I got an email not too long ago about Nuzzel. The person emailing asked why I use Nuzzel. He could understand my using Google Alerts and RSS feeds, he said, but why Google Alerts AND RSS feeds AND Nuzzel? That was a lot. Wasn’t it too much, even for someone who wanted to monitor the Internet for topics of interest?
That’s a good question, and I’ve been ruminating over the answer. I think it has to do with what I know, what everybody else knows, and what I want to know.
(If you’re not familiar with Nuzzel, you can get a background here.)
The foundation of my Web monitoring is Google Alerts. I can give Google Alerts words and phrases I want to monitor the Web and news for, and get a constant stream of information in return. I do have to specifically exclude terms occasionally (I discovered while setting up my Google Alerts that if I my Google alert for a new tool didn’t exclude “James Keenan,” I would get overwhelmed with stories about a possible new album by the band Tool) but usually I can just provide terms and get alerts.
There’s spam, and cruft, and plenty of irrelevance, but Google Alerts focuses on the items I’m specifically looking for and what I want to explore, in the language I think will best find those things. And therein lies the problem.
Using just Google Alerts, it would be difficult for me to discover new words, technologies, and languages to widen my horizon and keep exploring. It’s a closed circuit: I want to learn about THESE technologies using THESE phrases. While it’s possible that one of these stories will point me in a new direction, it’s less likely because I found them using my established vocabulary.
So I have to get more general than just the terms I know and am familiar with, if I want to keep growing. That’s why I use RSS feeds.
It is absolutely the case that I have many RSS feeds devoted to searching for a specific term, but most of my RSS feeds are for a blog or news site. It might be PC World or MakeUseOf or any number of college and university news departments.
I’m still focused on sources of interest (as opposed to specific vocabulary words) so the boundaries are opened a little wider. If PC World does a story on some new technology. I’ll see it. If I see the same technology referenced in another blog a week later, it’ll stick in my mind. Then if a university creates a finding tool for research about that technology, I’ll see that and maybe decide that technology should become a Google Alert.
With RSS feeds, I’m bringing in new data to my monitoring, but it’s still in a controlled way. Blogs are generally focused on a topic or an institution (in the case of a university news wire or something like that.) There’s irrelevancy – more irrelevancy than Google Alerts – but the items in an RSS feed are generally topic-focused.
Which means I’m still restricted to a certain extent. Technology X might be creating an entire community of blogs and RSS feeds, and I might miss it because, again, the RSS feed list I’ve created came from my own thoughts and own research. I’m getting more fresh information but I’ve got to get the door a little more open. And that’s why I use Nuzzel.
I have ~700 Facebook friends and ~3000 people I follow on Twitter. Some folks I follow because I like them, some I follow because they’re institutions worth knowing about, some I follow because their worldview is very different from mine and I have no interest in echo chamber suffocation. These are the people from whom I get content on Nuzzel.
The links these folks post (or, in Facebook’s case, the ones I get to see) are not generally grouped around a topic. They’re not focused on one thing. They’re whatever roughly 3700 people find interesting, informative, or evocative. Here’s where I learn about emerging tech. Here’s where I discover people like Janelle Shane and her fun experiments with machine learning. Here’s where I get my horizons pushed.
Google Alerts are essential because they’re the bedrock of how I watch for new resources. But they can’t be the only thing I use. If they were, I’d spend all my time swimming in the tank of my limited knowledge, hobbled by the fact that how I can express what I’m looking for is limited by how much information I have at the time. I have to go further. I have to bring in other sources, or what I do know and understand is going to decay – and, eventually, decay into irrelevance.
(I do not mean to slam people who are only using Google Alerts. If you’re monitoring for a specific name, brand name, etc Google Alerts might be all you need. But ResearchBuzz has a wider philosophical scope.)
Following the lines of my logic, you might ask, “Well, why don’t you start following the friends of your social media friends? Why don’t you start following their families? Why not just read everything?”
Because I’m constrained by time. I have to balance the desire to know more and learn more and read more and grow more with the fact that I’m a human and I have to sleep and work and put beans on the table. I’d love to read everything everywhere, but I can’t!
Everyone’s approach to monitoring the Web and social media is a little different and I’m not here to tell you what’s right or wrong for you. For me, I’ve learned that Google Alerts is great for the past and present, and RSS feeds are good for the present and nominal future. But for appreciating and exploring what I don’t know and what I know I don’t know, I need Nuzzel. They all work together.