I read a LOT. I use an RSS reader (Right now, I use Vienna on my Mac. It’s good.) and get somewhere over 2000 stories a day in there. Because I follow a bunch of shopping feeds, and shopping feeds just crank out posts, about half of that number is completely irrelevant on any given day, and I just delete it without looking at it.
I used to spend a lot of time going sideways through search engines and indexes (like Yahoo! used to be). I’d search for something that interested me, hit one of the results, and hop from links on one site to links on another. It was great back when there were quite a few engines and indexes, because you would get different results from each. You could get a really well-rounded view of a topic that way. Think critically. Draw your own conclusions. Learn.
Search and indexing on the Web keeps getting worse and worse. Once the focus moved from cataloguing information to simply repeating the most popular results, and people started using just one source as their authoritative guide to the Web, it started to get harder and harder to go sideways. Add to that SEO, paid search results, and results based on your past preferences, no-one wanting to look at anything more than the first 10 search results, and searching the Web pretty much sucks any more, if you actually want to learn stuff.
It is now much easier to be told what a bunch of people who didn’t know anything considered useful.
Now pretty much everything I link to I arrive at from something I read in an RSS feed. I still go sideways from there as much as I can, though.
I have about 10 feeds from conventional news sources–CBC, BBC, Reuters, stuff like that. These feeds add a LOT of stories every day, though a lot of the same stories appear in multiple feeds. I don’t have any commercial US news feeds. I live in the US Midwest, where there is really good television news coverage….for about 10 minutes a day. There are also approximately infinity hours of utterly worthless television news entertainment. Seeing this dreck is pretty much unavoidable if you own a television or go anywhere that more than 50 people pass a day. Popular US news is like Guns ‘N’ Roses: You will hear more of it by accident than you will ever want to hear on purpose.
You can learn a lot more about a story when you find out how the outside world sees it, and that’s why I stick to RSS feeds from other countries, or raw news feeds which deliver a lot of stories without a lot of editorialising. I don’t like to be told how to think about a story. I like to see it from as many sides as I can.
Commercial news sources concentrate on the kind of news that sells well–they HAVE to. That means mostly crime, mass-marketed products, stories involving well-known people or companies, politics and other big disasters. The fact that these sources try to make space for arts, or technology, or the odd human-interest story underscores the more important fact that they have to MAKE space for that kind of story. It’s not their stock-in-trade, it’s a purposeful inclusion of things outside their stock-in-trade. They make their money as big-story generalists. There’s nothing terribly wrong with that, as a commercial venture. You can make money at it, but producing that kind of stuff takes the kind of money that you can only generate from a large audience and lots of advertising.
In the main, that’s not what I look for online. Because of their need to deliver stories for a mass audience, and my oddball weirdohead, the stuff I find really interesting doesn’t filter out to these sources for at least a few days after it’s been talked about on the Web or the TwitBooks or whatever, if at all. It’s rare for me to find anything in conventional news feeds that is worth comment or repeating–maybe ten stories a week, so I read a lot of other sources.
As with conventional news, there are a lot of sites/feeds that just link to the same stories as other sites/feeds, or repost them without adding any information, insight, or at least some funny. I follow links back to the original content and read that, and usually, that’s what I link to. Sometimes I link to the site where I first saw the content mentioned, and always try to do so if secondary site has added anything interesting
Quite often, I find things by following a link on another site, then kind of skipping sideways or searching somewhere, or I find supporting information that’s more interesting than the original topic/page I was researching. It is sometimes difficult to figure out how to attribute anything to the site that started the trip that ultimately lead to the link, so I often haven’t in the past.
I’ve sometimes been bit of a jerk about attribution, just to save time and confusion. I’m lots of other kinds of jerk, not OK with being that kind of jerk.
Luckily, the very hard-working person who compiles, writes and curates Brain Pickings (which is one of my RSS feeds, and is very good) has co-authored a Curator’s Code for the Internet. It mostly boils down to either stating where you got the link, or giving a tip of the hat to whoever lead you to find the link.
I like this basic idea, and I hope it catches on. I tried using their bookmarklet and the symbols they are trying to standardise for these two types of attribution, but those symbols seem to get messed up by WordPress’ annoying text cleaning elves when I save drafts. I hope that changes, but in the meantime I will at least stick to the idea of attribution and hat tips.
This will leave me more time to be the kind of jerks I know I can be.