I HAVE THE CLUTTER GENE. I have to overcome its debilitating effects by maximising the use of information traps.
For years--years as a packrat--I measured my success by the pile of stuff I could save in corners of my life. I have now run out of physical corners because I have ceded the control of corner real estate to the rest of the family. During the first month of 2012, I will clean each of the 10 corners in our home where I have created rat's nests of paper and books. I will also clean out the digital corners of my collections.
I started culling my personal online collectives by reviewing my archival content and marking it for Pinboard and Evernote. That's a very healthy process but one that will submerge me in the quicksand of my digital existence if I do not simultanesouly manage personal information overload coursing from the time I spend connected online.
As 2012 rolls into its first short week, I'm well into the process of creating, maintaining, distilling and curating digital content. My success has started to grow as a direct function of the selective filters and information traps that I use every minute of the day to constantly monitor information I need to know. This is a bit of black art because as Donald Rumsfeld would expalin, "I don't know what I need to know." (See below for his seminal quote.)
I'm using a set of tools that may not work for everyone who reads my blog, primarily because some readers may not have access to personal technology that effectively leverages web services. I'm writing about my toolset because I'm interested in better results and in also getting a less expensive way of setting up and maintaining effective information traps.
Because of our unique and often radically different information requirements, there is not one-size-fits-all information trap. Instead, if you take the time to review how others are managing their information, you may be delighted at several innovative tools designed for selective use of niches of the internet you already use. You might be able to effectively listen to mailing lists, specialised discussion boards, and syndicated mainstream news without ever sitting on top of them and refreshing their flows manually. Ten years ago, I used software agents for this work inside Lotus Notes. Nowadays, I educate the notification systems in iOS, Android and Windows Phone to gently poke me with information I really need to know. But a critical operative credo remains: you must program your notifications with appropriate phrases, keywords and expressions if you expect to build a quality information trap.
After several years of thumbing through the ultimate primer on Getting Things Done, I realised that I was accepting happiness in merely setting tasks on my To Do Lists. I would action a task, set it on my calendar, watch the calendar alarm ring, open the item to be done, and push the task completion date further down the road. The GTD process itself was actually encouraging sytematic procrastination.
Then early in 2011, I discovered how to leverage notifications. I let Boxcar on iOS tell me things as they were happening and then merely read the Boxcar alert and did a simple task related to the alert. Without realising it, I was actually getting things done immediately after being notified. I took my mind out of the loop because I didn't have to think about anything except just doing the act specified in the Boxcar notification. I was effectively leveraging the ethos of minimal clicks.
Then late in 2011, I discovered If This Then That (“IFTTT”), and now I revel in a hybrid information trap that does a lot of heavy lifting. I have 17 IFTTT Channels with 1035 possible task combinations set up. IFTTT (I call it "Lift" with a silent L) works with triggers and actions in channels all glued together with clever web services. I already had a lot of channels set up and I'm getting robust service from them. I use my paid channels every day and now with IFTTT notification services, I often get critical actions triggered within 20 minutes of something happening in a far-flung place on the internet.
The "if" can be "I’m tagged in a photo on Facebook" or "someone mentions me on Twitter." The "that" can be "send me email" or "create a status update on Facebook." All the triggers and actions have to be channels supported on IFTTT. There is plenty of choice there and every fortnight, something new appears in the IFTTT channel structure. I watch this evolution on Google Plus as people share experiences online. I know that within minutes of me publishing this blog post, the folks at IFTTT.com will get an alert because they're watching mention of their brand across the universe. And Peter Beens won't be far behind.
Your triggers and actions are limited to the channels available on IFTTT, but there are more than enough to choose from to make the set up worth your time. I can have up to 20 active tasks set up and running at any given time.
I get my main meal ticket from a third level educational institution that will not flinch from an e-mail driven and Exchange Calendar system that supports hour-long meetings with biros. As much as I try to ignore email as the centre hub of my existence, I have to pay attention to some email message traffic on the same day that it is composed. A combination of Outlook rules and IFTTT triggers bring critical mail to my shirt pocket where they emit the sound of glass breaking. The alert often causes others to look up and wonder what's going on in my life.
I've also entrusted IFTTT to fly over vast continents of digital information with its autopilot engaged. When encountering useful digital stuff I would normally save for later review, IFTTT pushes the content up into a specific folder Evernote where I look at the content without any of its advertising.
Then during my coffee breaks, I swipe into Evernote on my Nokia Lumia and read what IFTTT has recommended. I use the Evernote client to tag and move the IFTTT recommendations in to other actionable folders. Some of the content becomes a blog post, some becomes part of my lecture notes, some form talking notes for my Audioboos and my YouTube clips.
While in Boxcar or Evernote, I can distribute the information via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. I could set up these processes to work automatically, but I don't transmit anything electronically that I have not vetted beforehand. I've watched others send out recommendations without looking downstream and I have seen the result when friends get fooled to download malware.
IFTTT works a charm for me because it respects the legacy content silos that I have built over time. It can handle strings of information from all four e-mail accounts that I have to maintain. It knows how to make my old skool Google Reader (handling more than 1200 RSS feeds without stuttering) more intelligent. It leverages the "sharing via email" functionality on iOS. It pre-tags and populates meaningful content into Evernote and Pinboard for me.
I also like how I can cross-pollinate to different folders and onto different sites through my automated information traps. I can email directly out from several screens and create a blog post, add an image with extended caption to Flickr, or tweet a link by addressing @MyEN so it gets archived into Twitter. Behind the scenes, Pinboard automatically harvests everything that I post to Twitter, including stuff I delete from Twitter.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I share a lot of information from my Delicious bookmark account. In fact, Twitter listens to Delicious/topgold and sends out the link it finds at the top of my collection once every 45 minutes. For that reason, I don't let IFTTT populate Delicious but I send some things from Pinboard or Evernote into Delicious where they're automatically shared.
I can get IFTTT to grab a post from Google Plus, send the G+ post to Facebook, and then send my Facebook post to Twitter but I don't want to post the same content in every place where people find me. If you want this functionality, you need to create an RSS feed from G+ that actually works and gplus-to-rss.appspot.com is a good starting point. Once you're set up, your G+ posts become RSS feeds that IFTTT harvests and republishes onto Facebook. You can pull your Facebook status across to Twitter through another IFTTT channel. I don't think the G+ API structure is solid enough to trust inside IFTTT but I suspect Google knows this is the kind of functionality that would attract another 200 million G+ subscribers.
If you've read this far, you're probably interested in sharing how IFTTT can work as an effective information trap for you. Please let me know how you get on. I'm sharing stories at the February CESI Meet in Ireland and during the ICT in Education Conference in Thurles in May. I'm making a Slideshare presentation for both of those events.
I recommend taking time to understand If This, Then That even if you don't use it because its logic pattern will improve your daily work.
Jason Neiffer gave me the idea for "information traps" in his excellent Slideshare presentation “Capture: Setting Up Traps to Organize Mountains of Information.”
Wesley Fryer shares brilliant ideas in Playing with Media: Simple Ideas for Powerful Sharing ASIN: B005EMLR88 including how to leverage Feedburner to burn categories of one blog for use as sidebar widget. This is an elegant way to share articles, images, keyframes and links. Wesley also shares how to leverage Posterous as a group blog.
I used to walk down the hallways where Rumsfeld said, "There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know." Today, I still haven't found what I'm looking for.