Signal vs Noise

One thing which is going to become even more central to our online existence is the prevalence of signal vs noise. We’re being bombarded with more and more information about friends, family, idols and news. I pride myself on keeping a fairly short (150) list of feeds in my Google Reader, of which I speed through the majority of them, skimming with liberal use of the keyboard shortcuts.

In my Twitter though, I’m wrestling with the issue as there are a number of people who I follow, but are not people I’m truly that interested in. In my personal Twitter app, TweetCore, I had come to a solution where it used a simple algorithm to hide tweets from someone past the first X, and thus remove the noise to allow me to enjoy my feed without too much noise. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than any other twitter app allows right now.

It’s also the single reason I haven’t killed of the TweetCore project. It has had almost no time devoted to it in the recent months, but I need it to manage this level of information and noise in my life.

While on vacation in DC though I found another interesting example of this: our hotel TV. The hotel had numerous issues, but the TV had about 25 channels, of which only three were really of interest to us. They were ESPN, HBO, and USA. The rest were news, non-marquee sports (SPEED TV, ESPN2, ESPN Classic), Spanish or local. We’d put the TV on in the bedroom just for the sake of noise, or for entertainment but usually we had to channel surf around the channels two or three times before settling on something to watch.

When I realized we were ‘settling’ I knew there was an issue. In today’s day and age, settling for entertainment is a thing of the past. I began trying to use Hulu more as an option to allow us to choose what to watch rather than to settle with some mediocre mind-numbing show.

Another point this has come up was a discussion on Hacker News, when Jeff Atwood (blogger at and StackOverflow) wrote his case for why social bookmark sites should provide a down-vote option. It was a bit of an incendiary issue as he took some very broad strokes against HN, with the members clearly defending and responding, though it teeters on the edge of dissent into flamewar.

The down-vote is a natural inclination as it puts that control I spoke of earlier, but the premise of HN is that it isn’t needed and it avoids the hordes of down-voting gangs who bury stories they disagree with. This instead comes to rest on a group of editors and high-level members who will remove stories which are errant either in topic or tone.

In truth I think it’s a personal preference.

I’m okay with the occasional noise which rises up on HN, and I trust that the editors will handle it if needed. Overall HN is a peaceful nook on the Internet.

That being said, control is slowly shifting into our hands, but it’s up to us to grab it and use it before it drifts away.

2 thoughts on “Signal vs Noise”

  1. Try tweetdeck. It lets you put th people you follow into groups. Discovered it during the DC trip and am seriously in love.

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