17 November 2013

Reflections on the Forced Migration Information Landscape: Monitoring & Managing Information

A second challenge that results from the increased availability of forced migration information online:  How do we monitor it all?  In the past, we used to have to go to it, i.e., bookmark web sites and then remember to visit them to see if anything new had been uploaded.  Now, even though we still actively seek information through web searches, we increasingly are passive recipients of information that simply comes to us.

Back in 2007, I wrote an article for Refugee Survey Quarterly on "Keeping up with Refugee Research" through the use of email alerts and RSS feeds.  But over the years, I have tried to shift as much as possible to RSS since I find it makes my life a lot easier.  RSS ("Really Simple Syndication") is an XML file format that delivers "headlines" to you directly so that you can peruse news and information from one central location. Content is distributed via RSS in the form of a feed that must be read by an application called a newsreader or news aggregator.  (If you want more of an overview, here is a brief intro.)

I am currently subscribed to over 200 RSS feeds.  Most are standard feeds associated with web sites and blogs.  But I also have a number of customized feeds for search results.  So, for example, instead of visiting ReliefWeb to run the same search over and over again, you can generate an RSS feed for that specific search.  Any time new items are added to ReliefWeb that match the parameters of your search, your feed will be updated. In addition, I have feeds for Facebook pages, even though I'm not on Facebook.  And I have feeds for sites that don't even offer them; I use a service called Page2RSS to generate feeds for me.

I (and millions of others!) used to use Google Reader to read my RSS feeds, but the application was discontinued by Google in July. After trying several alternatives (Digg, FeedReader, NetVibes,The Old Reader...), I settled on AOL Reader.  It's free, web-based and does almost as good a job as Google Reader did at organizing and managing my feeds, allowing me to quickly check for new, relevant information. RSS is a huge time-saver, and I wouldn't be able to do what I do without it!

We also have information coming to us via our social media connections: our Facebook walls, Google Plus circles, Twitter feeds... .  And a lot of people feel that they are able to access a better and broader base of information through these connections.  Now, I am not on Facebook, Google Plus, or Twitter, largely due to time management and information overload concerns.  However, I do visit a number of public FB pages and browse certain Twitter feeds because for some organizations and individuals, these have become their exclusive or predominant means of disseminating information, and I don't want to miss out.

So a third challenge is managing all the information that comes our way.  I wrote about this in Sept. 2011, but things have changed even since then. We all know that user-generated content is growing exponentially, and it's not going to stop.  After all, if Mark Zuckerberg gets his way, the four billion people in the world who currently don't have Internet access will all have Facebook pages in the near future! We will definitely need to take advantage of social media filtering and management tools that can help us zero in on relevant information and keep us from becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it all.  So time to update that blog post!

Tagged Web Sites/Tools.

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