Standing in the stream

People don’t “surf the web” anymore. Or, if they do, they don’t tell me about it.

I’m glad. I always hated the expression. The web browsing as surfing metaphor never rang true for me. As if clicking from link to link to link was a challenging, exhilarating experience that required skill, focus and a measure of bravery.

I always thought of web browsing more like jungle vine swinging. Reaching frantically from branch to branch, trying to get someplace you can’t really see and hoping all the while you can somehow quit crashing into trees.

But this post isn’t about the metaphor of web browsing. I just want you to know I don’t do much of it. I don’t have the patience required or the tolerance for tedium.

That’s not to say that I don’t spend a great deal of my time online — reading, gleaning, gathering. Take a look at my Google Bookmarks account and you’ll see a digital hoarder at work. A magpie of hypertext.

I just don’t get my web content by running around on the web and trusting my clicks to take me anywhere useful. I prefer that my content come to me.

I read a library blog post several years ago (was it FreeRangeLibrarian?) in which the writer described a future wherein information comes to people rather people going to their information. I understand what she means.

Like I said, I’ve never been big on Googling a topic and then browsing links to see what’s there. For a short while, I tried StumbleUpon as a discovery engine but found the result pretty much the same, random hits about diverse topics without a single common thread for context except that they were “about” a general interest of mine — writing, history, Beatles, Buddhism, technology. This is a maddening mashup of sites that add little value to my life.

So there’s the crux. I need my information to add value to my life in some small way. My information needs to inform or enlighten or, at the least, entertain. If it doesn’t, I’m bored.

So, I don’t often go out in search of news or information. I let news and information come to me. Like a bear standing in a stream catching fish.

Here’s what I mean:

  • Facebook: I use Facebook mostly to read articles or watch videos posted by friends who share common interests. I’m not a great Facebook friend. I often find myself asking Michelle, “Does so and so have kids?” only to find that my good friend so and so posted every pregnant moment for the past 9 months and then delivered triplets. How did I miss that? Friendship fail! I missed it because I was more interested in the articles.
  • Twitter: I follow 84 people and am followed by 36. I’m not prolific. I catch interesting links from time to time. My favorite use is during a conference or other event, monitoring a hashtag to have conversations with many people in a “happening”. That’s fun. Like having a private, telepathic conversation. A layer of conversation at a pitch only I and a few others can hear.
  • Google Reader: I follow 92 blogs. Most are about librarianship, educational technology and eText. RSS is the best (and only) way for me to keep up with my favorite thinkers on a particular topic. I am very rarely caught up. Right now, I have 946 unread stories. I’m not sure there’s a prize for skimming/reading them all but it feels like I should for some reason. This was a real burden until I started using the FeeddlerRSS app for iPad. It has been a great way to read my feeds since each post takes a screen and you can move through posts by swipping.
  • Flipboard: So, I mentioned that I feel bad about not being a better Facebook friend. It isn’t that I don’t care about my people. I just don’t want to spend a lot of time visiting each and every profile to see what’s new. The new FB redesign has helped a little but I still really only see the updates from about 20 friends. That’s where Flipboard comes in. Flipboard takes my FB feed and reassembles it as a magazine of images and captions on pages that can be swiped. Very efficient. I see pictures and posts from people I care about but don’t always think to check up on. I like an update or comment on a post and sudden that person is back in my regular FB stream. I’m a good friend, after all. Nice save, Flip Board!
  • Zite: This is my favorite iPad app of the past 3 months. Zite uses my Google Reader, Delicious and Twitter feeds to assemble a customized magazine of articles predicted to be of interest to me. I can like or dislike a specific article to provide feedback and can indicate specific elements of interest within a story to see more like it. Here’s the thing about Zite: it knows me really well. Nearly all of the articles presented are interesting to me and there is very little duplication of articles discovered through FB, Twitter or my RSS feeds. Automated information concierge. Brilliant!

These 5 sites/apps take up pretty much all of the time I spend online. In other words, I pretty much only ever really go to 5 sites on the Web. For me, they are very sticky and very helpful. They pull together streams of content into a single river. Several times a day, I wade out into the river to see what’s there. Actually, that’s not true. With my iPhone, iPad and Chrome Twitter extension, I am pretty much always standing in the stream.

I don’t mind. It is no effort. I spend a great deal more of my time reading and thinking about stuff than filtering and deciphering.

Not sure if anyone out there is still “surfing”. If you are, I hope you are having fun and don’t mind so much that constant feeling like you are always just about to drown.

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