Information Sifting: The Hunt For Information Alpha


When I was young we used to have a blast in Florida scooping up gobs of beach sand in wooden sifters and then shaking out the sand in hopes of finding sharks’ teeth.

Now, I find myself doing the same thing: sifting for information.

Clearly there is more information available than one can reasonably consume in a day, or a lifetime! We live in exponential times.

Previous I have shared how my information consumption habits have shifted: feeds, streams and micro content have resulted in my skimming tons of information, verses deeper dives. I’m more an inch deep and mile wide. I find the change and idea of work streams so compelling, we started, Workstreamer, based on the concept.

Stowe calls this state of mind, having a Tabbed Cerebral Cortex after reading how Amanda Mooney processes information.

What this means for out attention spans is for debate. Sean Murphy has a great post as an argument against the attention economy being a net benefit. Likewise, Howard Rheingold is conducting in-class experiments to see how multitasking affects his students’ cognition.

Take for example, Google Reader. Initially I subscribed to a handful of blogs where information was often synthesized via my network of blog researchers.

Then as blogs become more and more plentiful, I began to run into the same stories and memes being covered from multiple perspectives — plus everything else. We don’t just read one (unbiased) news article anymore. We read multiple takes each with a specific perspective, often tailored in a way to appeal to a specific audience.

Twitter and real-time micro content add yet another way to consume perspectives on a given topic with an even lower barrier to entry. Blogs like Mashable and TechCrunch have gone from a handful of posts per day to as many as possible. Writers get compensated for page views. Curation and sifting has become the new norm to deal with this proliferation of content, with aggregators like Hacker News and Techmeme now prevalent.

This idea of synthesizing, aggregating and sifting information is certainly not new. The President and top CEO’s have ‘sifted’ for years. The President’s daily briefs offer a synthesis of global news and updates.

So where is it all going?

Perhaps one day we’ll each have our own personalized information sifting service or virtual assistants. We’ll have a person or algorithm that knows exactly what we’ll want to consume, or what information can provide us with the best competitive advantages just as hedge funds rely on information for generating alpha.

Update: ReadWriteWeb has a related post: Too Many Choices, Too Much Content


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