Information silos: or where choosing twitter has let me down

News waves by kevin dooley via flickr CC

I’m going to be bold (and controversial?) and say that I think I am generally less informed as a result of my involvement with twitter.

Don’t get me wrong. I love twitter. I love the connection to a professional community of like minded others and the speed and ease of communicating with those folks. I love the constant, never ending flow of information past my door – and the fact that I can dip in and out of that flow to pick out the things that catch my eye. I would find it both difficult and isolating to be without twitter and my personal learning network.

However, as I’ve mentioned before – I miss browsing and now I’ve found that I’m missing out on a range of information because of the way I have chosen to have that information fed to me. I rely increasingly on twitter for that data flow – but of course the people I follow on twitter are folk with similar interests to mine. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t be following them. On Facebook, I not only limit myself to family and friends (and the occasional page about one of my personal interests) but now the Facebook news feed changes limits that even further by deciding for me which updates I will see.

What all of this means is that increasingly I am less and less likely to come across information, material or news from outside my silo. Yes, I follow some news and journalists on twitter – but I don’t have twitter open on my desktop all the time and in the vast flood of information it’s easy to miss stuff. I can’t physically spend the time scrolling back through the hours and hours of tweets I missed – it’s just not practical. Examples of things I missed? I didn’t know there’d been a nursing home fire in Quakers Hill this week. I didn’t know about the ‘formals scam’ that meant hundreds of Sydney school kids lost money on booking formals and after parties. I didn’t know there are bushfires happening in WA. Did I need to know these things? Probably not, but I don’t like feeling uninformed about issues that are out there being talked about. Would these things have come across my twitter feed? Undoubtably, but as I said, I’m not connected to twitter 24/7.

The way around this of course, is to add yet more ways of getting information. For example, I could go back to reading the paper (either online or in print, I don’t have a preference), or listening to radio news (I love radio as a medium and it’s my biggest regret about using public transport to work, that I miss out on radio news and current affairs time). At least by browsing the paper, or listening to the whole news broadcast things come across my radar that are otherwise outside my ‘bubble’ and I am forced to at least be aware of the political, social and economic environment that continues to exist around me in spite of my seeming best efforts to pretend that it’s not. My twitter feed is the equivalent of only listening to the news stories that already resonate with or interest me.

Time wise this additional information scan would probably be at the expense of time on twitter. However, if I give up time on twitter I am also giving up the community building and social interaction that comes with the medium – and I don’t really want to give that up.

In addition, there’s the silo-ing that’s being done to me by others – mostly companies that collect my data, my browsing history or my favourite search terms and use that information to package up yet more links, suggestions or results in a similar area. Have a look at this post about personal data life-logging, or this one about giving up Google if you want to explore that further. This is an extension of my self-imposed silos but more importantly and perhaps more dangerous in the longer term, it means increasingly I am given/fed/exposed to information and news feeds that I am comfortable with, from people and organisations I generally agree with or am aligned with. There’s not much in my news feed that is confronting, challenging or makes me sit up and think – it’s a ‘yes men’ situation waiting to happen. Not recommended in business and I would argue similarly dangerous personally.

For heavens sake, twitter even once suggested that I follow @newgradlib because we are similar. Of course we’re similar. It’s me.



17 thoughts on “Information silos: or where choosing twitter has let me down

  1. Pingback: Project water polo | Who are these kids and why are they calling me mum?

  2. I had the complete opposite experience! I have found that I am much more informed with Twitter. Perhaps it was because the people who convinced me to sign up, also suggested that I follow ABC Radio Brisbane, ABC News, TransLink and bit by bit I have found librarians around the world who are on the forefront of what’s new in ‘our’ world. Do I miss tweets? Yep, as I also don’t tend to get on it during the workday, though I sometimes check it at lunch. But the news stories tend to be repeated, so I usually catch the important stuff at some point. If I didn’t think it would take too much time, I’d be tempted to have two twitter accounts, one for keeping up with friends, and the other for purely professional contacts.

  3. That’s a good post indeed and highlights the need not to get too dependent on one source. For myself, I’m still dipping into a couple of hundred RSS feeds, and check the SMH and ABC online for news every day. Nevermind my weekend ritual of brekky in a cafe with the weekend herald – paper version 🙂

    Relying on one, or a few sources, whether it’s twitter, usenet, facebook or even the SMH is not especially healthy I think. The hard bit is working out a way of managing it all in a manner that suits.

