Web Workflows: Channeling the Flood
[Editor's note: We recently asked some of our Web-savviest contributors how they manage the daily deluge of online information. Wednesday, it was Senior Contributor Joe Kissell. Thursday, it was Senior Editor Christopher Breen. Today: Blogger Gina Trapani.]
For my job, I have to find, store, and share new stuff from the Web every day. To do that, I used to live and die by my feed reader. But these days, that's not enough; there's too much happening too quickly to keep up with it all even by RSS. And because I work from multiple computers as well as from my iPod touch and my smartphone, I also need to be able to sync all that information across devices.
I still keep track of sites I love with the free Google Reader. Because it's Web-based, my read and unread items are the same no matter what computer or device I'm using.
I keep three folders in Google Reader: one called Daily news for headlines from publications like the BBC, NY Times, and CNN; a second I labeled Cannot Miss for my absolute favorite blogs and feeds; and a third called Casual for blogs and sites that sometimes offer interesting information.
Right now, those three folders contain 65 feeds (down from a peak of 250 or so). One way I keep them under control: When my total unread count goes past 1000, I hit the Mark All As Read link on my Daily News and Casual folders to clear out the clutter and start fresh.
It used to be that the first thing I did each day was review those RSS feeds. But now I visit Twitter first. It's not just to see what my friends ate for breakfast. My watchful, link-loving friends on Twitter give me the news I need to know right off the bat.
I follow a diverse group, including folks whose interests parallel mine, others who are just plain interesting, and a few publications who push their headlines out to Twitter. These are my most trusted informants, my gateway to what's going on right this minute.
The only problem is that I'm following almost 400 people on Twitter, and that can get unwieldy. Luckily TweetDeck helps me filter and organize status updates. I keep a special Cannot Miss TweetDeck column for people whose status updates I don't want to float away down the river of news too quickly. Once I've checked out everything in that column, I scan my All Friends list for any other interesting news, links, or photos.
Sometimes I make special TweetDeck groups of people to track a specific topic. For example, I love the television show "So You Think You Can Dance", All the judges are on Twitter posting backstage photos and show announcements. When "SYTYCD" is airing, I keep a TweetDeck group just for people involved with the show.
Storing, sharing, syncing
I still need to have some Web pages that I don't want to share with the world--such as online banking sites, work-related intranet pages, and bookmarklets--quickly accessible at all times. Storing them in Firefox's bookmarks toolbar works well--until I'm using a different computer.
To make sure I have the same bookmarks in every browser I run, I use the free Xmarks browser extension, which is available for Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. Anytime I add or delete a bookmark in one browser, Xmarks syncs those changes back to the cloud. The next time I open a browser on one of may othermachines, my bookmarks list gets updated. On mobile devices, I can access my bookmarks by visiting my account at xmarks.com in my mobile browser.
Sometimes I run across interesting links that I want to check out, but don't have time to dig into right that moment. That's when I use Read It Later. Read It Later is a Firefox extension that adds a checkmark to the address bar. When I want to save a page for later, I just click on that checkmark. When I'm done reading it, I uncheck the mark and Read It Later removes it from the list. It also supports offline reading (for long flights), and syncs my list online, so I can read marked pages from my phone.
When I want to save some bit of online information for reference, I use Evernote. The free note-taking tool can capture any kind of input, such as voice notes or cameraphone shots of those back-of-napkin brainstorming scribbles. But it also comes with a Web-clipping browser add-on that makes saving Web content easy.
To share a link with my friends, I'll post it to Twitter, my Tumblr account, or my blog, depending on the kind of content and who I want to share it with. Twitter and Tumblr offer instant publishing with short and no-frills posting interfaces; if I've got more to say about the item, I'll write a full blog post about it.
Gina Trapani created and writes Smarterware.