Dealing with your cognitive load

by Flickr user The Shopping Sherpa

It’s grant proposal season, so I’ve been quiet. But no longer!

I was having coffee with Loic Tallon a couple of weeks ago when he was passing through town, and our conversation had turned to Google+ and what it was good for, whether it was viable, etc… I’m sure many of you have been having the same conversation. We both felt at  least part of Google+’s appeal was that it was small, the same way Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc… all used to be small enough to be manageable.  It was interesting to me that we very quickly turned to the topic of general information consumption strategies, and I realized I had one, but I’d never really articulated it. It was an outgrowth of the path I’d taken through the technology jungle.  Loic was interested in how I managed and I was interested in how he coped, especially since he gets around a lot more than I do.

So, I want to try an experiment with you good people. If you had a few moments to spare in your busy lives, would you be interested in sharing with me your information consumption strategies? What social networks do you use, what do you use them for, when do you use them? How do you keep track of the delicious morsels people lead you to online? Do you treat that repository (or repositories) like a garden (pulling out weeds and dead things) or like a vault (it all goes in, nothing comes out)?  I’ll put together a post that combines the answers.  You can leave comments below or email them to me at erodley at gmail dot com.

To give you an idea of what I’m looking for, here’s my partial modus operandi. More will follow later.


I tend to use Twitter as a primarily professional network. It’s where a lot of my networking happens and where I do most of my informal professional development. Beth Kanter has a great post on personal professional learning.  You should read it. Tweets that point to interesting resources get favorited, and when time allows, I go check them out.  If they seem like they’ll have long term usefulness, they get saved as PDFs and saved to my Mendeley reference manager, with a link to the original URL. That way, when (not if) the URL stops working I still have the goods.  Lately, I’ve gotten even fancier, and use Readability to strip out all the junk and save only the main content, before I turn it into a PDF.

Facebook is primarily a personal space for me; friends and family.  The boundary is never clean though.  There are some people in my professional network who are more Facebook people, and there are friends who live on Twitter.  Such is life.

LinkedIn is an interesting case. I don’t think I’ve used it for anything, but it is a useful landmark, it seems. If I were job hunting or doing more consulting I can see that it might be more useful, but for now…  I try hard to only add people my network whom I’ve met at least once. That seems to keep the list reasonably short. And it is useful to see when friends have changed jobs.  Sometimes, I cross post there from Twitter.

Google+ is still an open question. Aside from being small (at the moment) I haven’t found the thing about it that would make we add it to my stable of networks, or ditch an existing to move to +.  The design and UI are certainly appealing, but is that enough?

Google+ according to xkcd

Other things I’m interested in include Repositories (like and Flickr) and Habits and best practices.  So let me know. How do you swim in the sea of information?



  1. Hi Ed!

    Great post. I never really thought about it, but I guess you’re right- I have a system as well and I guess it’s related to distance.
    Twitter: Most distant. I post things about my work projects and watch other’s projects
    Facebook: Moderately distant. I post things about social events that I’m organizing like dances, dance team meetings and call-outs to my distant social network when I’m looking for things like interns
    Email/texts: Close- this is what I do for my closest friends when I’m trying to connect or organize something small. I’d say I seldom use Facebook for my “inner circle”
    Link’d in: This has started to become useful because they send daily news feeds of things that are happening in my field- which is handy because there’s always a lot of news in my field and it’s hard for me to organize it sometimes 🙂

    -Kellian at SCVNGR


    1. Thanks Kellian!

      I hadn’t thought of it in terms of distance, but you’re right. I respond differently to someone texting me a question, versus DMing me, or emailing me, or (gasp!) calling me.

      The LinkedIn point is a good one, and one I’d forgotten I use too. I get those daily posts and usually delete them without diving, but I read them.


  2. Hi Ed!

    To answer your question: RSS and letting go. I use RSS feeds to keep up with the stuff that’s really important. If – on top of that – I accidentally read twitter, scan Facebook or (even!) peek at Google+ I consider that a lucky moment. With all these social networks I trust on serendipity to take my side.

    Hardly any of the myriad of updates I miss every day really mattered in the long run. I don’t have to speculate on the iPhone 5 design (nor, really, does anybody) so I made peace with twitter just scrolling along on its own. If there’s stuff I’m really missing out on over and over again, and there’s no RSS feed to fix that, I consider it a business opportunity 🙂

    Also: my friends (real ones) are the old school type that emails when there’s something really important going on. They’re lovely.

    Thanks for sharing your tools, will check ‘m out!


      1. After years of using … uhm … (bad branding!) I switched to Google Reader and I must say I like it a lot. Let Google have my soul, they know better things to do with it than many others!


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