You love your friends and enjoy your acquaintances, but their Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/MySpace activity is killing your productivity. Here's the two ways, "sledgehammer" and "scalpel," we recommend for keeping yourself in the loop while minimizing constant distractions.
Photo by Pipe .
Before we pull out the big guns, make sure you've taken a good look at the social sites you use and the information filtering features they offer. Facebook, for instance, offers a really great "Hide" tool that you get by hovering over the right-hand side of any update on your main "News Feed" page—click it, and you can either stop hearing from Suzy TalksTooMuch, or prevent anyone from ever telling you which Lord of the Rings race they'd belong to.
Also, these tools won't be new to regular readers with a flair for the web, but they are good at what they do, and worth forwarding to friends and relatives you've heard complaining about being overwhelmed. There's no substitute for willpower and time rationing, of course, but let's be realistic and show you how to manage your compulsive time-wasters:
The Sledgehammer: NutshellMail
It might seem counter-intuitive to sign up for another web service to majorly reshape the others, but you have no idea what kind of power NutshellMail can give you. It solves what we'll call the Email Alert Circle, which goes something like this:
- You log into social sites and speed-read all the new stuff, but it's destroying your free time, and your brain! It's just too much. You stop visiting so often, but wish you could still get the most relevant stuff from them. So you switch to...
- Oh, look, email alerts! Now you can get just the direct messages, replies, and relevant friend posts. Two weeks later ...
- You're now avoiding your email inbox and decide it, too, is just too much.
So get a free account at NutshellMail. Authorise it to parse your Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and/or LinkedIn accounts, and it takes all those "John Smith commented on your status" and "Lindsay Jones sent you a direct message" emails you really don't need to see Right This Minute and delivers them in a digest whenever and however you want them.
"But my Twitter replies are crucial to my self-est..I mean, it's an of-the-moment service!" you say. Fine—go ahead and schedule your NutshellMail updates to arrive every so many hours, depending on your addiction. You'll still get all the updates for everyone you're following, and you won't even have to hop into Twitter.com/TweetDeck/Tweetie/whatnot to reply, because NutshellMail lets you @ reply via email links.
For those who can be realistic about how connected they need to be, NutshellMail takes the constant back-to-work hurdles of email updates, known as bacn in some circles, and pounds them into one flat page of your kinda-need-to-know.
The Scalpel: RSS Filtering
Maybe you're not ready to give up on as-they-happen social updates entirely. Or maybe even your NutshellMail round-ups are still filled with updates you don't care about, from people you can't unfriend, but don't want to follow. RSS to the rescue!
RSS, in the simplest terms, is a stream of the latest headlines, posts, and other updates from web sites that change frequently. Just like weblogs, most of the major social networks offer RSS feeds of your friends' activity. Let's run through setting up a feed reader, grabbing the feeds from your social sites, and then sifting the cruft out of them.
What works best will depend on your computer preferences, but here's a few casual, non-programmer-level options that everyone can use:
Google tools: If you're a Gmail user, it's fairly easy to add an feed reader to the sidebar, which provides an easy glance at what's happening without forcing you to click away. You could get even more discrete by adding your social feeds to the top-scrolling Web Clips. And if iGoogle is your start page, you can create a few boxes that contain all your social chatter. Click the "Add Stuff" link at the far right of your page, then look at the bottom-left of the page it links you to for an "Add Feed or Gadget" button. Paste in an RSS feed, and you're good to go.
Dedicated Feed Reader: If it looks like you're going to have a lot of material to get through every day (and, hey, that's why you're reading, right?), you might want to get set up with something a bit more powerful than a small widget on a web page. Here's our shortlist: Use FeedDemon for a dedicated Windows program, its sibling NetNewsWire on Macs, or read on the web with Google Reader. All those options are fairly powerful, offer offline access, and make reading through a whole lot of news a lot easier. Want to have both online and desktop access to your social and other feeds? Grab a copy of FeedDemon's 3.0 beta that syncs to Google Reader, and you can check your feeds at your computer or anyone else's.
Now, if you're wondering where to grab those feeds, here's the lowdown:
Facebook: Click on Inbox after logging in, then click the Notifications tab near the top of the centre panel. The link for your friends' status updates is on the right. Note, however, that Facebook's feed only covers straight-up status updates. For the whole firehose, you'll need to install a Facebook app like Newsfeed RSS.
Twitter: Scroll down to the bottom of your right-hand bar at Twitter.com, and there's a link for "RSS Feed." Individual Twitter names also have their own feeds in the same location. Most browsers will also detect these feeds and put an orange icon in the right-hand edge of your address bar, which you can click or right-click to copy and access.
LinkedIn: Scroll down on the main landing page to "Network Notifications," and click or right-click and copy the address from the orange icon.
MySpace: Unfortunately, only individual friends' MySpace blogs have RSS feeds. If you've got a few friends who update their blogs, though, you can follow their musings from the right-hand links at the top of their blog.
So now you've got a whole mess of RSS coming your way—what to do with it? Filter them, combine them, send them do your email, and make sure you never have to hear about "Which X Are You?" results again. Here are the tools to get that done:
- Filtering: FeedRinse is the multi-tool for cutting out authors, keywords, profanity, or anything else. Filter My RSS is the more simple keyword solution.
- Combine them: If you don't want to get technical and just want a master feed of a whole bunch of friends' feeds, RSS Mix and FeedCombine are your best bets.
- Deeper Filtering and Mixing: Want to poke around a bit more in what makes it through your distraction filter? FeedDemon, mentioned above, lets you create "watches" for keywords and strip out items you don't want to see. Beyond that, there's the Grand Puba of RSS tools, Yahoo Pipes.
Don't let the geeky-looking graphics or name scare you off! Yahoo Pipes is actually pretty easy to get going with, once you learn what it's trying to do. Gina walked us through creating a "Master Feed" with Pipes that offers some how-to details. If you're more of a visual learner, try Digital Inspiration's video walkthrough:
Those are two effective ways to turn the firehose of social media updates into a manageable stream, but we want to hear what you've got, too, so tell us how you filter and condense your social updates in the comments.