Jan 5, 2013
This post deals with one of SpecifcFeeds.com’s features: Limited sending rights.
What is it?
Up to now, if you subscribe to something, be it an email newsletter, RSS, or Twitter-feed, you never know how many messages you will get going forward. Once you’ve subscribed the publisher can send you as many messages as he wants. That is, until you’ve had enough and unsubscribe.
At first this seems to be an advantage for publishers. However, on second thought it’s not really because most subscribers are aware of potentially getting too many messages and therefore more reluctant to subscribe. And that’s not good for publishers either as they don’t get as many subscribers as they could have.
On SpecificFeeds.com, when publishers set up a new feed, they have the option to limit themselves in how many messages they can send through it in the future. The limit can be either in total (e.g., “one message in total”) or for a given time frame (e.g., “2 messages per week”). Once the limit is reached, publishers cannot send any additional messages – the system does not allow it.
Why (the heck) should publishers limit their own sending rights?
The idea is that by limiting themselves publishers send a clear signal to subscribers to only send them the required information. This, in return, rewards them with more subscribers which is their ultimate goal.
For example, imagine you want to get notified when tickets for an event are officially up for sale. This only requires one message. Would you rather subscribe to a) an email newsletter, b) an RSS-Feed, or c) a feed which is limited to one message in total promising to inform you when tickets are up for sale (i.e. the feed gets “deleted” after this one message has been sent out)?
In order for the limitation feature to work a neutral platform is required which manages the sending rights. It ensures that publishers do not get hold of subscribers’ contact details so publishers cannot bother subscribers after the purpose of the feed, e.g., announcement of available tickets, is fulfilled.
When is this feature useful?
Obviously this feature only makes sense when it’s clear how many messages need to get sent in the future. For example, this is the case for:
- Various reminders, e.g.,:
- Regular updates on specific topics (e.g., funniest videos on youtube for the last 3 or 4 days (limited to 2 messages per week))
- Notification in clearly defined one-off cases (e.g. official results of US presidential election)
Parallel to Twitter
When coming up with this feature we realized a parallel to Twitter. Twitter also limits publisher’s sending rights by setting a limit at 140 characters per message. In other words: where Twitter limits message size, SpecificFeeds limits message frequency. The impact is the same: subscribers know there’s a limit to what they will receive and therefore subscribe more easily – which is beneficial for publishers as well.
The overall target: “Taking the fear out of subscribing”
The limitation-feature aims to reduce the fear out of subscription in a similar way other features on SpecificFeeds.com do (to be discussed in future posts). However, what do you think? Does the limitation-feature add any value (to subscribers and publishers)? Any input welcome.
Dec 24, 2012
Avoiding information overload starts with filtering out unwanted news. This is especially true for email spam. We had a look at the available spam filters for Outlook, Thunderbird and Outlook Express and here’s our list of the better ones we found.
Background: Although most email systems now come with their own built-in spam filters we find them mostly clumsy and ineffective, potentially allowing spam to reach your inbox while sending genuine messages to your spam folder. This is especially true of older email programs. There are several more sophisticated add-on spam filters; these offer more customization, options and better filtering techniques. Commercial spam filters can be expensive but there are several good free options out there.
SpamBayes 1.1a6 (our pick)
SpamBayes is an add-on that plugs into Mozilla Thunderbird, Outlook Express, Yahoo, Gmail and other popular mail programs. It works with both IMAP and POP email accounts. As the name suggests, SpamBayes uses Bayesian filtering to fine-tune its response based on the emails you receive, your choices and the training you give it. If you're using POP, you'll see a custom header that you can use to tweak SpamBayes' settings. In IMAP, messages are moved directly to the server; you can train the filter by moving messages yourself.
