How to stay well informed in today´s information society
New technologies have multiplied the amount of information available to anyone with an internet connection exponentially. These same technologies, however, have also made it increasingly difficult to discern between anecdotal and useful information.
If you type "how to find out" into a Google search, the search engine will return over 7 billion results, and if you factor in different wordings, searches in other languages, etc., that number becomes even more astronomical. The instant access we now enjoy to an unprecedented amount of information in many cases has translated into an information overload, also known as "infoxication", which in turn triggers highly stressful situations and even leads knowledge-seekers to give up the cause entirely. The key, it is often said, resides in effectively filtering the information available.
But, how? Where can one find reliable data? How should data be analyzed? Zeroing in on the first Google search result does not even come close; one must search, organize and prioritize the myriad content unearthed by an information search. Start first with the source. It is often difficult to know who provides accurate, evidence-based information online, but certain common elements can help us to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Reliable content will include figures, context and references for the information it is based on. Webpages with this type of content are up-to-date and transparent: they leave no doubt as to the owner, author, sponsor, etc. of the content delivered. Likewise, it is important to take note of the authors and promoters of any information. If we are looking for specific data in a highly specialized area, it is always useful to rely on recognized experts and institutions. All of this comprises a list of reliable sources which we will need to keep up-to-date and organized.
Organizing Content: Apps for Laymen and Professionals
Yet, despite having applied these filters to our reference sources, we continue to receive large quantities of information, even if we only rely on filtered lists of content. Creating user lists in Twitter, following Facebook pages and registering to receive blog entries can represent practical yet relatively inefficient solutions. Luckily, there are web and mobile apps available on the market which can help:
- Pocket: This application was developed in 2007 by Nate Weiner to help people to save articles, videos and other interesting tidbits from the web and view them offline. Pocket is compatible with any device, and can be accessed even without an internet connection. Currently, the app boasts a user base of over 22 million and has been integrated in over 1,500 different applications.
- Flipboard is an app for tablets and smartphones which works like a digital magazine. Users select high level topics and the system filters the source information, above and beyond user configured filters. Flipboard allows users to share content on practically any social network (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc.), and can also be integrated within the Pocket app.
- Feedly: When Google Reader was discontinued en 2013, Feedly quickly emerged as an alternative and continues to represent one of the most practical, free content aggregators on the market. Feedly adds reference sources through RSS channels and displays content to users in personalized categories.
- Storify is a social media tool which allows users to create stories through a medley of online resources and social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. Storify can be used to gather information and images related to any topic, personalize the content and later share the story.
In the business world, especially among those who curate content by searching for, filtering and selecting relevant information, there are also tools which have been designed to facilitate the task:
- Curata: This content marketing software, launched in 2010 by a company of the same name. Curata uses machine learning, natural language processing and artificial intelligence to allow users to easily find and share industry-specific content via blogs and social media.
- Scoop.it: This application organizes filtered content in different dashboards which can be easily shared via social media. Dashboards can be public or private, according to the user´s needs. Scoop.it also offers a version for non-professional users, and another version for companies which includes analytics and the ability to integrate with different external services (Drupal, Wordpress, Mailchimp, redes sociales, etc.).
The Future of Content Apps
54% of all users worldwide keep up to date on current events through Facebook, according to data from the Reuters Institute´s Digital News Report 2017. The content presented to users on this network is classified and selected by algorithms, and the same is true of Google´s search engine. The development and improvement of artificial intelligence algorithms suggests that the immediate future heralds more and more automatization of the information we receive.
These apps will display the information which they deem appropriate, based on previous searches, preferences, interests and anything else they have learned about the users they serve. To prevent these filters from excluding important content, we users will need to improve our social media usage habits, lest our Facebook walls ultimately contain information about our favorite movies and teams.
By María C. Sánchez