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A Whole Mess of Smartness – the Top 15 Tools for Finding Useful Information Online

OK, fancy folks might prefer “distributed intelligence.” But why worry about semantics? Gobs of knowledge exists out there about everything. It’s all available, often for free. Whether it’s asking experts on LinkedIn or tweeting tutors on Twitter, MIT’s OpenCourse or capturing context through Zemanta, the Interwebs put immense amounts of information at your fingertips. Here are 15 tools I use almost daily for keeping on top of the World Wide Web of information.

  1. RSS feeds. I couldn’t live without them. But getting through a few hundred feeds requires time – or tools that make it easy to sort, search, scan and skip. I particularly like NetNewsWire as my main newsreader, but also make heavy use of Google Reader. Why? Because of a cool trick Steve Rubel demonstrates to help you become a “knowledge management ninja.” It’s the single best way to stay on top of things.
  2. Twitter and Summize. Longtime readers know I think Twitter rocks. But what if you don’t have time to engage in conversation there every day? Or if you just need to know what’s buzzing there? That’s where Summize (now owned by Twitter) comes into play. Set up searches for terms you care about, subscribe to feeds for those results and you’re immediately in the know.
  3. Blog search feeds. Just as with Summize, I subscribe to a series of blog search feeds using IceRocket, Regator and Technorati. Plug in your favorite search terms, subscribe to the feeds and you’re off to the races.
  4. Wikipedia. While academics have mixed views of Wikipedia, it always offers a strong jumping off point to find detailed information. If the results leave you with more questions, explore the links within its footnotes for deeper context.
  5. Google. Um, yeah. You’re likely familiar.
  6. Flickr. Need an image? Check out Flickr. Seth Godin even suggests a cool tip for finding commercially useful photos on Flickr. For free. Cool beans.
  7. and No, I don’t know another word for “thesaurus.” But if one existed, you’d find it in these useful online guides.
  8. LinkedIn, Especially LinkedIn’s excellent Answers section. Sure, I use LinkedIn as an online Rolodex. But being able to ask people I know and trust and the people they know and trust for advice and opinions is an enormous benefit.
  9. and OK, it can’t be work all the time. These two reference tools help me find out not only who played the fearsome Yankees slugger Heywood in “Major League” (Peter Vuckovich), but whether he, too, was a “Wild Thing” (Vuckovich, in real life a Cy Young award-winning pitcher, threw 46 wild pitches in 11 seasons). See? Fun and useful.
  10. SEO tools. A big part of my job depends on sites showing up in search engines. 3 tools help make sure that happens: SEOmoz, Wordtracker and Google’s Keyword Tool. For real.
  11. Quantcast and Compete. Absolutely invaluable for inexpensive competitive research.
  12. Whether you prefer the old style URL or the new, Delicious makes for one tasty treat (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself). Lame jokes aside, after Google, it’s my personal favorite search engine. And, just like the Twitter and blog searches above, subscribe to RSS feeds for key tags and the search results come to you.
  13. News aggregators. Everyone has a favorite, whether Google News, Memeorandum , what-have-you. Me? I like Hacker News.
  14. The Economist. I don’t read too many magazines these days (something’s got to give). But I do read the Economist regularly to get its perspective on the world at large. Bonus: their online style guide is must-read for anyone developing style guides, especially for companies doing business around the world. And on the web, that’s everybody.
  15. You. Emails, tweets, comments, etc. all help me understand things more broadly and more deeply every day. I learn as much from the people around me (online and offline) as any other source.

Those are my top 15 tools. But, I’m sure I missed something useful. What helps you search, sort and scan the Web? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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