This is the second of four posts summarizing replies to the question I posed about how people cope with the vast amounts of information coming at them. In the first part, I described some strategies people use for managing information intake. This post will look at how people store information. The last two posts will cover separating inspiration from information, and the importance of making time to learn.
The reason to go looking for information is so that you find information. Once you’ve found it, though, how do you keep track of it, store it, or tag it so that you can retrieve it later when you want it? As a digital Cro Magnon, I can’t help feeling that I don’t really have it, unless it’s on my drive in some form, where I can access it whenever, regardless of connectivity. Call me old-fashioned… This leads to some strange behaviors on my part.
I do a lot of research and often find things online that might be useful someday, but not immediately. And the Web being a fickle medium, you can’t always rely on that article or review still being where it was six months or a year ago. So PDFs get downloaded and sucked into my Mendeley reference manager. It’s a fabulous way to organize your documents, and generate bibliographies. And it’s got some great social features I keep meaning to use but never do… For webpages, I tend to capture local copies using Readability to strip out all the chaff and leave me the content. That then gets turned into a PDF and goes into Mendeley with the original URL so I can get back to it if needed. Kate Haley-Goldman will put research or even researchy stuff in Zotero or Endnote. If it’s more personal she keeps it in Evernote. She keeps meaning to make better use of Mendeley, but…
What about links? Twitter provides me with the vast majority of leads to pertinent information. I tend to favorite links that look interesting so I can circle back to them when I have time and check them out. I also use Tweestream to archive all my tweets and give them back to me as a spreadsheet. I’ve never actually opened that archive, but knowing it’s there makes me feel better. Tweetstream also provides you with interesting metrics on your Twitter usage which I glance at, but rarely engage deeply with. If I was in business for myself, then knowing who’s retweeting my stuff most often might seem more urgent. Kate Haley Goldman marks things she finds interesting on Twitter and on rare occasions actually goes back and looks at batches of things she’s marked, bookmarking the pieces she’ll want to see again.
Nancy Proctor loves wikis. If you’ve looked at any of her work, you’ll wind up on one her wikis. She captures the #mtogo hashtag to the MuseumMobile wiki as her way of hanging onto information of interest. Bruce Wyman uses a third party service that listens to his Twitter feed and automatically captures any of his tweets with a URL into del.icio.us, so he has a permanent record of the things that he found interesting. And in general, his take on storing links seems to be broadly shared.
“As for general URLs and link mgmt tools (including del.icio.us), I rarely actually use them. MY general assumption is that if I need something again that it’s likely I can re-Google for it and saving links creates a cleanup headache and categorization activity that I just don’t have time for.”
Lori Phillips, obviously more of a digital native than me, keeps a separate Google Doc for each of her main areas of research interest, where she posts her thoughts, chunks from emails, and links to blogs and articles that relate to the concept. That way she can keep everything all in one place, and also direct co-workers to it when necessary.
Kathleen Tinworth uses Dropbox for most of her personal and consulting file storage and sharing. It’s not the most secure place, but it’s darned convenient. My lovely and talented wife also uses Dropbox a great deal with her school teacher colleagues, both a way to share documents effectively and to get around some of the shenanigans that public school IT departments make users go through in the name of “securityiness.” I’ve used both Dropbox and Box.net for consulting jobs and am sold on their utility, especially when there are big files, like floorplans or label proofs that need to be distributed. Being me, though, I of course download everything and maintain a separate copy of everything on my hard drive. Just in case.
An interesting practice that Kathleen brought up was using dication software for capturing ideas when you can’t write them down. When I first got my iPhone I used to take voice memos while I walked to and from work. It was great at first, but the act of going back and listening and transcribing them got to be a drag. Kathleen uses Dragon dictation. The free iPhone app is actually pretty decent and it’s a quick way to capture things in real-time.
Flickr. ‘Nuff said. Everyone uses it, it seems.
Next up, separating inspiration from information, and then some thoughts about making time to learn. Thanks to all of you who responded. I’m adding things to my repertoire!