The internet is a wonderful place, but sometimes there is just too much stuff to be useful.
I have a few filters in place to help me keep my focus.
I use Instapaper a lot. The process is simple: see something interesting, record to read it later, and close it now. I use the bookmarklet. But an important secondary step is to get aggressive in not reading things you’ve saved. I find this time shifting helps distance myself from the content to really judge its merit. I very often click, save for later, see it later, and delete it.
Many people rely upon filters like their interest graphs on Twitter or even something like Hacker News. I’ve found that these filters can be very efficient, but have been blocking these sites and others like it for a while.
I wrote a python script that edits my /etc/hosts so sites like news.ycombinator.com redirect somewhere else. At first the redirect was to a blank page, but then I channeled things to 126.96.36.199, which is Instapaper’s IP. That is a gentle reminder that I already have very many interesting and useful things to read. Here is twitter.com for me:
I prefer this script over something like a browser extension because it is actually quite laborious to turn off. I set a cron to turn it on automatically hourly, but to turn it off I need to answer the question with “Do you want to waste your time?” with “yes”, and also enter my system password. This pain is just enough to avoid the distraction entirely. I also log when I turn it off, and that knowledge makes me avoid the action as well.
But all this wasn’t really enough. As both a developer and advisor, I’m in a position of needing to make and test things built on top of Facebook and Twitter pretty frequently. So I’ve found a new way of blocking these services: making them less interesting. I unfollowed everyone on Twitter and Tumblr and manually unsubscribed from all my friends on Facebook (with the exception of my wife and brother, who post very infrequently). I did Twitter & Tumblr programmatically, so that later I can write a script to turn it all back on easily.
I highly recommend this approach. When I go to Facebook there is almost never anything new and very often I have an empty feed. I bet you don’t even know what an empty feed looks like. Here is a screen grab:
“There are no more posts to show right now”. Awesome.
But what if I really could use some of this content? In getting my new startup ramped up, I get the distinct impression I’m missing out on some things. Specifically, where I think services like Tumblr and Twitter excel is in building a textured impression over time. The incremental knowledge gained there can be huge, even if any given update is about an awesome burrito. This matters, for example, if you’re assessing a potential investor. Other examples include people that build things and a given company’s product development path. My new startup is B2B, so these things matter.
Also, there is a real conversation going on here, which I’ve chosen to avoid. But when making something new, talking to people about what you’re doing is a core product development tool. I don’t think I can afford to skip it.
So I’m going to start following things again. It’ll be an experiment. Every day I’ll following something. This daily choice, to pick a single thing, should help direct the cause. I’ll post again sometime soon to describe how it goes.