Open Sourcing My TechCrunch Work Flow

Yesterday was my last day at TechCrunch. It’s been a good run but I’m excited to get back into consulting for non profit organizations and startup businesses. This is a post about how I did my research while writing for TechCrunch, written in the belief that the more valuable information a person shares the more likely they are to be hired to share even more information as a consultant. 🙂

I may also try to continue writing professionally, I haven’t decided yet. Michael Arrington and I parted ways on very good terms. If you enjoyed my writing at TechCrunch, watch this space for more that’s similar but definitely not the same. If you are a loyal reader of this blog from before my time at TechCrunch, I hope you’ll enjoy my return to writing things similar to what I wrote before.

One of the things I’m most excited about regarding this transition is that the research methods I used to train people in are no longer a trade secret. Those tactics, specifically ways to use RSS, were what got me the job at TechCrunch and were a big part of my everyday work flow there. Though many of the stories I wrote came from press releases and TechCrunch contacts, I live in Portland, Oregon (not San Francisco) and had to come up with the vast majority of my stories on my own.

The following is a description of my feed reading methodology. It’s how I break stories, if not in the first place then into the larger blogosphere. It’s a work flow that I believe can be applied in almost any sector. I’m looking forward to helping a variety of people learn to use these tools so they can be put to use for more than just bloggers blogging about the blogosphere. This is a big picture of what I know now and I know that a week from now I’ll have more to offer. I haven’t included any discussion about small things like filtering feeds, scraping feeds or using RSS and email together but there’s a lot more that can be done with RSS for research than I feel like writing about this morning. My plan for consulting is to offer customized training in the use of these tools, other related practices and whatever else I learn about in the future.

How To Read Feeds & Rock the Blogosphere

RSS feeds make it possible to consume far more information at a faster pace than would otherwise be possible for the human brain. That said, many people experience a new level of information overload once they begin reading feeds. Here’s an overview of how I read thousands of RSS feeds without breaking a sweat.

Using a Startpage

I’ve recently added the use of a startpage or single page aggregator to my workflow to compliment my regular feed reading. I’ve drug the link to OriginalSignal and now PageFlakes onto my toolbar and I give it a click a couple of times an hour. It provides a quick and easy way to see if my competitors have written anything new since the last time I looked. Almost anything can be read by RSS feed, so you can display almost anything on a startpage. These services fulfill a very specific function for a person working on the web – they provide a one click view of updates from various sources, inside the browser and distinct from the more heavy duty environment of a feed reader.

Organizing a Feed Reader

I use Newsgator’s desktop feed reader for Macs, NetNewsWire, to subscribe to RSS feeds. It’s the fastest and most reliable RSS reading tool I’ve found yet. It’s nice to be able to read my feeds when I’m not online, too.

I am subscribed to thousands of RSS feeds and currently have thousands of unread items in my feed reader – that suits me just fine. The secret is to organize those feeds so that the most important information is easy to access. I have several folders that include feeds from the blogs of companies I wrote about at TechCrunch, news search feeds for those companies and other high priority topics. I refresh and check those folders frequently throughout the day. I keep everything else in low priority folders that I only check if I find the time. That way I end up reading 100% of what’s most important and probably 10% of what’s unimportant enough to miss.

Finding the right feeds is a whole topic in and of itself that I’ll save for another time, but I will say that it is very helpful to subscribe to feeds without a moment’s hesitation. As long as they are well organized, even a list of feeds that you almost never read will be more likely to catch your attention that something didn’t subscribe to in the first place. I also subscribe to a lot of news, blog and web searches that never have any results – but that I will want to see right away in the event that those searches do result in something.

High Priority Sources

The single most helpful tool for me in my efforts to blog about news events first has been an RSS to IM/SMS notification tool. I use Zaptxt to subscribe to very high priority feeds. It sends me an IM and SMS whenever a high-profile company blog is updated and in a number of other circomstances. There are quite a few services that offer this functionality now and it’s invaluable. A big part of taking a prominent position in the blogosphere is writing first on a topic. That’s a large part of what got me the job at TechCrunch and it’s something that an increasing number of people are clearly trying to do.

In sectors where people are already using tools like the above, I expect further developments to emerge that differentiate writers’ handling of the huge amount of information available. New tools and new practices. It’s a very exciting time to be someone who works with information.

Those practices described above are relatively simple but they worked well for me to get and do my job at TechCrunch. In six months of writing the majority of the posts there, I helped the site grow from 75,000 subscribers to almost twice that number at its peak last Tuesday. Over the last six months the blog has gone from the 9th most linked to blog on the web to now the 6th most linked to.

Michael Arrington is a larger than life person that clearly deserves the vast majority of the credit for the success that blog has had in the 18 months it’s been online, but I’m proud of my time there as well. I’m excited now to share what I’ve learned about working on the web and I hope you’ll join me here on this blog for that conversation. Drop me a line if you’re interested in doing some work together.