Finding the Signal in the Noise: An Attention Gap Analysis

Jon Burke at Technology Review has written a short article that reminded me of something I've been meaning to write about for some time now:

"While most of these services claim they'll simplify your life by imposing some kind of order on your news consumption experience, we still wonder about their ultimate utility. It wasn't that long ago that simple RSS readers such as Bloglines, which allow you to subscribe to your favorite headline feeds, were hailed as the ideal method for organizing and consuming content. Call us old-fashioned, but we think RSS readers works pretty well."

I agree with John - I think RSS readers work pretty well too, however, they have their limitations: what they don't do well is to find the signal in all the noise - you need more than just a reader to do this even if all the feeds are defined by you.

I subscribe to people whose opinions and views I value, but when there is 'big news' (as per yesterday's Windows Live) or even 'little news', I want to do a number of things:

  1. know who is writing what about a topic
  2. navigate the discussions taking place (clustering / threading)
  3. find the smart thinking - valued by others
  4. define the topic I'm interested in
  5. filter by 'my A-list': by those whose opinion I value (that I'm subscribed to)

Not much to ask is it? ;-)

We've still got a long way to go in the provision of software that achieves all of the above. There is software and services that do parts of these well, but there is no 'holistic solution' (that I know of at least) that does all of the above...if there was I'd sign up (and if there is, let me know!)

I've created a quick table to illustrate the point. I've listed 4 different services that I think represent the current landscape and have compared their capabilities against the criteria defined above (#1-#5) - think of it as a rough gap analysis. I've also added a 'solution' column, suggesting what functionality/feature I think would be required to be added to fill the 'Attention' gap.


Finding the Signal in the Noise: An Attention Gap Analysis

Service Meets criteria #1-#5 Fails criteria: #1-5# Solution - filling the gap






Works well for 1#.

Specialises in # 2 and #3 as I could see who was writing about the topic that have been referred to by others (clustered as related threads)



Fails on #4 - It so happened that the topic I was interested in was being tracked - but this is not usually the case. I can't define the topic I want to track, so doesn't do #4

Fails on #5 - somebody else is defining the 'A-list'.



Add a search function. Crawl all of the blogosphere (all of it, not just an 'A-list'). Problem here is that Memorandum requires human intervention as part of the editorial process, so can't scale up to meet this #4 requirement with current model.

If I could import my subscriptions (OPML file) into Memorandum I could view and filter against my OPML file (my 'A-list'), this could solve #5

FeedDemon (and most feedreaders)







Strictly speaking it did OK for #1

Works well for 1# and #4

Since all the content in the reader is defined by me, it meets #5.






Fails on #1 - (is intensely manual process: I need through each feed manually to see if anyone has written about a topic or article)

Fails #2

Fails #3, (unless I include the fact that the authors that I read are doing this for me, which I'm not)

#4 (unless I have pre-organised my feeds to match the topic - this is not practical in the context of following a particular news item/topic)

Add 'search my feeds' solves 1# and #4)

Add 'see clustered / threaded view' to solve #2.

Don't know how to solve #3 right now...







Does #1 as core functionality

Meets #3 partially using 'by authority'

Meets #4 requirement (has search, tags)


Fails on #2

Fails #3 as the authority algorithm tells us 'total' authority - doesn't take into account their authority on specific subject, or news item - very rigid and non-dynamic

Fails 4# as I can't define my 'A-list')


Add 'see clustered / threaded view' to solve #2.

Don't know how to solve #3 right now...

If I could import my subscriptions (OPML file) into Technorait so I could also view and filter against my OPML file (my 'A-list'), this could solve #4

 Windows Live


Meets #1 and #4 (can run search against my feeds)

Meets #5

Fails on #2 & #3



Add 'see clustered / threaded view' to solve #2.

Don't know how to solve #3 right now...

I'm sure I've got stuff wrong / omissions / over complex solutions / additional criteria. Ideally I'd love to have this table up on a Wiki for others to add and edit. If you run a wiki that you think we could do this with, go for it and let me know - just let me have editing rights :-)

As you can see I have a gap in my thinking right now about how #3 is solved in this context (other than the solution will be algorithmic)

Other thoughts are welcome, thanks.

Update: I've been corrected re: FeedDemon features (e.g. 'Watch' - works v.well) - so have updated table accordingly.


Tags: Attention, RSS, OPML