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Information Overload: Harnessing the power of the Internet

Information Overload: Harnessing the power of the Internet

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Depending on who you ask, an "informavore" is either really smart and well-connected or overly wired and confused.

Jody Ranck is an informavore of the first kind. An independent consultant and pricipal investigator at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, he is working now to create the Public Health Innovation Center, which seeks to reign in the power of social media and mobile tools to "re-mix" practices in public health.

In a presentation to the California Health Journalism Fellows, he demonstrated how he uses dashboards and RSS feeds to customize his news consumption. Google Reader, Netvibes, Delicious, and the ever-growing number of aggregators and RSS feed readers and link sharing sites, help share information. Digg, PostRank, Feedly, Lazyfeed and Technorati helps users understand the most interesting and popular blogs and websites and is a tool journalists can use to get acquainted with bloggers writing on topics they follow. The list of the online tools that can help journalists manage sources and information is endless, but the important point is to find and test the tools that feel most natural to you. A tool like Instapaper, for example, allows users to save reading material for offline reading on many devices -- even Kindle or printable pages -- while Twine sends a limited amount of content to users by email.

For a second level of filtering, Ranck reccomends Yahoo! Pipes, an tool that allows you to create custom feeds in interactive workspaces. You can, for example, filter feeds for specific keywords and tag locations so you can see content on a map. You can then share those custom feeds and look at others' feeds that have been made public. Feedity is a feed filter that is a bit easier to use. Many of these sites have excellent mobile interfaces as well.

"People say Twitter is a time-suck," says Ranck. "I found it was in the beginning, but now I see it as a stream that I can step in and out of."

Ranck says he spends two or three hours per day reading and sharing on the Internet. If it sounds like a lot of time, he emphasizes, that time is well spent. These tools have provided him with excellent leads and allow him to stay up to date on his many interests, personal and professional. Twitter and other social media tools have given him access to people he would never have met otherwise, brought him invitations and speaking engagements, and a considerable amount of work for his consulting business.

"I'm not spending nearly as much time surfing in a sea of crap, compared to a lot of other people who don't use these tools," says Ranck.

Ranck chronicles his work on his website, Nomadologies. You can follow him on Twitter @jranck.

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