Last week, Ian M. Rountree and I started Read It All Week, a challenge to read everything we were subscribed to — especially all the blogs we so easily subscribe to, but never actually absorb.  We did this for two reasons:

  • To reconsider why we subscribe to certain kinds of media, and
  • To learn how long it would take to actually read everything we’re committed to.

What I Started With

My goal was to read every post published to the 63 blogs I subscribe to in Google Reader.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take, but my guess was around 15 hours.

So, What Happened… and How Long DID It Take?

Here’s how it worked out for me:

  • Total # of items read (or, when uninteresting, skimmed) in Google Reader: 560
  • Total # of those 560 items that had been shared by others: 235
  • Total # of those 560 items I then felt compelled to share: 32
  • Total time invested reading items in Google Reader: 496 minutes (or 8+ hours)

In other words, I spent more than one entire workday reading.

About 2/5 of that reading load were items suggested to me by others.

And yet, in that time, I only felt compelled to share 1/18th of what I found.

Sounds like my incoming signal-to-noise ratio is a bit excessive…

What Else Did I Learn?

Well, in no particular order, I came to the following conclusions:

1. I read more deeply when I break my reading time up into smaller sessions.

On days when I made time to check Reader two or three times, I felt more able to really read each post.

On days when I only checked Reader once, I felt more compelled to just get through it.  This led to much more skimming and much less sharing, since I’d invested less time emotionally in what I was reading.

On the days when I felt pressed for time, I also found myself resenting longer posts and highly prolific publishers, which seemed like obstacles between me and “done,” rather than the valuable sources of information I recognized them as during my more leisurely reads.

2.  Most of the information people share is useless to me.

But it’s not the information you (or I) might suspect.

Initially, I presumed that the social media-specific posts shared by the people I follow on Reader would be enriching.  Since I was subscribed to only a dozen social media blogs, I knew I had to be missing something interesting.

Not really.

It turns out most people in the social media field read the same major news sources and share the same information, or variations thereof.  Plus, anything relevant or popular from these channels is usually retweeted endlessly throughout the week.  (For example, I learned about Flipboard from a shared item in Reader, but I would have also learned about it from any of the 2 dozen tweets I noticed about that same article.)

The other thing I realized?  Most social media-related articles are crap.  Some are rehashes of things I already know (which, obviously, is not what you already know, and I get that).  Others are so niche-specific that I’d never make use of the information.  And still others are such common sense sub-101 blather that reading them wastes my time.

So… what information did matter to me?

3.  I need to subscribe to more interesting blogs.

Again, “interesting” in this sense means “interesting to me.”

In my case, I’m drawn to posts about art, literature, culture, science and history.  These are the areas I want to learn more about, as opposed to social media, a field in which I regularly feel overwhelmed by sameness.

Which means I need to adjust my subscriptions.

4.  Consistency is key.

Writing one good blog post is easy; writing good blog posts regularly is rare.

Often, I’ll read one or two good posts by an author and then subscribe to his / her blog.  And then, over the ensuing weeks, I’ll realize one or two good posts may be all they have to offer.

If so, I can’t wait around forever for their next great idea.  My time is precious, and I’d rather not step through a minefield of oysters in order to find your few buried pearls.

(This also explains why some of the blogs I consider most indispensable — like The Rumpus — are group blogs curated magazine-style from the contributions of many.)

Although writing good blog posts is hard, finding good blog posts to share shouldn’t be.

And yet…

5.  I’m confused by people’s motivations when sharing items.

I follow some potentially interesting people on Reader, because I presume they’ll find (and share) articles I won’t.  But again, the social media field is crushed by redundancy.  For example, I follow Chris Brogan, Chris Penn, C.C. Chapman and Steve Garfield (among others) which means I often see the same information shared several times.

In addition, some people seem to share everything they read, which makes me wonder if they’re confusing the act of sharing with the act of glorifying.  It’s as though they can’t separate what they personally consider “useful” or “interesting” from what they feel obliged to help promote because of their relatively impressive reach and influence.

