Friday, November 27, 2009

Pluralitas Non est Ponenda sine Necessitate

For those non-Latin speakers out there, you are asking yourself right now, what the hell does "pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate" mean? Literally, it means "plurality should not be posited without necessity." It's a theory made popular by 14th century friar, William of Ockham, and is better known as Ockham or Occam's Razor.

Why am I thinking about 14th century friars and Latin phrases about plurality and necessity on the day after Thanksgiving you ask? The short version of the story is that my friend, Kyle Flaherty, recently shared a great post with me by analytics wizard, Avinash Kaushik. Avinash writes a well known blog called -- get this -- Occam's Razor. After reading his lengthy, but thought-provoking, post on social analytics, it got me wondering about the inspiration for the name of his Avinash's blog.

Now I think it's mandatory that we all learn about Occam's Razor at some point in high school or college but of course that, along with billions of other pieces of knowledge that don't fit into our everyday lives, somehow fell out of my head along the way. But after reacquainting myself with this concept of seeking the "simplest answer," I've been thinking a lot about streamlining my work and personal life these days. In particular, slimming down my information sources and my day to day work flow.

I wrote about taking steps in this direction several weeks ago following my brief retirement from Twitter. But the place I've really fallen down is on keeping up with my Google Reader. I know some people like Bob Scoble have abandoned their readers altogether but I realized the other day that there are a dozen blogs, mostly written by friends, that I haven't been keeping tabs on as closely as I would like. And the reason was because their quality content was getting drowned out by the 50 plus other blogs that I was keeping in my Google Reader, many of which contributed to my reader consistently registering 1,000 unread posts mark.

Maybe I'm unique in this fashion (although I doubt it) but thinking about 1,000 unread posts is just too daunting. Instead of going in and chipping away, I tend to ignore my Google Reader and thus miss out on dozens of great posts by people like Kyle, Peter Kim, Rachel HappeTim Walker, Greg Verdino and others. So in a fit of "pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate" (which is really more about the concept of "the simplest solution is usually the correct one), but inspired me to "simplify" or slim down my reader to about 15 blogs.

The result is a much more manageable, 137 posts, all of which I was excited to read. The downside is that I will miss out on the good posts on ReadWriteWeb, and the HBS blog. But the way I look at it, it's better that I read a few blogs all the time then have lots of great blogs that I never look at.

What about you? Are you able to keep up with it all? If so, how?


  1. I just checked - I have 176 subscriptions.

    I'd say content is about 80/20, i.e. 80% of the content is from mainstream news feeds, comprising about 20% of total - Boston Globe, WSJ, NYT, ESPN, BBC, etc. Most of these get browsed quickly or marked as read.

    The next bucket is mainstream social media - RWW, Slashdot, Mashable, Boing Boing, Lifehacker. These also get glanced and usually marked as read.

    The next bucket are thought leaders - your blog is in there along with others like Fred Wilson, Jeremiah, Seth, etc. These get read more thoroughly, but this bucket also has the most turnover; i.e. I've added/dropped a lot of SMM and E2.0 feeds as I get a sense for value.

    And the final bucket is business/personal monitoring.

    Google Reader is also my default homepage and the button that gets pressed on my phone after Mail and before Tweetdeck, Facebook, etc.

    I don't know if I'm keeping up, but it what I've done for a couple years now...

  2. I currently have 35 subscriptions in Google Reader. Fully a third of those are blogs by friends which have since gone dark. (Sidebar: is it me, or did the rise of Facebook take an enormous toll on personal blogging?) The rest are split evenly between politics, sports, and "other".

    My feed list has waxed and waned over the years. Sometimes, feeling oppressed by too much content being pushed at me, I'll prune the list. Other times, when I let myself stagnate, I'll add a handful of new blogs to try to fill the void created by my procrastinating, unambitious ways. Now and again I've thought about taking the drastic step of abandoning the reader idea entirely in order to take control of my attention space. That notion loses its appeal just slightly more slowly than the recurring thought that I really ought to quit drinking.

    Of course, now that I've got a smartphone (the Droid) with my Google feeds, and Facebook, and Twitter on it, I suppose the battle for my mental resources is all but lost.

  3. Wow - honored that I made the cut - particularly since I've been feeling stretched out on the blogging front lately. I'm definitely hearing your post loud and clear as I struggle to find the balance/value in the depth and reach equation. I use Google reader only to classify feeds for reference but I used Twitter groups more actively as my content source. As the market moves from playing with conceptual models to case studies and execution I'm actually finding a lot of blog reading less valuable. Not sure if that is whose blogs I tend to read, their writing styles, or that the format doesn't support detailed information all that well.

  4. I'm glad I found your blog after you spoke in my PR class at UT. My reader is more along the lines of yours; I have more mainstream news sources, totaling a ridiculous number of unread posts, than I do blogs that I would actually like to read. I abandoned my reader for a while because I simply became too overloaded ,but I recently started using it again as I realized what was missing in my life.

  5. I think you're taking an interesting tactic, even though I don't necssarily agree. I believe in assimilating data from a variety of sources, and then forming my own opinion.

    Adding a variety of viewpoints into my data makes it more interesting (and fun) to keep up with the industry.

    That said, I gave up trying to read all of my unread Google Reader items long ago. It just wasn't going to happen.

    Instead, I read as much of my favorite feeds as I can, and let the rest go.

    I find this has worked well for me so far.

  6. Guys - great insights. It's always nice to write a post and then actually learn something from the comments that follow. Much appreciated.

  7. I'm so far behind in my Google Reader that I'm only reading this post of yours today, a full week after you published it. I've been going through a similar "pruning" exercise with my Google Reader account over the past couple of days. Here's where I'm at:

    * Unsubscribed to more than 75 feeds (several mainstream media ones, several others that I barely read or hadn't been updated in months)

    * "Hid" the shared items from all but about 5 people in my Google friends list (would you believe you're one of the 5?).

    Next step
    I really would like to get down to just 50 feeds (I'm at 117 right now), so that I can at least keep current with those. Or, I just need to get as disciplined as Peter Kim!

  8. Bryan - first of all, I am honored. To that end, you are on that slim list of blogs I read in my Google Reader (as well as in my "shared" list.)

    I have been thinking a lot about what Peter and Colin said about either a) being more diligent or worrying less about skimming/skipping. Part of the problem for me is that I have a anal tendencies and the feeling of "incompleteness" in not reading all my Google Reader posts. That, combined with the guilt of "I should really be reading so-and-so's post because they are a friend" prevented me from actually ever tackling my G-Reader.

    The idea of making Google Reader my home page and starting/finishing with it all the time is intriguing though. As I continue to play with filters, this may be a technique I adopt.