Information Economy Sources
This is my site Written by Alora on December 14, 2009 – 11:58 am

Reading the NewspaperAs a business owner, part of my job every day is to stay on top of the news — particularly as it relates to both my community and my industry. Once upon a time, that would have been courtesy of a subscription to a local business journal or a few targeted trade publications. But these days, it starts in the blogosphere.

This is a topic I discuss with entrepreneurs a great deal. Since my business is about helping other businesses design and develop a successful web presence, what is happening online is something that is critical for me to stay current about. But I often find that some business owners (especially outside of the tech sector) are reluctant to trade in their WSJ subscription for a good RSS reader.

Here are the top three things I hear on this topic from entrepreneurs:

I don’t know where to start
This is actually the easiest one of all the responses I frequently get — and it’s usually one of the first things I do with a client. Start with the same publications that you would read in an offline setting — they all have websites, and many of them have a lot of content that is only available on the web. Use that as a starting point.

And then follow the trails. Is there an author who wrote something that you particularly like? Google them. Even money says they have their own blog, or they blog on several different locations on related topics — any one of which are also likely to be relevant topics for you.

Do they mention a person, business or recent study that interests you? Do another search, and see who else is talking about it. Odds are that if someone is talking about one thing that is of interest to you, they are also likely to have a track record of discussing other things of interest to you.

It takes too long
My response to this one varies: yes, it can be tremendously time consuming. But the truth is, if you were looking to be truly well-informed (on any topic) twenty years ago, it still would have been time consuming. In fact, it would have been worse.

Yes, it requires an investment. And yes, you need to figure out where the line is between “investing your time” and getting caught in a “temperal vortex.” But, again, that’s true of almost anything. The best way to manage this is to have goals around the information you are seeking. And then to be ruthless with yourself and your schedule: cut out the useless noise that simply distracts you.

In his book The 4-Hour Work Week, author Tim Ferriss talks about a ‘low information diet.’ Even as someone who consumes a huge amount of information on a daily basis, I still consider this one of the most sound pieces of advice I’ve ever read. I routinely go through my RSS feeder and purge out blogs I no longer read, or ones that are on topics that no longer hold my interest (or represent a critical function of my business).

Clay Shirky talks a lot about how human beings have lived in a state of “information overload” for several centuries (ever since more books were printed than a person could ever be capable of reading in a single lifetime). The key to managing that, he says, is your filters. Knowing what to filter, how to filter it and when to update them to continue performing the way you need. This is especially true when it comes to consuming “news” online.

The bottom line: it will be as time consuming as you allow it to be — just like anything else.

The credibility of the sources is too iffy
This is the response that tends to actually make me chuckle the most, because the I have always found the credibility of traditional media so iffy, that I am stunned to be reminded that many people considered them inscrutable.

In a world where anyone can sign up for a Blogger or WordPress account and start publishing anything they want, yes, you absolutely need to be discerning in your information consumption habits. But the truth is, a smart information consumer also knows that you need to do the same if you are watching CNN or FOX, or when you are reading the Wall St. Journal or BusinessWeek. All sources have their biases, and none deserve unconditional trust.

Online or offline, you should never automatically trust everything you read with impunity. The blogosphere is no different. The key is in looking for people coming from places or saying things that you feel comfortable trusting (to some degree) and then follow the breadcrumbs, and look up the people they reference, interview or generally find to be good, credible sources of information.

One of the greatest things about being an entrepreneur today is the amount of information that is readily available to you, in almost any fields of study you could want. I’m constantly amazed at the sheer number of people who do not take advantage of that face, and often because they think it’s harder to find value in it than it really is.

The last thing I tell entrepreneurs on this topic is the same piece of advice I give them on all others: when in doubt, ask someone whose opinion you trust. We live in a word-of-mouth world. So start with the people you respect, and go from there.