.