For those who participated in my session at the JOSTI 2014 conference or in the discussion I led at the ISTE 2014 Mobile Mega Share, thank you and I hope the time you spent was valuable.
All of the references I used are linked on this page, along with background information and sources for continuing your learning. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions for future revisions, please contact me using any of the channels on my final slide, or through this form.
If you were not at either event and just stumbled across this page through recommendation or fortunes of The Google, welcome. Although this material is less valuable without the discussions, I hope you find something you can use.
How many of you get too much information every day? What do you mean by “too much”? As the book Too Much To Know by Ann Blair shows, the concept of “information overload” originated long before computers and networks.
…the perception of and complaints about overload are not unique to our period. Ancient, medieval, and early modern authors and authors working in non-Western contexts articulated similar concerns, notably about the overabundance of books and the frailty of human resources for mastering them (such as memory and time).
Blair’s book, a history of “pre-modern” information stress is very academic and may not be something you’d want to read cover to cover. But do listen to the discussion with the
Where does that information come from? For centuries, it came primarily in printed form, handwritten followed by printed on a press. Certainly there were stories told, lectures given, and events happening but until the relatively recent past, there was no way to record them. And until the past 10-15 years or so, no easy way to make them available to a large audience.author from NPR.
David Weinberger in his book Everything is Miscellaneous (highly recommended) discusses our ongoing efforts to create order out of chaos noting “The world started out miscellaneous but it didn’t stay that way, because we work so damn hard at straightening it up.” Today the world is still miscellaneous but we don’t need to create artificial organizational structures anymore.
Clay Shirky is another wise observer of how networks allow us to work and learn in new ways. His book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations is well worth a read.
Directly addressing the issue of information management, you may also enjoy his talk from the 2008 Web 2.0 Expo, “It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure.” The presentation is old by internet standards but he still makes some excellent points that are very valid six years later. Like his observation that “Too much information is not going away so the only solution is to learn to manage it.”
But what happens when the sources of information shift from paper to digital. In just the past twenty years, the sources and formats of data have expanded drastically. As a result we are producing data at an enormous rate. And our traditional classification systems are breaking down.
One life lesson I’ve learned: you can’t keep everything (although my basement looks like I’m trying to). So how do you filter all the data available to you in order to find the small bits of information you need? Where do you store it? How do you find it again? Information is of no use to anyone without filters.
Equally important, how do you quickly share the important bits of information with your family, friends, and colleagues (without turning into a spammer)? In fact, sharing with your network becomes part of your filtering system since they will have already sifted through the data to find you that nugget of information that may be of use to you.
As I mentioned, everyone needs to find a process for managing information that fits them, and a good set of tools to make it work. In the remainder of this page I’m going to tell you a little about mine. Take the parts you like and can use, ignore the rest.
However, there are a couple of pieces that are essential to everyone.
First, if you work with more than one device (as many of us do), your information must be stored in the cloud. It makes no sense having multiple copies on multiple devices. All of the tools and services I use do that.
Next, choose programs/apps that connect to as many other applications as possible. This is especially important when you are working on smart phones and tablets where your ability to move information around is more limited.
Finally, decide on a limited number of information sources and an even more limited number of places to send the information. The more complicated you make your system, the less likely it will work in the long term. Of course, your process will need tweaking over time, especially at the beginning but stay with it.
For me, the core information sources come from RSS feeds and Twitter. Both require you to choose the channels carefully and will take some work to find the right combination. Mostly start with recommendations from friends and don’t be afraid to delete a channel that doesn’t provide high quality information. A high ratio of signal to noise is how that’s usually put.
Other sources might include Google+, email, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites. Then there are those mad ideas from conversations and presentations that just might be useful so you’ll need a place to capture them, plus, of course, information still comes in the form of files, and even paper. Find a good digital scanner for that last category.
Once the information starts flowing from those sources, there really are only four places that it could go: short term storage, long term storage, immediately shared, or it gets ignored (about 90% of what comes in goes there).
Before getting into the specifics, there’s the issue of paid apps versus free ones. Most of the programs and services I recommend are not free, although some apps have free versions and the services have a starter level that’s often no charge.
