How to distill content curation for real impact

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How do you cope with the flood of information that swamps your inbox, blog reader, and mobile device every day?

How do you find and isolate all the good stuff, separate the wheat from the chaff, and use the information you’re receiving to actually move the needle?

Alembic distilleryThe same way that you get the good stuff out of crude oil, weak brews, and perfume herbs: distillation. If you slept through high school chemistry class (or were interested in an entirely different kind of chemistry, as many of my peers were), distillation is the process of heating a raw material to extract a chemical based on its boiling point, then condensing the distilled product separately. Cognac, for example, is distilled wine from high-quality ugni blanc grapes. It’s distilled twice in copper pots, then aged for two years before being sold for consumption.

The same process that works for cognac works for content curation. It’s not enough just to subscribe to a bunch of blogs and read a bunch of tweets, not if you want to take all of the information you receive daily and make it useful. Here’s the process I use on a daily and weekly basis; feel free to modify or adapt it for your own needs.

Reeder on the iPad

I start every day with my blog reader on the iPad. I’ve subscribed to about 2500 different blogs across a spectrum of topics, and each day I hit the main topic areas, such as economics, marketing, social media, development, etc. I skim through rapidly, looking for bits of information and data that catch my eye, read into articles that do, and then share them via Google Reader. I do this specifically on the iPad because it lets me focus better on just reading the news with no other distractions.

Google reader shared items

If that were all I did, I’d still be swamped with information, since I share 20-30 different articles a day, if not more. The first distillation pass is what I cull out for #the5 on Twitter every day. Of those 20-30 articles, which 5 of them are the most worth sharing? Some days, that’s easy. Some days, that’s a very tough call. But forcing myself to distill out only 5 different pieces of information makes me focus on the stuff that’s truly important to me, stuff that I’d want to really remember. One of my general rules of thumb for stuff in #the5 is that if I didn’t learn something, I don’t share it.

#the5 distilled

The second pass of distillation occurs weekly, as I prep each Tuesday night for a recording of Marketing Over Coffee. I actually subscribe to my own #the5 tweets as a separate RSS feed so that I can see just the most important articles of the week that I thought were good enough to share. I’ll star key items in that feed so that I have a very compact list of stuff that should be headline discussion topics and then bring those with me every Wednesday morning when John Wall and I record the show.

The final stage of distillation, the stage where I know something has got to be kept or else, is when I take distilled items out of this process and put them into reference tools like Evernote or Instapaper, ensuring that I have them on hand for when I need to reference them later.

This three-phase process wasn’t automatic or something immediately contrived. It just evolved that way as the amount of information thrown at me increased, and this was a handy way of filtering it down until only the gems were left. It’s probably not right for you and your information processing style, but I hope it gives you some ideas and inspires you to try multiple levels of content curation to distill out the things that you really need or want to remember and learn.

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


5 responses to “How to distill content curation for real impact”

  1.  Avatar

    Great post and routine. Where do I subscribe to the #the5 only feed?

    1. You can add this feed to your reader:

  2. Todd R Chandler Avatar
    Todd R Chandler

    What blog reader do you use?

  3. ChaseMcMichael Avatar

    Chris love the post and never thought about it being a distillation process but it is ! Very slick approach. Would value your insight into how we’re approaching content at each source to determine the short list based to publish based on social interaction. We have set up a few social news sites to give an example of how to curate based on trending and topic

    Do you think brands can curate this same way?


  4. connectyou Avatar


    Thanks for sharing your system. Mine is still evolving, so I appreciate the insight.

    I’ve come to prefer Workflowy over Evernote. Have you tried this?


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