August 2009


Multicasting Overload

I have to admit it: I’m addicted to the Internet—and the current version is even better than the one that I first started exploring back in the mid 1990s.

My first web browser, for the record, was Netscape. If you remember the version with the throbbing N, that’s the first one I ever used.

Today I start Firefox and have two windows consistently open: my Google Mail account and my Google Reader window. Relegated to history: Hotmail (maybe 6 months in the mid 90s, never reliable), Yahoo Mail (OK at first, but then spam cropped up and Gmail came along), iGoogle (Never quite understood the use of this page), and lots of other things that I’ve forgotten.

Assisting me with world exploration is iTunes and its excellent podcast syncing with my iPhone, as well as Twitterific, which keeps track of Tweets.

Each one of these platforms is great, but I have to confess that I am concerned with multicasting.

Awhile back I knew somebody who would send people information by email—but because email was new and you never knew if people would read the email, he also faxed the information. For some people, he would also mail the information—using the post office. Once, after he talked to somebody who hadn’t seen the email or the fax (yet), he promptly started calling everybody to tell them that a fax, an email, and a letter with information was forthcoming, and, oh, by the way, this is what the fax, email, and letter would say.

The problem is, of course, a noise to signal ratio. I start tuning people out when they start forwarding me too much stuff I am not interested in—especially when they send me a lot of uninteresting stuff. Thus, when they send me something I’m actually interested in, or is actually important, little do they know, but I’ve sent up my gmail account automatically filter their emails straight into the trash or spam folders.

Some how the moral of the boy who cried wolf, a childhood fairy tale, has been lost in this century.

Surrounded by incessant pleas for attention—and in a world of RSS Feeds, Twitter Feeds, and Podcast Feeds—I’ve started to wonder about the value of having all three.

It works when each supplements each other. While I’m slightly guilty of posting links to my blog on Twitter, I don’t go so far as to twitter whilst writing my blog posts about what I’m writing about. I let it be a surprise. Occasionally, if a subject is heavy on my mind, you might get some accidental overlap, but it’s not intentional.

Information really only needs to be asserted once for me to enjoy it and to learn from it. I don’t actually need, or want, the same information from multiple sources.

Yet, it happens to me.

Take, for example, the BBC’s From Our Own Correspondents. It’s a slightly snobbish weekly radio show where BBC Correspondents talk about their experiences in the field, whether remote corners of Africa or Washington DC. Since I cannot get it on the radio, I listen to it in podcast form—which is really rather handy, except that I subscribe to the BBC’s news feed and the same stories that are read out loud on the podcast are available verbatim, textually, via the BBC feed.

Then there’s the Guardian Daily podcast—which provides a discussion about the day’s news from the Guardian’s perspective. Of course most of the audio stories are told in textual form via the feed (or in newsprint if you pick up a paper copy of the newspaper)—but if that’s not enough the program also has a Twitter feed! (Admittedly as of today, not updated since July 23rd!) The host promotes the feed as a way of knowing what will be on the podcast before you get to hear the podcast. Great, so why bother listening to the podcast?

Given that I’m now downloading and listening to the CBC’s The World At Six, I’m about to drop both the Guardian Daily and From Our Own Correspondents. I am not, however, going to subscribe to any other CBC news feeds—the pleasant surprise each morning of their previous evening’s news make my commute more enjoyable.

For some things, one is enough.

2 comments to Multicasting Overload

  • Scott

    I’ll go off on a tangent here. But I would recommend turning your always open webpages into “stand alone apps”, with the use of something like Fluid.app (for Mac) or the Prism add-on for Firefox.
    We can talk about it more when you are here in Munich.

    • Scott–any tips you have will be appreciated. I’ve never actually had anybody tell me how to take care of and best optimize my Apple. I bought it in NY one evening, and the next afternoon I was back in Germany. I thought about taking a class in Toronto at the Apple Store, but they didn’t have the classes I wanted at times I was free.