However…

6.  You can learn a lot about people from what they share.

Chris Brogan is a social media maven, but what he shares in Google Reader reminds me he’s also deeply interested in theology and spirituality.  Mike Sorg is a veteran podcaster, but his shared items are a snapshot of comic books & general geekery.  And Mary Nahorniak is a journalist by trade, but her shared items lean heavily toward art, culture and food.

As such…

7.  I learned to share information more consciously.

On one hand, I want to share information I’m personally interested in.  And because my aforementioned interests exceed the limits of *just* social media, that means people who follow me on Reader are likely to see a lot of shared information about books, racism, economics and underwater sculpture.

On the other hand, Read It All Week made me highly conscious of the way each shared item encroaches on a reader’s available time.  It made me more reluctant to share items, because I didn’t want to sabotage the time & attention of the people who follow me.

Ultimately, I still did share items (because I would have whether it was Read It All Week or not), but fewer than I would have if I hadn’t been thinking about my time and yours.

8.  Believe it or not, I actually learned things.

My Reader, like yours, is full of information both great and pointless.  The trick, I learned, is to skim past the duds and invest in the quality — and, very often, that quality tends to bottleneck in a few sources.

For example, Atlantic Monthly columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates was on vacation during Read It All Week, so he asked three of his most trusted commenters (Brendan I. Koerner, Hua Hsu and Cynic) to fill in for him.  The result was the most compulsively readable blog of the week, covering ground from Shirley Sherrod to LeBron James, what happens when “fringe” cultures are assimilated into America’s mainstream and whether Jack London’s racism should mar his literary genius.

Had I ignored Reader (as I so often do), I would have missed these and dozens of other enlightening and captivating essays (like Kathleen Alcott’s masterpiece from The Rumpus), all because I was “too busy” doing… whatever it is I usually do.

Speaking of which…

9.  I did not go broke while reading.

On the contrary, last week was quite fruitful, business-wise.  I pitched a potential client, spoke at a live event and conducted a social media workshop, knocked out a guest post for Jim Kukral (peppered with knowledge I gleaned from blogs I rediscovered in Reader), and locked down two more business meetings for next week, all while executing the tasks I’m already contracted to do for my existing clients (and having a real life).

So if I can do all that while spending 8 hours reading blogs — which is only half the time I’d originally expected to invest — what am I usually doing that prevents me from staying up to date on the media I’ve subscribed to?

Probably tweeting.  In fact…

10.  What did I miss on Twitter?

During those 8 hours I was reading blogs, I kept a Twitter window open so I could chart how many tweets whizzed past me.  Turns out I missed over 2200 tweets.

That’s more than 2200 conversations I could have weighed in on, but didn’t.

Would engaging in some of those conversations have left me any better informed, connected or enriched than my time spent reading?  Possibly.  But I’ll never know.

And I’m okay with that.

What Happens Now?

Now I clean up my feeds.  (As opposed to Amber Naslund, who prefers to blow hers apart.)

I’ve already dropped from 63 blog subscriptions to 44 — that’s a 30% reduction.  However, most of those were blogs that hadn’t been recently updated.  (Imagine if they had…)

I’ll also reconsider how I follow people on Reader.  Since 2/5 of my time was expended on their recommendations, I need to ensure that their expertise is worth my time and attention.  But the quality and relevance of the items people choose to share is wildly unpredictable, so I can’t judge too quickly.

And I may ultimately subdivide my subscriptions into two camps: what I should read, and what I could read (time permitting).

Because not everything I subscribe to is worth reading, but there are always pearls among the oysters.

The trick is to find them without losing my time… or my mind.

Dig this blog? Subscribe and you’ll never miss a witty insight again.


35 Comments

aaa112233 · May 28, 2012 at 9:42 pm

I really like your way of expressing the opinions and sharing the information. It is good to move as chance bring new things in life, paves the way for advancement, etc.640-802 exam//642-642 exam//642-813 exam//640-822 exam//642-902 exam//640-553 exam//640-816 exam//642-832 exam//350-001 exam//640-461 exam//350-018 exam//350-030 exam//642-617 exam//642-637 exam//350-029 exam//642-691 exam//642-437 exam

