June 24, 2009

Are Authors or Publications Impacting How You Consume the News?

Over the last few years, participating in the tech blogosphere and meeting many of the people who create and report on the tech news we read every day has made the entire process of consuming the news more than simply a passive exercise. While in 2005 or early 2006, I may have imbibed any new posts that come to my RSS reader as manna from heaven, reading every word to find out what was new and interesting, I now find that my own personal interactions with the authors, the publications, or even the story subjects themselves is impacting how I take in the news. And I know I can't get zapped with a mind-eraser like in Men In Black to have it all go away.

Many times, I have told you that Google Reader and FriendFeed are my two major tools for information discovery. On a typical day, north of 600 news items hit my reader, and I spend a few hours clicking through FriendFeed, relying on my social connections to fill the gaps. And, given my need to make a decision, in seconds, as to whether I will read the article, click through, comment or share, I am now finding that the name behind the story is as much an element of that choice as the headline or subject would be, try as I might for that not to happen.

Sometimes, if a big story hits, all the major blogs will write about it in the space of minutes. That means, as FeedBurner and Google Reader go to work, I'll see headlines from ReadWriteWeb, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, CenterNetworks, Mashable and others come in a rapid fire. Sometimes, I will just share the first relevant story I come across, only to find that the second or third version of that story from another author is just a bit better. So do I share both, or should I hit "K", go back to that first share and undo it?

And that's not even getting to the real fun part. As time has gone on, I've gotten to learn pretty much the entire matrix of who likes who in this space. Suffice it to say that not every blogger likes his or her counterpart across the aisle - and I am being watched. I get direct messages on Twitter, or separate e-mails, following my actions, whether I shared one blogger's item on Google Reader instead of another, whether I linked to one person's story and forgot somebody else, or even if I went out of my way to comment on one blog that one guy particularly might not like. Truth be told, there's no good way to come out of the mess smiling and seeing that everyone's happy - because for some, you're either with us, or you're against us, and there's no chance for middle ground.

So as those messages pile up, and my own personal interactions with many of these folks occur, by phone, by e-mail, on podcasts, or on Silicon Valley events, I start to read and share the news, not with the virgin eyes of an excited early adopter tech consumer, but more often one that has to consider the downstream response I might get if I click here, link there, or comment somewhere else. And I see the names flow through next to the headlines, reminding me of their previous stories, good and bad, their arguments, public and private, or even, who is in a relationship with who... because sometimes that news gets around as well.

I'll be honest with you - for the most part, I recognize I have been incredibly lucky in almost every case. Even though I don't have my neck out there, turning this blog into my source of revenue, I've had the chance to shake hands with most of my brand-name counterparts out there. Even those who have gained a reputation for being difficult from others have been good to me. My online interactions and my one phone conversation with Dave Winer were very good. Every single conversation, by phone or in person, I have had with Mike Arrington has been very positive. I clearly have had a solid relationship with Robert Scoble, and fellow bloggers like Jesse Stay, Rob Diana, MG Siegler, Marshall Kirkpatrick, Steve Rubel, Brian Solis, Jeremiah Owyang and others. I trade e-mail often with those who are not nearby geographically, including Steven Hodson, Allen Stern and Duncan Riley, enjoyed my one time on This Week In Tech with Leo Laporte and had a great conversation with Loren Feldman at SXSW in Austin. Largely, the tech blogosphere is a positive community, despite the occasional rumble that threatens to pit friends against friends.

And for that I am grateful. I just wonder if it would ever be possible again to go back to a time when I got really excited about seeing the news for the first time, for its sake, and could eliminate any personal impact that might overlay the story - not needing to wonder if one blog broke an embargo, or wonder why one product got sent to another blog and not me. I wonder also for those who are not as embedded in this space, how they are letting blog brands and authors impact how they take in the news. Are you choosing favorites? Do you see names and titles, and skip right by, or can you see beyond the names and learn what you came for?

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