Future Search Requires Human Intervention

The business of organizing information is a tricky one in that it’s a moving target. It’s hard to tell what will be the next hot topic or consumer need, and the contribution of digital information is not necessarily bound by the structure and rules of those needing that information. Second, the mechanisms by which we wish to access and use information are constantly changing. The world in 2050 won’t be PowerPoint presentations, heat maps and csv exports, just as 1950’s world wasn’t all emails, tweets, and search engines. Lastly, with the emergence and growth of social media and networking, information contribution has dramatically increased. Without providing the statistics, it’s well known that more people are online, and more people are hitting a “Submit”, “Post”, “Send”, or “Tweet” button than ever before. As a result, there are more pieces of information, more individual topics, more ways to categorize information, more uses for information, more ways to see information, and more unknowns about that information than ever before.

That being said, it’s important to not be unnerved by this. Collectively, we are smart enough to guide search technology in the right direction, or at least put it in the right place so that its path is optimized for future generations. And collectively, we are smart enough to ensure that the ways we use information will publicly provide guidance to the development of a optimal suite of available tools for effective visualization and communication. That being said, by focusing on the relative near-term, emerging trends can be detected, understood, and leveraged for advancement in the business of organizing information. Gaining an edge on future trends brings tremendous value and exactly that – edge. Among other methods, the detection of such trends requires quantitative analysis mixed with psychology, history, and good ol’ intuition.

In terms of finding information (and more importantly, relevant information), most people think simple search. Or maybe more specifically, they think Boolean search with some available advanced search options. It’s Google, Bing, Wolfram|Alpha, or some other engine – typing in some logical query, occasionally setting some supporting filters, scrolling through the first ten results, and settling on what looks best by some meta data. This certainly works today, and these search engines may be sufficiently wrapping their arms around the influx of new and changing information. But soon technology reaches a limit. The responsibility must shift back to the human. As the informational requirements become more complex and the underlying data become more specialized, relevancy must become more human-driven. We can’t rely completely on technology to provide us with answers.

This notion is two-fold:

  1. Future queries needs more human input. This means “advanced search” needs to become part of “normal search”. Spending 3 seconds to check a box could save 3 minutes in scanning results. You can obviously set defaults for your regular search, but I’d be interested to see stats on the use of type of search vs time spent scanning results. The distance between the two will only grow with the ever-accelerating growth of internet content.
  2. Future content needs more human organization. About.com, Wikipedia.org, and howstuffworks.com are great examples of this. They are sites that show up in search results that organize information. Wired Magazine had a good article last month on About.com as an “answer factory” (in fact, their motto is “Guidance. Not Guesswork” – I love that). These sites organize thought and mimic the human mind looking for an answer to a question, not a query. Websites and blogs need to organize information about information, and as a result we can increase transferable knowledge and decrease search time.

It’s obvious but important to note that people collectively drive relevancy through thought. Trend topics in Twitter, News Feed on Facebook, Google Hot Trends, etc. are driven by fingers on a keyboard, which are driven by synapses in the brain, which are driven by actions and observations, which are driven by circumstance – and maybe even fate. Technology should not drift too far away or we’ll lose access to the very knowledge we create.

how i get my news

Everyone is unique with regards to his/her fingerprints, aspirations, and the news he/she reads. Regardless of the topical interests, it’s still very easy to get overwhelmed with managing bookmarks, feeds, readers, interfaces, and social networks.

I’m sure at some point you’ve felt at least the feeling that you are behind in the latest technologies, the feeling that you are missing some major news of interest to you, or the feeling that you haven’t updated your account often enough. With that in mind, I’m going to list some subscriptions I have and technologies I use with the hope that it might help you become more efficient and comfortable with accessing news. If not, maybe you can offer up some advice to me as you’ll see I’m still hitting a hodgepodge of sites/links.

Note: Obviously this doesn’t include everything but tries to show main sites, sources, and technologies I hit on independently. For my categorized blog rolls check out the widget on the right side of my blog (directly from Google Reader). And although I don’t use them very often, everyone should know about Technorati for blogs, Delicious for bookmarks, and Digg for all content.

Major News Sites, Aggregators, and Readers

  • BBC News – Quick glance gives quick review across all regions of the world.
  • CNN – Top news on homepage gives quick review across all topical categories. Top of the page is good for breaking news.
  • ESPN – Best (and most timely) source for sports news.
  • Twitter – Most customizable feed of informal news links, blog posts, and sentiments. Best for breaking news.
  • Google Alerts – Very targeted news (search results) in an easy-to-use format. Helpful for breaking news.
  • Google Fast Flip – Newest, most-efficient and well-categorized interface for paging through news.
  • Google Reader – My favorite. Best aggregation and categorization of RSS feeds with email-like features.
  • My Alltop – Good way to find new things to read by category and/or search term. See my previous post on some feature enhancements that would make it a primary news hub.
  • NYTimes – Today’s headlines email comes in around 7am ET every day.
  • SmartBrief – I get the daily SmartBrief on Social Media. That’s just 1 of 120+ briefs they have.
  • Stratfor – I get weekly geopolitical intelligence reports by email. They’re easy to read and they hit on global topics of current interest. This week: “Misreading the Iran Situation”.
  • USA Today – iPhone app is nice interface and lets you interact with the news (polls, comments, link sharing/posting, etc)
  • Washington Post – You can customize daily email newsletters by topic, columnist, etc. Good to check out your local paper to make sure you hit on news relevant to your hometown.
  • Yahoo! – The OLD homepage. I like to see what’s the most popular news of the day/hour.



Events

  • Eventful – This weekly email is specific to my location and points me to all types of events by topic, location, venue, genre, etc.
  • Ticketmaster – This weekly email points me to all events in and around my area, and particularly shows newly posted events or those with tickets going on sale in the coming days.

Friends & Family

  • Facebook – Kevin Berardinelli likes this.
  • LinkedIn – Best for professional updates and networking for business/employment/research opportunities.
  • TwitterTweetDeck is best on desktop. With a categorization of actual close friends you follow, it’s helpful for staying up-to-date with friends and colleagues. Twitterfon (now called Echofon) or Twitterrific are good on iPhone.

Magazine Subscriptions

  • Amstat News – The magazine of the American Statistical Association. I’m sure some associations or groups related to your topical interests have free or cheap newsletters and publications… so be sure to look around!
  • National Geographic – Best photography ever. And simple stories on basic science that should be of interest to readers aged 6 to 106.
  • Washingtonian – Good local magazine (and it’s cheap). Look around for a hard-copy publication specific to your hometown. It’ll make you feel good.
  • Wired – The best, although I hear FastCompany is on its heels as being coolest?

And Some Rules To Live By…

1. Stay calm. News and technology will always find a way to come to you. You’re the consumer.
2. Stay sane. Take vacations from technology and the internet. Read the paper version of the paper.
3. Stay human. Get news through conversation. Hear what others read. See what others use.

And so I ask you… how do you get your news?