However, I’m willing to pay to get better features than the equivalent free apps and to avoid the advertising that often comes with free these days. Also, I believe that paying companies for their work will make it more likely they will continue to support and improve the product. You can get everything in my basic tool kit for less than a week’s worth of high-priced caffeine at Starbucks, around $30. (Prices are accurate as of the date stamp on this page.)
That said, here’s a quick overview of the apps I use.
Evernote – This service and it’s many apps is at the core of my information management process. It has become my every day word processor, organizational tool, and all purpose storage locker. You can clip web pages into notes, forward email to it, store practically any document, and take pictures and record audio directly into a note. The Evernote service syncs with and can be accessed on any device you happen to be using. The website is very good but download the free software for Mac or Windows to get even more functionality. They also have free apps for iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone and possibly others, all of them free. The Evernote service itself is free for a basic account (which should be all you’ll need at the start) and $45/year for the pro account.
RSS is a technology created about fifteen years ago, ancient by web standards, but one that few people know about. It’s still widely used, however.
An RSS feed allows you to use an application or service to subscribe to information on the web. When that information is updated, the application or service will let you know. There are many ways this can be used; here are just a few.
Feedly – A free service for aggregating RSS feeds, including podcasts and videos. The website is very good and they offer free apps for iOS and Android that are a very good way to try out the service. Feedly also offers an annual Pro service for $45 that adds more features, like being able to search your feeds, but you probably won’t need it. But rather than go directly to the Feedly website, I use other apps to manage the streams.
RSS Apps – I have not found no one “best” app for every device so, on my Mac, I use ReadKit ($9.99 in the Mac App Store). For my iPhone I have Unread ($4.99), and Mr. Reader ($3.99) for my iPad.[/footnote]Unfortunately, neither makes a version for the other device.[/footnote] But look around. There are many other less expensive and free options for iOS, Android, Mac and Windows. Most work well with your Feedly account.
Twitter – Twitter is another major source of information for me and while their free app for Mac, iOS and Android is pretty good, I prefer the Tweetbot app for Mac ($19.99) and iPhone and iPad ($2.99 each). Not free, but very much worth the price. However, if you don’t want to spend the money or use Windows or Android, there are plenty of other options for every platform and many people like Tweetdeck, which is free web application from Twitter itself.
Instapaper – This is the service I use for short term storage. In addition to saving links for you, both the website and the app present the pages you’ve saved in a very clean, easy to read format, without ads and other distractions. They offer bookmarklets for every browser to save a page and are supported by dozens of app on mobile devices, including all of them above. For your mobile device, I highly recommend the Instapaper app ($3.99 for iPhone/iPad and Android) which gives you the option to download pages to read when not connected (like that long airline flight). The basic Instapaper account is free and they have a Pro account for $1 a month that offers more functionality but you probably won’t need it.
Delicious – This is the service I use for long term storage, mostly because it is well supported by other apps and services. The website works very well, especially when you install the extensions for almost every browser. They also have an app for the iPhone and iPad with the Android version promised soon. The account itself is free. Read through this tutorial for more information on using Delicious.
Flickr – You should also have a good place to store photographs, one that also works well on mobile devices. There are many image sharing sites but Flickr is the largest and has a good photo sharing communities. The account is free and offers 1tb (yes, terabyte!) of storage. Flickr’s app for iOS is very good, allowing you to both upload new photos and find the ones you have, as well as sharing them. If you need even more functionality on iPhone or iPad, I recommend the FlickStackr app ($1.99).
Vimeo – Although YouTube is the service almost everyone thinks of for video sharing, I like this smaller, less chaotic and more professional alternative. The basic service is free and, although there are limits (500mb of upload per week, only 10 videos per day, etc.), you probably won’t hit them unless you are very busy. They make sharing videos very simple and their free mobile app is excellent.
Dropbox – Even with all of these tools, you may still need a place to put files. While it doesn’t offer the most free space compared to the many similar services (2gb), Dropbox integrates with more applications than any of them. On your computer, download and install the free software that integrates well with the website. Their apps for iOS, Android, and Blackberry are also free. Box is a close second.