Web Workflows: Don't Waste Time

[Editor's note: These days, we're all trying to keep up with a daily deluge of online information. That requires several discrete tasks: Checking to see what's new on sites you already know and like; discovering new sites or interesting posts from sites you don't follow regularly; and sharing, storing, and syncing links.

We all have our own ways of managing that online flood. There are plenty of tools (browsers, RSS news readers, social networking sites, and so on) to help, and a seemingly infinite number of ways to use them. We call those tools and techniques Web workflows. We asked some of our Web-savviest contributors to tell us about theirs. First up: Senior Contributor Joe Kissell.]

After years of experimenting with different techniques for organizing my Web workflow, I've settled on a method that may best be described as parsimonious. There may be an unlimited number of interesting and useful sites out there, but my time and attention are finite. So I interact with the Web in a way that gives me the information I need quickly and efficiently, and minimizes unnecessary distractions.

Reading

My daily routine begins with NetNewsWire ( Macworld rated 5 out of 5 mice ), my preferred RSS reader. I find it easier to follow frequently updated blogs and news-oriented sites via RSS, because I can quickly scan dozens or hundreds of headlines and then pause to read just the articles that interest me, without browsing all those sites individually. After I read the stories I want, I mark the rest as read (Command-k) so I don't waste time scanning them again.

I also have NetNewsWire on my iPhone (which syncs with the Mac version), I can keep up with the latest news while on the go, and avoid reviewing the same headlines more than once. Even so, I've reduced the number of feeds I follow from hundreds to about 50--the ones that offer the best signal-to-noise ratio. I add feeds only when I feel confident they'll be worth my time, and I regularly prune my list to remove feeds that provide little useful information.

For Web content that doesn't lend itself to RSS feeds, and for unenlightened sites that still don't offer the full text of their articles via RSS, I still keep a bookmark folder in Safari's bookmarks bar. Once or twice a day, I Command-click the folder name to open all of the bookmarks in that folder in their own tabs; I then methodically make my way through each site. Again, I keep this list as short as I can; right now, I have about 15 bookmarks in that Top Sites folder. If I discover a site I need to keep track of for just a few days, I'll add it to the list temporarily; if I find a more-efficient way to get that site's information, I'll remove it from the list.

Discovering

Because I don't have much time for recreational Web surfing, the only time I actively look for new sites is when I'm doing research for a project. That said, I do occasionally click links posted by the people I follow on Twitter.

Storing, sharing, syncing

I once had a vast collection of bookmarks, but the number has steadily decreased as I've realized that it's usually just as easy to find a site again with a quick Web search. However, for any site I visit at least once a week, or if I'm not confident I'll be able to find it quickly later, I still save a bookmark.

I keep these few bookmarks grouped by category, mostly on my bookmarks bar, for easy reference. Because I use MobileMe, my Safari bookmarks sync automatically with my other Macs and with my iPhone, so I always have access to the same information no matter where I am.

In other cases, I don't particularly care about saving a URL, but I do want to know if a site changes. For example, a company may have mentioned that they'll be releasing a new version of some product at some time in the next few months. Rather than check their Web site every day or sign up for a newsletter, I use the free WatchThatPage.com service to monitor the product's main Web page. All I do is click a bookmarklet to add the page to my watch list; that done, I'll then get an automatic email message when anything there changes.

If I'm researching a specific topic, such as which oven to buy or all the utilities in a certain category for a Macworld article, I generally do a series of Web searches, Command-clicking each link of potential interest to open it in a new background tab. After reviewing all my tabs and pruning those that didn't meet my needs, I use Safari's Bookmarks: Add Bookmarks for These Tabs command to create a new folder with bookmarks for all the open sites. That way I can pick up my research project again at any time. When I'm finished, I simply delete that whole folder.

Occasionally, though, I want to be sure I have permanent access to all the text on a page--even if the page's content changes, the site disappears, or my Internet connection goes down. For that, I've found unpaginated PDFs work best. To save a Web page in this format in DevonThink Pro Office (my preferred snippet-keeper), I use the bookmarklet provided by Devon Technologies. One click and the Web page is saved directly in my DevonThink database.

Finally, when it comes to sharing interesting sites I find with other people, I do it the old-fashioned way: I e-mail a link. But I'm extremely selective about which links I send and who I send them to; I'd never want to be accused of cluttering someone's inbox.

Senior Contributor Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and author of numerous e-books about OS X.

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