Unlike many third-party spam filters, Spamihilator is designed to run unobtrusively in the background. It runs in between your email client and the Internet at large, attempting to catch spam before it reaches your email program. Messages flagged as spam aren't lost – Spamihilator drops them into a quarantine folder from which you can rescue anything that was put there in error. Spamihilator doesn't let you whitelist emails and can seem rather a blunt instrument when compared to filters that allow more hands-on adjustment but is very effective in filtering out junk mail. Spamihilator works with almost any email client.
Outlook Spam Filter (only for Outlook Express)
While not strictly speaking free, Outlook Spam Filter does offer a free trial so you can decide whether it's for you before paying the full price. Unlike third-party products, Outlook Spam Filter is released by Microsoft and was designed specifically for use with Microsoft's own Outlook Express. Positives include the intelligent Bayesian filtering which learns from your correspondence; there's also a handy feature that lets you check your outgoing mail to see if it might be mistaken for spam. You can build up your own lists of trusted friends (and untrusted enemies) to ensure that you never miss an important email. Outlook Spam Filter supports MS Exchange, POP3, HTTP and IMAP. One downside is that it can only be used with Outlook Express.
AntySpam is a fairly basic plug-in for Outlook. It relies on definitions and blacklists held on anti-spam servers to identify spam coming to your inbox. Experienced anti-spam filter users won't find much to impress them; on the other hand, if you're looking for a simple, free anti-spam filter without too many bells and whistles, this one may work for you. Servers used by AntySpam include Redhawk, Spamhaus, Spamcop etc; there's also the option to add a custom server of your own.
Matador is one of the more basic free spam filters on offer. It's a simple but effective plugin for Outlook, offering a small but well-chosen handful of essential features. Matador Spam Fighter comes pre-loaded with basic anti-spam data; once you begin using it, its adaptive Bayesian filter starts to build on this foundation to spot junk mail more accurately. Matador scans emails as they arrive in your inbox, diverting any that fit its spam definitions into a junk folder. If you wish, you can also clean any email folder manually. Matador also collects statistics on its own performance so you can see how well it's taking care of junk mail.
Dec 4, 2012
Please answer the question before reading on:
Is it possible to accumulate information and “get smarter” effortlessly
without spending time to research or consume it?
At first it seems to be an unbreakable rule that in order to expand our knowledge, we need to actively take in new information. Unfortunately, finding relevant information and consuming it takes time and effort – especially in today’s world of information overload this can be quite tedious.
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we did not have to consume any information and still expand our knowledge as shown in the following picture, therefore sidestepping information overload?
Surprisingly, there is a way to achieve this. The secret lies in reliable alert services that only inform you if a specific event has occurred, therefore also telling you something if no message is sent (so that you know nothing has happened).
For example, imagine an alert service which notifies you every time a US tennis player wins a tournament on the ATP tour. If you haven’t received an alert for the last two months and somebody asks you about it, you could tell that in the last 2 months no US player has won a tournament – without actively following the tennis results.
Nov 24, 2012
While technology has been a main catalyst for information overload it may also provide a cure, or at least help to reduce it. There are quite a few useful tools in this respect and here are three of my favorites:
1. Google Alerts
The simplest tools are often the best and this is certainly the case for Google Alerts. It monitors the web for fresh content on topics you are interested in, and notifies you if there is a match with the keywords you’ve picked. You can limit the search to different types of websites (discussions, blogs, video etc.) and also choose how often you would want to be alerted (i.e. either immediately or in a daily or weekly digest).
In order to help to reduce information overload, however, it’s important to use unique keywords which don’t appear too often (i.e. only appear in content you’re really interested in). This usually works well with unique words and expressions such as your website name or your own personal name (e.g. to see who’s talking about you).