Justin Kownacki · July 28, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I think you may be interpreting my statement more broadly than I intended.rnrnTo clarify:rnrnMost of the information shared by people *whom I’ve chosen to followrnin Google Reader* is useless to me. That doesn’t mean MOSTrninformation by MOST people across MOST channels is useless to me. Itrnalso doesn’t mean that if I ask a question of my social circle andrnthey respond, that their responses are useless. (If they were veryrntime, I’d never ask.)rnrnSocial recommendations are only ever as good as:rnrn* The breadth & depth of your social circlern* Your ability to ask a good questionrn* Who’s paying attention at the time of your inquiryrnrnResults will vary, but they’re rarely completely useless.rnrnHowever, when I’ve chosen to follow a swarm of people who sharernsimilar business interests, and we’re all sharing the same batch ofrn(usually) poorly-written articles about stale information, THAT’Srnmostly useless.

Phoebe_b · July 28, 2010 at 12:28 pm

“Most of the information people share is useless to me” – this is also interesting as an argument against “social recommendations,” the very popular idea that you can find all the information/suggestions/etc. you need by consulting your social circle.

Justin Kownacki · July 28, 2010 at 7:06 am

I think you may be interpreting my statement more broadly than I intended.

To clarify:

Most of the information shared by people *whom I've chosen to follow
in Google Reader* is useless to me. That doesn't mean MOST
information by MOST people across MOST channels is useless to me. It
also doesn't mean that if I ask a question of my social circle and
they respond, that their responses are useless. (If they were very
time, I'd never ask.)

Social recommendations are only ever as good as:

* The breadth & depth of your social circle
* Your ability to ask a good question
* Who's paying attention at the time of your inquiry

Results will vary, but they're rarely completely useless.

However, when I've chosen to follow a swarm of people who share
similar business interests, and we're all sharing the same batch of
(usually) poorly-written articles about stale information, THAT'S
mostly useless.

Phoebe_b · July 28, 2010 at 5:28 am

“Most of the information people share is useless to me” – this is also interesting as an argument against “social recommendations,” the very popular idea that you can find all the information/suggestions/etc. you need by consulting your social circle.

Danny Brown · July 27, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Dig further Ari, and you'll see many are the same posts – Lijit also counts tags, comments, connected content and mobile versions.

Ari Herzog · July 27, 2010 at 3:06 pm

More than that. Searching your blog for “Chris Brogan” yields 150 results — across about 20 months.

Danny Brown · July 27, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Cheers Ari,

Though as I mentioned to you on Twitter, 2-3 times in the last 12 months is probably not exactly “regular attribution.” ;-)

Ari Herzog · July 27, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Whether via a blog subscription or a Twitter follow, you admit you are attracted to the echo chamber — people who read the same sources, attend the same events, write pieces of each other.

How about not following them and their words — but following other people who write reactions to them? For instance, Danny Brown's blog routinely attributes Chris Brogan which begs the question why include Chris at all.

Justin Kownacki · July 27, 2010 at 7:30 am

Twitter, blogs, Facebook, YouTube… any of them can monopolize your
day if you don't set your own limits. But setting arbitrary limits
doesn't help, either.

The trick is to know what kind of information you're looking for and
how to apply it when you find it. That alone helps cut through the
clutter, and separates high-value blog posts (or tweets, or videos)
from the “interesting but unnecessary” ones that threaten to distract
us.

Joey Strawn · July 27, 2010 at 7:12 am

Just wanted to start off by saying thanks for this idea. You and Ian might really be onto something here. I actually made it through the whole week and learned a lot (I decided to write my own blog post about it [http://wp.me/pTCZM-8Z] as opposed to leaving you a super-long comment). It seems your week was amazingly productive. I like to think I learned a lot about myself as well.

Thanks and keep those good ideas coming.

Susie @ Newdaynewlesson · July 27, 2010 at 1:50 am

Well first of all, you should probably add my blog to your reader. :-) (Or just go through the 176 posts already posted and decide if my blog content interests you.)

I don't know why but I seem to prefer email subscriptions to reader subscriptions. (I have an email specifically for my blog and that's where the subscriptions go to.) I also have to say I prefer full feeds on those subscriptions (thank you for yours being full feed) because that way I can decide after a few paragraphs if I want to read it all. When it is partial and I am pressed for time I may not bother to click on the link to read it.

