Part of being a Web worker, an information junkie, or really anyone alive and with a curious bone in their body is figuring out how to manage all the inputs of information in our lives.
There’s more out there, more to know and learn, than we’d ever have time to actually consume and digest – that means we’ve got to figure out how to find what we want, deal with it properly, and ignore the rest.
Of all the systems I have and processes I use, my information system is both the most leak-proof and the one I’m most proud of. It involves a number of different websites and applications, various platforms and locations, and is obviously specific only to my particular situation.
Most of my requirements and needs, though, apply to many other people, and hopefully there’s something here for everyone.
What I Read
The things I read come on one of three forms: RSS, news, and social networks.
RSS are the blogs I want to stay updated on, the sites that I find constantly interesting. This is where I get the majority of the information that I actually find useful. My RSS feeds all get pumped into Google Reader, the best application I’ve ever seen for reading RSS – and I’ve tried more than a few. Reader lets me see which feeds I’m reading, and which I should get rid of, as well as easily letting me save, share, and comment on any article I choose. Using the tags in Reader, it’s almost like a bookmarking service in itself. I can also send pages directly to Read it Later, which is my default place for my “to-read” list – but I’ll get there in a minute.
News is, well…news. I do my best to stay current on the goings-on of my country and the world, which is a fairly enormous undertaking. Generally speaking, I hate newspaper websites – they’re poorly put together, difficult to navigate, and hard to read. So, I tend to use a couple of sites that are totally Web-based, even if they use old-media news sometimes – Newser and The Daily Beast. These are both better ways to read news, as well as having a good deal of their own material that’s a great read as well. I do still check the New York Times once a day, just to make sure I’m getting everything.
Social Networks are the critical place to find memes, popular applications and articles, and tons of other stuff that runs the gamut between unbelievably interesting and horribly useless. Personally, I check four social networks every day: Digg and Reddit, which are the two biggies of social news; PopURLs, which aggregates the most popular stuff from a huge number of sources; and Tweetmeme, which tracks the stories that are tweeted most on Twitter.
It’s a lot of reading, but there’s a lot of great stuff out there to read. That’s one of the things I love about the Web – the only limit on what you can find is the time you’ve got to find it.
Other than the ones mentioned above, there are a few applications I find myself using constantly in an effort to stay updated, and stay informed, as well as always keeping a reading list with me wherever I go.
Read it Later – This one’s the biggest deal of all the applications I use for managing things to read. Initially, it’s a Firefox extension. Any page I’m on that I want to save for later, all I have to do is hit a check mark, and the page gets saved for me to access later, when I have time to read.. The extension also plugs into Google Reader, making it easy to save pages directly from Reader into RiL. Then there’s the iPhone application, that can do three great things: read everything I’ve checked, add new stuff from Safari on the iPhone, and even download them all to read them offline. It’s simple, fast, free, and the best way to build and maintain a reading list.
Instapaper – Despite the fact that Read it Later has largely replaced it, Instapaper is a fantastic source for online and offline reading. It’s lightweight and simple, not even requiring you to set a password if you don’t want to. It stores everything, and each item can be viewed in a Web or text-only version. I find this one much better than Read it Later for long-form reading, and still use it frequently. There’s also a free iPhone app, and a set of bookmarklets for the iPhone – meaning you can save pages to Instapaper even when you’re mobile.
TweetDeck/Tiny Twitter – I couldn’t think of another place to mention this one, so I figured this was as good as any, because Twitter is increasingly a huge source of the incoming information in my life. When I’m at my computer, odds are good TweetDeck is open. It allows me to group my Twitter friends, so I can be sure not to miss important ones. It’s easy to tweet, easy to manage followers and friends, and is generally fun and simple to use – especially since it was updated with a memory lag fixed. I’ve started using TwitterGadget for Gmail more and more, but I don’t think it can replace TweetDeck for me yet.
When I’m out (“out” includes my iPod Touch and my Windows Mobile phone), I’m using Tiny Twitter. It’s a dead-simple application that doesn’t do a whole lot – it just lets me read my tweets, easily see tweets directed at me, and send my own tweets. There’s not much more to it, and sometimes I wish there were a better app; for now, though, it works just fine.
Managing all the incoming information is one of the constant struggles for anyone who spends time on the Web. Everyone does it differently, but using the tools and tricks above, I’m in pretty good shape.
How do you manage information online?
Photo: Metropol 21