If your topic of interest cannot be tracked by unique keywords it’s getting a bit more challenging, however there are ways how to go about it. One strategy is to pick long strings of text (e.g. keywords in a defined order, starting and ending with “s). As those are typically very specific it does not hurt to set up quite a few of them. I’ve developed a system how to identify those strings and will elaborate on it in a future post. (By the way this concept of more alerts, but more specific ones, is similar to the idea behind SpecificFeeds)
2. IFTTT (If This Then That)
I discovered this nifty little tool only recently. It’s a smart approach to saving you time by automating various processes online. You just define the trigger (the “If this”, in “IFTTT”), i.e. what needs to happens at online services such as Dropbox, Evernote or YouTube, as well as what should happen as a result (the “then that”). Users can create various combinations, defined as “recipes”, and also share them with others.
For example, the tool allows you to:
- Receive a notification if it's going to rain (Recipe No. 48)
- Save email attachments automatically to a Dropbox account (Recipe No. 39)
- Send starred Google Reader items to Instapaper (Recipe No. 178)
IFTTT’s potential to prevent information overload comes especially from the tailored alert services you can create. For example, the first Recipe above allows you to ignore the weather information (i.e. reduce your information intake) as you know that if something happens you’re interested in (in this case rain, but you can set other triggers as well) you’ll get alerted.
IFTTT also prevents information overload in another way: its website interface is as much “down to the point” as you can get. No unnecessary information, only very little text with big letters leading the user through the process of setting up a recipe which everybody can understand, be it IT expert or Blogger mom. For me it’s a model example for how to make an interface user friendly.
Nov 17, 2012
Subject of this post is the Pomodoro Technique which I came across about a year ago. Since then it has helped me a lot to stay focused and get more tasks completed (this article being one of the outcomes, took me 3 pomodoros). Why don’t you try it too?
The concept behind the Pomodoro Technique was developed by Francesco Cirillo during his university days in the 1980's. Faced with a crippling productivity slump after his exams, he began to take a long hard look at his work habits and tried to figure out what was wrong. He came to the conclusion that the real issue was that it’s getting harder to fully focus intensively on a task, even if it is just for a short period of time.
And that's how the Pomodoro Technique was born. Armed with a tomato-shaped timer (“Pomodoro” means tomato in Italian), Cirillo set off to create one of the most simple yet innovative productivity methods that has helped thousands (millions?) of people around the globe manage their time better.
In a Nutshell: The Pomodoro Technique
Here's how it works; first off, you need a timer (any timer will do, though most followers stay true to the concept and get themselves those tomato-shaped kitchen timers), a pen or pencil, and a notebook where you can record your progress.
A Pomodoro consists of 25 minutes of intense concentration on a single task, followed by a 5-minute break. After four Pomodoros have elapsed, you can then take a longer break (a fifteen or thirty minute interval works fine) and then the whole cycle can be repeated again.
A typical Pomodoro cycle looks like this:
- Tasks to be accomplished for the day are listed down. You can use this To Do Today sheet provided by Pomodoro Technique website. It includes an area for pending tasks and a section labeled "Unplanned and Urgent Activities" where unexpected yet necessary tasks that pop up during the day are filed.
- The timer is set for 25 minutes and the tasks are worked on one by one. The breaks (both short and long ones) are to be used for activities that are NOT related to work. Once a Pomodoro is used up, a corresponding mark should be written down on your recording sheet or notebook. You can rest, eat, stretch or do any other activity that can help to refresh your mind.
- At the end of the day, observations regarding your performance need to be recorded. This part usually includes recording the number of Pomodoros that were spent on each task and the number of interruptions (if any). Writing these down will often help you predict the number of Pomodoros to be assigned for future activities.
The whole process is simple enough to comprehend, but there are two key rules to be followed if the system is to be used to its maximum potential.
Rule Number One: A Pomodoro is Indivisible
An ongoing Pomodoro cannot be disrupted. If it is to be interrupted by an urgent matter, that particular Pomodoro needs to be crossed out and voided. Upon returning to work, you need to start on a fresh Pomodoro.
Rule Number Two: If a Pomodoro Begins, It Has to Ring
Every Pomodoro should be worked on from start to finish. If a task is finished before the timer runs out, you could use this time to review your work and make improvements, if necessary. This process is called "overlearning."