Getting the News — Anil Dash

(This post is the fifth in’s ongoing series, “Getting the News.” In our efforts to understand everything about social news, we’re reaching out to writers and thinkers we like to ask them how they get their daily news. Read the first post here. See all of the posts here.)

This week, we interviewed Anil Dash, founder of Expert Labs, co-founder of Activate, and publisher of Anil is a social media master, constantly looking for new solutions to global problems through media interaction. He’s both hilarious and thoughtful at his Twitter account, @anildash. He’s also an adviser to several startups and a United Nations Social Media Envoy. With all of this experience and insight, why wouldn’t we want to know how he reads the news?

1. Describe how you get news throughout the day. What’s the first thing you check when you wake up?

I have a fairly baroque set of news-gathering rituals, most of which formed in the early days of blogging, especially when I used to maintain a link blog. These days the newest parts of my reading habit are that I check my Twitter and Facebook streams (of course), then go into, which is a site my friend Jason Kottke (of made, which tracks what content my friends have favorited across Twitter, Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube and other sites.

I also go into ThinkUp, the open-source app that our team at Expert Labs leads the development of, and it has a view that shows me links posted by my friends on Twitter. Finally, I check out things I meant to catch up on that I’ve saved in Readability to revisit later. I also get a lot of stuff emailed to me or sent by friends via instant messenger or direct messages throughout the day.

2. What publications or news sources do you read and trust? How frequently do you visit them throughout the day?

These days, my affinity is more for sources of curation than for particular publications, but I trust friends like Jason Kottke’s or John Gruber’s Daring Fireball or Andy Baio’s to curate a lot of what I’m interested in. I tend to check Google Reader infrequently these days, and always love diving in to the Ask MetaFilter Q&A section of MetaFilter. Each of those is a daily visit, and it’s telling that most of those have been around for a decade.

3. What platforms do you read/get content on? Are you into reading content on your iPhone or tablet, or do you still remember how to unfold a newspaper? Do you ever watch television news programs?

I read a *lot* on my iPhone, which is why I’m so gung-ho on Readability. I almost never read print anymore, which is amazing because I remember when I started my first company I would constantly be going to the newsstand because I read two or more magazines every day, along with the newspaper. I of course am reading in the browser all day every day, and try to consume as much as I have time for, and I do own an iPad, but that’s mostly just used to check in on Mixel and Words with Friends before I go to sleep.

I hate, hate, hate television news. Hate it. I stopped watching it entirely after 9/11 and hadn’t turned it back on for more than a year after that for any reason. Even now it makes me frustrated and angry and annoyed, even just in the short doses I get when I’m passing through an airport or whatever. I think it’s generally irresponsible and destructive to society.

4. What was the last great article you read? How did you find out about it? Is this your typical pattern?

This is a *wonderful* question! It’s hard for me to say what the last great article was that I read — I see so many! But I can pick an example, Jamie Zawinski’s rant about venture capitalists and his words being used to justify overwork.

I know jwz a little bit, but mostly know him through having read his blog and LiveJournal for more than a decade. When this piece came out, I felt like I saw it everywhere at once — on Facebook and Twitter (and thus Stellar) immediately from a number of my friends, via IM and DM from people who knew it’d be of interest to me, in my Google Reader from people sharing it, on TechMeme for the rare times I check that site, and linked in several other blog posts. I am still very biased towards getting information through the filter of blogs I trust, so the sudden pervasiveness of that piece really exemplified how great personal blogs can have outsized impact.

5. Is anything missing from your news consumption pattern now or in the tools/sites that you use? Anything you wish you had?

There is still so much to do. I think almost every major news site is dropping the ball on community, allowing all kinds of misbehavior and animosity in their comments while doing little or nothing to encourage the formation of real communities of interest. In blogs, I see a lot of stagnation and complacency as formerly great bloggers pour their ideas into abbreviated messages on social networks that they don’t own, instead of investing in creating content that will have a long, meaningful life which inspires conversations.

The tools are still primitive — we don’t enable sharing by default in contexts where it *could* be useful. While I love (and happily paid for) Pinboard, I also like the Delicious model where sharing bookmarks is something social. I think the transition of many users from Flickr to Instagram is costing us a lot in terms of a shared and relatively open context for connecting around photos. At the same time, mislabeled efforts like Facebook’s “frictionless sharing” (which actually *adds* a lot of friction to sharing) are complicating the simple experience of sharing web links, by polluting it with the installation of unnecessary apps. That’s going to yield terrible long-term effects on the willingness and interest that people have in exploring new content on the web.

In short, the tools need to be more social, but in an authentic and open, uncontrolled way. We’ve traded gatekeepers that sell us irresponsible news (like broadcast TV news) for gatekeepers that sell us to advertisers while allowing community to degenerate to the lowest common denominator (as with Facebook or YouTube). I think there can be a better way, and I’m hoping and others play a part in it.

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  7. measuredvoice reblogged this from anil and added:
    Excellent analysis. There is a better way, and it will emerge as social software becomes more sophisticated. For our...
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    5. is anything missing from your news consumption pattern now or in the tools/sites that you use? anything you wish you...
  11. joshuanguyen reblogged this from newsme and added:
    Lots of stuff to think about from this interview.
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    "In short, the tools need to be more social, but in an authentic and open, uncontrolled way. We’ve traded gatekeepers...
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