I love twitter but I feel I need to budget my time on it better. It can completely take over my time if I let it.

Enjoyed this post-thanks.

Justin Kownacki · July 26, 2010 at 4:04 pm

I think you're on to something. Maybe we need clearer delineation between
Work and Play, too. Because a lot of that work-related information will
bubble up from multiple channels, but your play-related information is
likely to be specific only to you. In a time crunch, which would you rather
not miss?

Ian M Rountree · July 26, 2010 at 3:58 pm

I'll be collating my notes this evening, but I can tell already – your week was far more constructive than mine. And certainly more optimistic. That's a switch.

There is a huge gap between the shoulds and the wants. One of the lessons I took from Read It All Week was that the things we put in the Should camp, are often masquerading Wants. And, bizarrely, the reverse is also true.

David Spinks · July 26, 2010 at 11:01 am

Damn impressed. I don't have anywhere close to the attention span I'd need to get through my reader.

Actually, I haven't been keeping up with my reader very much at all. It's because of time, laziness, and because of poor content that often comes through it. I need to revamp it if I'm ever going to read it regularly.

Thanks for sharing your experience. Hopefully it inspires me to get back into the reader routine.

David, Scribnia

YoGirly · July 26, 2010 at 10:57 am

I really like how you specified what is interesting (or not) to you specifically. As a new blogger and tweeter, I feel that sometimes the doubling up on information can help me learn a new concept.

It's not just about content. If I get two tweets that are promoting new software for a launch for instance, It helps me understand how a product launch actually works among several marketers.

Thanks for doing this experiment. I really appreciate you taking the time that a lot of us don't have until we are location independent too!

Bridget Forney · July 26, 2010 at 9:51 am

I know what you mean by being overwhelmed by sameness in the social media world. I attend so many events thinking that the speakers will tell me something I don't know or share something I haven't learned. That's yet to happen. I keep thinking that someONE is going to have all the secrets. It's just not true.

Laura Cococcia · July 26, 2010 at 9:45 am

Wow, Justin – that's amazing that you took the time to do it. I'm impressed. I've considered doing something similar – I have so many Reader and emails from blogs that have gone unread, ended up archived, etc. So why do I keep them? Occasionally – while waiting for a train, cab, etc., I'll flip one open and find a nugget that leads me to the next nugget, which leads me to an idea and/or person that I end up developing a relationship with (usually related to my blog)…and I guess for that reason, I stay subscribed – for the potential. I think if I read everything every day, my mind might explode with idea fever. Awesome job – and thanks for sharing what you learned through the process.

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Wow, Justin – that’s amazing that you took the time to do it. I’m impressed. I’ve considered doing something similar – I have so many Reader and emails from blogs that have gone unread, ended up archived, etc. So why do I keep them? Occasionally – while waiting for a train, cab, etc., I’ll flip one open and find a nugget that leads me to the next nugget, which leads me to an idea and/or person that I end up developing a relationship with (usually related to my blog)…and I guess for that reason, I stay subscribed – for the potential. I think if I read everything every day, my mind might explode with idea fever. Awesome job – and thanks for sharing what you learned through the process.

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

I know what you mean by being overwhelmed by sameness in the social media world. I attend so many events thinking that the speakers will tell me something I don’t know or share something I haven’t learned. That’s yet to happen. I keep thinking that someONE is going to have all the secrets. It’s just not true.

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

I really like how you specified what is interesting (or not) to you personally. As a new blogger and tweeter, I feel that sometimes the doubling up on information can help me learn a new concept.

It’s not just about content. If I get two tweets that are promoting new software for a launch for instance, It helps me understand how a product launch actually works among several marketers.

Thanks for doing this experiment. I really appreciate you taking the time that a lot of us don’t have until we are location independent too!

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Damn impressed. I don’t have anywhere close to the attention span I’d need to get through my reader.nnActually, I haven’t been keeping up with my reader very much at all. It’s because of time, laziness, and because of poor content that often comes through it. I need to revamp it if I’m ever going to read it regularly.nnThanks for sharing your experience. Hopefully it inspires me to get back into the reader routine.nnDavid, Scribnia

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

I’ll be collating my notes this evening, but I can tell already – your week was far more constructive than mine. And certainly more optimistic. That’s a switch.nnThere is a huge gap between the shoulds and the wants. One of the lessons I took from Read It All Week was that the things we put in the Should camp, are often masquerading Wants. And, bizarrely, the reverse is also true.

