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Turning filter failure into search success
Thursday, 14th June 2012
The topic of effective information filtering has had a revival recently with discussion on information overload. In the last couple of years we have seen the emergence of a new idea known as content curation, which has been depicted by some as the antidote to information overload.
The topic of effective information filtering has had a revival recently with discussion on information overload. It’s been a while since Clay Shirky said in 2008: “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure”. But what has changed since? In the last couple of years we have seen the emergence of a new idea known as content curation, which has been depicted by some as the antidote to information overload.
In a nutshell, curation involves finding, filtering and republishing online content for the benefit of a particular audience. While this is a relatively new term, the process is one that information professionals are familiar with and have been undertaking for some time. It’s good news that this has been branded and popularised. It provides an opportunity for us to share our experiences and learn best practise from other curators in how to turn filter failure into search success.
The commentators in the field of content curation seem to agree that successful searching is more than just adding a few keywords and hoping for the best outcome. Julie Musial emphasises this point in her blog by noting that searchers “need to do their due diligence” in order to provide credible content. Having a clear picture of the information needs of your audience will no doubt help to improve relevancy. Christopher Penn considers this point by asking us to consider what our “[users] want to learn more about” and to “Ask them what’s most important [and]…what they wished they knew”.
When doing background research, you may actually find that a keyword search is not the answer and a more effective result could be achieved by following a particular source, author, or even another curator’s content. If you go down the route of using keywords, it is a good idea to try out a few test searches to help find other search terms that express your information need more precisely. A quick scan of the results can also reveal what sources provide the best results and, in terms of news, where your search terms appear in the text (e.g. headline, lead paragraph). Focusing your search on these sources or fields is likely to improve the relevancy of the content. You can also take advantage of any indexing or tags that a source provides when building your search.
With the background work out of the way, the next stage is to consider where you want to apply your search. For news, you can turn your search into an RSS feed on Google News. Social media content can be filtered by using tools such as Feed Rinse for RSS feeds and Google Reader can be used to filter Twitter content. A useful guide for the latter is How to Follow Search Terms and Keyword Mentions on Twitter.
With luck you will end up with a variety of RSS feeds that you can aggregate in a service such as Google Reader. In a blog post Jean-Marie Bonthous argues that just delivering such aggregated content leaves readers “the task of finding the content that is relevant, valuable [and] helpful” and further value can be added by human filtering. If you agree – and have the time – you can go on to further revise your content in Google Reader and bundle it together to deliver the results in a single feed. Either way, you can use a source such as paper.li to publish the feed(s) in an online newspaper format. If you would prefer other delivery methods you could consider using your company’s Intranet, blog, or in-house feed reader, or by using an email newsletter publishing tool such as feedmyinbox.
The work does not end upon delivery of the content and further refinement may be necessary. Relevance is subjective so it is important to regularly review and ask your audience for feedback as their needs can quickly change.
If the above process is a bit clunky for your taste, have a look at some of the commercial tools available on market that incorporate all the above tools and provide a more seamless environment.
By Dean Mason
Dean Mason is the Library and Information Services Manager in the London office of Salans LLP. He has a more than keen interest in current awareness technologies and in the last couple of years he has researched, developed and rolled out a current awareness service in the firm's London office. He wrote a chapter for the BIALL Legal Information Handbook on current awareness technologies, which is due to be published in late 2012 or early 2013. He is also a member of the BIALL Publications Committee, which includes editing the association's newsletter published six times a year. His achievements on the committee include a rewrite of the Legal Research Packs and redesign of association's newsletter.
You can follow him on Twitter @deanjmason, or connect with him on LinkedIn.
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