  4. Clare, you should try strawberry 🙂 I had to start using that because of all the information I was missing too.

  5. Great post. I had the same sort of realization you talk about here earlier this year. I’d completely given up on my RSS reader and relied on Twitter to keep me professionally informed. I also unsubscribed from all but one or two elists more than a year ago. Mornings are too frantic to catch the news, with small children to be fed and dressed. I rarely go into the office so I miss the news on the radio in the car. 5pm to 7pm are bathing, feeding and bed times, so I miss the news then, too. A couple times a week I scan the newspaper while waiting for a takeaway coffee. Every bug news story in the last 12 months I’ve known about only because of Twitter.

    Like you, I finally decided this wasn’t good enough any more. And not only was it not good enough in terms of my knowledge of what’s happening in the world, it was also not good enough because it made me a but of a leech – taking what I could from my Twiiter connections, and not giving a whole lot back.

    So I cleaned up my feed reader and refocused on current interests. I’m not keeping up with the influx, but it still feels better than not doing anything to get better informed.

    If only there were a few more hours in the day to keep up…

  6. I have had the opposite experience. If you follow the right people or accounts and resist the temptation to follow back everyone who follows you, Twitter can be very informative. For example I discovered Harry Jenkins had resigned as Speaker of the House via Twitter, but also what I meant and why Peter Slipper was going to replace him. All while Parliament was in the process of electing a new Speaker. I have also found many interesting library blogs and news links I would never have found otherwise. Twitter is really what you make of it, but I also highly recommend Flipboard (for iPad and recently I think iPhone) as a way of really making Twitter work as a news & information source.

    • I agree with you completely Hugh – although the availability of twitter has meant that there is an expectation we can follow such things as the change of Speaker as they happen, that in turn leaves me feeling left out or uninformed if I didn’t follow it on twitter (as I didn’t, because I don’t have twitter on for most of the work day).

      I love Flipboard, if I’m really honest, it’s the main reason I bought an iPad 🙂

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  8. I feel a bit the same way about missing out on the news. It’s mostly related to reading to small children at bedtime when the news is on and no longer living around the corner from a newsagents on the current events stuff for me though!

    While Twitter feels like a silo at times, for me it’s mostly self imposed because I only use it for work/study stuff and I usually only check it out later in the evening. It’s Facebook deciding what’s a top story for me that bugs me the most! Have you seen this TED talk? I stumbled across it thanks to a blog relating to information literacy classes and it’s pretty thought provoking

    • Thanks for this link Alison, I was looking for something like this when I was writing this post, but struggled to find very much. Its a fabulous talk (I heart TED).

      What really concerns me is that we are also creating our own filter bubbles with the uptake of personalised pages, RSS and ‘friend’ lists.

      I wish I knew the answer!

  9. A good take on twitter and how we absorb news and current affairs – or not. I’m sure you know that many radio programs are available as podcast subscriptions. I listen to my favourites on my ipod while driving to and from work in the South West of Victoria where choices are limited.

    • Thank you 🙂 I do listen to podcasts and they are great for those extended programs like Background Briefing from Radio National (& plenty of others) – I guess what I miss is the immediacy of a (reasonably) comprehensive news bulletin…

      • Have you looked at livestreaming radio via smartphone? (if you have one) I listen to Radio National via web more than radio these days.

        Despite loving Twitter I still get most of my news via RN or newspaper RSS.

  10. A very thought-provoking post. I too, have seemed to become disconnected from the world because of my time invested in Twitter. For a while, I haven’t been able to place my finger on why. Now you have. 🙂 Don’t get me wrong (as you’ve said), Twitter is a valuable tool for connecting and building relationships with those in my personal learning network. But I have also identified a need to widen my scope of awareness, the social, economic and political environments that impact heavily on our ‘little bubble’. You’ve added an important consideration to my thinking about developing a current awareness strategy. Thank you!

    • Thanks Alisa! As I said, I think there’s actually a couple more posts in this topic – and there’s the whole question of choice here as well of course. I’m actively choosing to use twitter as my news feed so rather than ‘blaming’ twitter for my disconnect I’m trying to determine what other choices I could be making.

      Gosh we really have to meet IRL!! 🙂

      • You’re right there about choice. Upon further reflection, I wouldn’t ‘blame’ twitter, but I’ve found it’s easy to be so ‘in to’ the twitter news feed that I’ve almost forgotten about other sources of current events. Yes, we really need to meet! 🙂

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