Intelligent Alerts

I love Google Alerts and I get 50-100 per day on my blackberry.

But what I really want is an intelligent alerts system that cuts across all media types (including TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, blogs, business conferences, and podcasts) and prioritizes all of this media based on a profile that I build.

For example, I would set up a list of topics, people and companies that I am interested in. And I would create some rules about the kinds of content that I consider most authoritative: perhaps listing my favorite types of content, or publishers that I consider most credible.

Then, my intelligent agents would look in all media for matches. And all the matches would be added to my personal knowledge base (currently, I store all my alerts in gmail) so I could retrieve them at will.

But my daily diet of media content would be delivered to me based on pre-defined rules. So if there is an SEC filing or a free analyst report on a company I am tracking, that would be a top priority. Any MarketingSherpa case study on a topic or company of interest would be ranked high, because that content is invaluable. A Bambi Francisco column would come ahead of any other columnist. And blog posts by my favorite thinkers that match my topics would also come up first.

So if I’m going to maximize the use of my media time, I really need an agent to prioritize what I will be viewing, reading, or listening to in the hours that I devote to media.

But all this doesn’t take into account one of the most important things I’ve learned in the last 10 years — that the best use of my media time is in books. In Love is the Killer App, Tim Sanders argues that 80% of our learning time should be spent in books, since there is such a high concentration of lasting knowledge there.

So how does my intelligent agent handle books? Well, I suppose that with Amazon’s search within a book and Google Print, that my agent will start looking for keyword matches in lots of books — but I don’t want them all delivered at once — I somehow need these important matches to be turned into a steady daily stream.

But not all books are created equal. Some books become obsolete; others remain classics. Some new authors waste our time; but news appear on the scene with amazing new ideas.

Since I started using Tim Sander’s approach to marking up books (where on the inside back pages I write the page number and the “big idea” that I find on any page), that one of the best uses of my time is to review all my notes on books that I’ve already read and loved.

So my intelligent agent needs to realize how forgetful I am, and that I often need to have the very best content I’ve ever encountered to be recirculated into my daily intake somehow.

I am reminded that Alan Kay said that the best way to predict the future is by inventing it; and I probably won’t get the intelligent agent system that I really want unless I design it myself.

I hope I can make time to help design this kind of a personal knowledge management system.

In the end, for me, something like this would become even more valuable than Google’s index of everything, because all content is not of equal worth, I can only take in so much, and I want to be able to take in the best content and be reminded continually of the great content I’ve already taken in but that I’m not utilizing effectively in practice.

Once I have internalized what I have learned, and I have incorporated it into training or curriculum for my employees or in systems that my employees use, then I don’t need to be reminded of that stuff anymore.

John Battelle (author of “The Search”) talks about “search to discover” and “search to recover.” Of course we need both.

But perhaps in the future when there are literally trillions of web pages accessible to anyone on planet earth we will need something else even more. Maybe we should call it “search to cover.” Or maybe “unsearch.”

We’ll need to filter out the 99.99% of content that is worthless to us and expose only the content that can help us find worthwhile relationships, useful knowledge, and ultimately satifisfaction, peace, and happiness in life.

One of the greatest scholars I’ve ever known (Hugh Nibley) once said that the role of a teacher is to save time by telling students what not to read.

Dallin H. Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court Justice and current Mormon religious leader, said:

We have thousands of times more available information than Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln. Yet which of us would think ourselves a thousand times more educated or more serviceable to our fellowmen than they? The sublime quality of what these two men gave to us—including the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address—was not attributable to their great resources of information, for their libraries were comparatively small by our standards. Theirs was the wise and inspired use of a limited amount of information.

Available information wisely used is far more valuable than multiplied information allowed to lie fallow. I had to learn this obvious lesson as a law student.

Over 45 years ago, I was introduced to a law library with hundreds of thousands of law books. (Today such a library would include millions of additional pages available by electronic data retrieval.) When I began to prepare an assigned paper, I spent many days searching in hundreds of books for the needed material. I soon learned the obvious truth (already familiar to experienced researchers) that I could never complete my assigned task within the available time unless I focused my research in the beginning and stopped that research soon enough to have time to analyze my findings and compose my conclusions.

(Source: “Focus and Priorities”, April 2001)

What an interesting challenge lies ahead. With the digitization of everything we run the risk of “ever learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7)

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