4 Free Tools to Cut Through Online Clutter

by Brett Pollard on December 1, 2009

Turbo-charging your daily knowledge absorption

Every day for me starts as a learning quest.  The same is true for most people.  If you listen to the radio, watch morning tv news, read the newspaper or get online each morning you are absorbing information.  In today’s world, we are bombarded with so much information it’s common to become overwhelmed with it all…especially online.

How do you find the good stuff?

How do you find the good stuff?

Accessing the large volumes of good information scattered about the Internet requires skillful searching, diligent reading and your most valuable asset – time.  Fortunately, there are some excellent free online tools that will save you significant time and effort when it comes to consuming and organizing content.  Here are 4 such tools I use on a daily basis to keep current and continue learning.

1) Google Alerts

Life became much simpler when Google launched their Alerts service.  Most informed users on the Internet use it in some capacity.  It eliminates the need to search for the same topic regularly by automatically delivering the results to you.  The power of using this service is in the specified search term itself.

Just like a standard Google search, Google Alerts will deliver more accurate results if the search terms have been optimized.  Becoming familiar with Google’s advanced search tips will help you immensely.  The primary advantages of Google Alerts can be summed up by the following points:

  • Save search terms and have them delivered to you daily or weekly
  • Choose from news, blogs, web, video, groups or comprehensive (all) as targets for your search
  • Choose between email or rss feed for delivery method

2) Feedly

I’ve been using Feedly now for over month, but I was sold on its effectiveness immediately.  As a long time Google Reader user, I never really considered using other RSS readers since none of them seemed to stand out.  Feedly, on the other hand, has found a cleaner and more organized way to present RSS feeds in your browser.

You can access the tool via their website (link provided above) or install it as an add-on to your browser if you use Firefox.  If I come across a blog that I find interesting and useful, I simply add the RSS feed so I can access new posts via Feedly.  For a quick overview on how I use Feedly you can watch the following video.

3) Twitter Search

In my opinion, Twitter would be a useless novelty if not for the search functionality. If you are interested in any particular subject, there is probably a community discussing it on Twitter.  This is a great way to discover good information on a topic and connect with those of similar interests.  Hashtags are the key here.  To find hashtags regarding a particular subject you can visit TagDef or TwittGroups.

Example:  I happen to have a strong interest in the use of social media for the health care industry.  Leaders in the field regularly add the hashtag #hcsm to their tweets so that their tweets can be easily identified in search.  Therefore, I have a saved Twitter search that shows me all of the tweets tagged with #hcsm in real-time.

4) Evernote

Have you ever read something online that you’d like to store for future reference?  In the old days you would probably bookmark the page for future reference only to have the bookmark disappear into a jungle other forgotten bookmarks.  Evernote solved that problem by creating a brilliantly effective tool for saving and organizing useful information.

Now you can “clip” a portion of an article or site and store it in a digital file cabinet on Evernote.  The nice thing about this solution is that you can access it at any time from any computer or even on an iPhone.  The following video does a great job demonstrating how Evernote works and how it can help you organize your informaiton.

If you are trying to stay up to date and learn more about your industry, these tools can save you a significant amount of time.  There are plenty of other comparable tools available, but I have found these to work the best for me.  Let me know what tools you have found to be effective in the comments section.

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