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

I think you’re on to something. Maybe we need clearer delineation betweenrnWork and Play, too. Because a lot of that work-related information willrnbubble up from multiple channels, but your play-related information isrnlikely to be specific only to you. In a time crunch, which would you ratherrnnot miss?

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Well first of all, you should probably add my blog to your reader. :-) (Or just go through the 176 posts already posted and decide if my blog content interests you.)nnI don’t know why but I seem to prefer email subscriptions to reader subscriptions. (I have an email specifically for my blog and that’s where the subscriptions go to.) I also have to say I prefer full feeds on those subscriptions (thank you for yours being full feed) because that way I can decide after a few paragraphs if I want to read it all. When it is partial and I am pressed for time I may not bother to click on the link to read it.nnI love twitter but I feel I need to budget my time on it better. It can completely take over my time if I let it.nnEnjoyed this post-thanks.

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Just wanted to start off by saying thanks for this idea. You and Ian might really be onto something here. I actually made it through the whole week and learned a lot (I decided to write my own blog post about it [http://wp.me/pTCZM-8Z] as opposed to leaving you a super-long comment). It seems your week was amazingly productive. I like to think I learned a lot about myself as well.nnThanks and keep those good ideas coming.

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Twitter, blogs, Facebook, YouTube… any of them can monopolize yourrnday if you don’t set your own limits. But setting arbitrary limitsrndoesn’t help, either.rnrnThe trick is to know what kind of information you’re looking for andrnhow to apply it when you find it. That alone helps cut through thernclutter, and separates high-value blog posts (or tweets, or videos)rnfrom the “interesting but unnecessary” ones that threaten to distractrnus.

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Whether via a blog subscription or a Twitter follow, you admit you are attracted to the echo chamber — people who read the same sources, attend the same events, write pieces of each other.nnHow about not following them and their words — but following other people who write reactions to them? For instance, Danny Brown’s blog routinely attributes Chris Brogan which begs the question why include Chris at all.

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Cheers Ari,nnThough as I mentioned to you on Twitter, 2-3 times in the last 12 months is probably not exactly “regular attribution.” ;-)

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

More than that. Searching your blog for “Chris Brogan” yields 150 results — across about 20 months.

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Dig further Ari, and you’ll see many are the same posts – Lijit also counts tags, comments, connected content and mobile versions.

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

“Most of the information people share is useless to me” – this is also interesting as an argument against “social recommendations,” the very popular idea that you can find all the information/suggestions/etc. you need by consulting your social circle.

Anonymous · November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

I think you may be interpreting my statement more broadly than I intended.rnrnTo clarify:rnrnMost of the information shared by people *whom I’ve chosen to followrnin Google Reader* is useless to me. That doesn’t mean MOSTrninformation by MOST people across MOST channels is useless to me. Itrnalso doesn’t mean that if I ask a question of my social circle andrnthey respond, that their responses are useless. (If they were veryrntime, I’d never ask.)rnrnSocial recommendations are only ever as good as:rnrn* The breadth & depth of your social circlern* Your ability to ask a good questionrn* Who’s paying attention at the time of your inquiryrnrnResults will vary, but they’re rarely completely useless.rnrnHowever, when I’ve chosen to follow a swarm of people who sharernsimilar business interests, and we’re all sharing the same batch ofrn(usually) poorly-written articles about stale information, THAT’Srnmostly useless.

Justin Kownacki - What I’ve Learned From Blogging Weekly Instead of Daily · August 9, 2010 at 12:05 am

[…] July 26: What I Learned by Reading Everything […]

Tweets that mention Justin Kownacki - What I Learned by Reading Everything -- Topsy.com · July 26, 2010 at 8:03 am

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lauren Fernandez, Joey Strawn. Joey Strawn said: What I Learned by Reading Everything http://bit.ly/dA5ATB (@justinkownacki) great summary of #ReadItAll week, I'm still analyzing for mime. […]

Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.