Friday, July 31, 2009

"Social networking" killed productivity

Twitter has become work. Not acceptable for work, i.e. something that is not frowned upon to do at work, but actual work, something you are required to do at work. At least this is the case if you are involved somewhere where the development team is the marketing team, like a startup or an open source project. For the record my involvement in Neo4j qualify to both categories, and Jython is most certainly an open source project, and quite a high profile such as well.

In order to stay on top of things in this situation you easily find yourself with push based twitter notification or at least reading a lot of material on a regular basis. I for example get about 150 to 200 tweets per day from the people I follow. Combine this with the expectation to stay on top of email (yet again yo go for push), and you've got a constant stream of interrupts, and this really kills productivity.

Just the other day I read the Life Offline posts by Aaron Swartz, and found that very much recognize myself in how he describes the problems of the constant online presence. It would be wonderful if I, like he was able to do, could take a long stretch of time away from being connected, but I don't think that is possible, at least not now or in a near future. The problem stands though, I am not being productive. And some things don't get done in time. And this is a problem.

I've tried shifting my email and twitter use to only do processing of these things once per day, but it still takes two hours or more from my day to simply process the incoming stream. By processing I mean:

  • Read all the email and define actions.
  • Read all tweets, open tabs for links that seem interesting, skim those pages and define actions.
  • Read feeds and define actions.

That takes two hours. Then I still have to perform the actions that I have defined. Which could take up to the rest of the day.

I noticed already about twelve years ago how destructive online communities and social networks could be, and how much time they consume. I have thus tried to stay away from them, which is why I don't use my facebook account. But when social networking has become part of work it is much harder to avoid. In the case of Twitter it is also difficult to ignore because of how hugely influential it is. Twitter is the de facto way to find out about new things and interesting articles.

I am starting to believe that perhaps Donald Knuth made a wise decision in not having an email address, but as he points out having an email address is for people who need to be on top of things, and that he does not have an email address because he does not have to be on top of things anymore. I will agree with that, Donald Knuth has contributed a lot to the field of computer science, but he is definitely not on top of things anymore. So how do you cope with both being on top of things while still being productive? Is it possible? I would love to get any insight into the secrets that I am obviously unaware of.


Michael Foord said...

Hehe - you're doing it wrong. :-)

If you're only getting 15-200 tweets a day you need to follow more people. Twitter is like the gibbering of madmen - there is plenty of gold in there but also plenty of entertaining nonense.

Secondly, why on earth are you reading it *all*. See above about Twitter mainly being gibbering nonsense...

I treat twitter as a river. When I'm at my computer I have a client open and glance at it to see what is flowing currently whenever I get a moment. I very rarely go back and read what I've missed though.

What I do to make sure I don't miss the important stuff is use Tweetdeck which has a multi-columned interface.

One column is the current stream.

Next to it are any messages sent that 'mention' me. I never miss messages to me or about me and I reply to a good proportion of them.

The next column to that is a search for IronPython. Anytime *anyone* tweets about IronPython I see it - whether I follow them or not. You could set up searches for Neo4j and Jython and not miss anything important without having to read *everything* that floats by from the people you follow.

You can do more sophisticated things with Tweetdeck, like divide people you follow into different groups and put each group into a separate column. This might make it easier to follow indidivuals who you really don't want to miss anything they say (like me for example). :-) I haven't bothered with this though.

rawwell said...

There is no doubt that Twitter is too influential to ignore.
I second Michael's advice; dividing people into groups is a very powerful feature of twitter clients like Tweetdeck.

But digging deeper into the issue, we are all facing the inherent issue of "information overload"
I sometimes find it tiresome to keep up with my friendfeed account, though it is a great way to integrate news sources scattered over the web.

Your post reminded me of Clay Shirky's quote:
"Problem is filter failure, not info overload"

I do hope he is right.

Tobias said...

Thanks for the suggestions guys, I've switched to TweetDeck and set up some nice grouping filters. This has greatly reduced the signal to noise ratio while allowing me to follow more people.

I have not had any nightmares about social media in a few days now, so things are getting better, but I am not satisfied with my information flow yet.

ramwell: thanks for that link, I found that presentation very interesting. Changing the way we do filtering is probably a good idea, but I think we might want to change our workflows as well. I think the way we consume information is also a bottleneck in the current system.