A really useful piece of advice from Adam Tinworth about blogging is this: bring the inspiration or desire to blog as close as possible to actually blogging.
This sounds obvious, but over time all sorts of tools and steps in the process can get added. Consequently, I have an Evernote notebook full of links to blog about, and a Byword folder stacked with ideas and links I’ve not got round to writing up.
This IFTTT recipe is one attempt to overcome this. I’ve created it so that every time I bookmark on my Diigo with the tag “to_blog“, a draft post is created on my personal blog.
If you think it could work for you too, create an IFTTT.com account and give it a go.
If there is one online tool that I would recommend anyone who thinks for a living, it’s Diigo.
The new version of Diigo, launched a month or so ago is absolutely amazing. It’s worth noting the ways you can find value in it I think of these into levels. So I thought I’d write some thoughts and tips about this most important of my personal online tools…
Ways of thinking about Diigo (and Diigo-like tools)
Here are three themes I’ve been mulling about Diigo…
1. Immediate and emergent benefits: The way explain the value of online bookmarking services is to say they have enough immediate value to get you hooked long enough to appreciate the deeper or emergent value you can find in them. The immediate value is all about never having to lose or misplace a favorite or bookmark again. I have a record of all the websites, posts and articles I have found interesting about anything since about 2004.
2. Outsourcing memory: In Smarter Than You Think (which I highly recommend by the way) Clive Thompson talks about how humans have always outsourced memory to lighten their personal cognitive load:
In a sense, this is an ancient story. The “extended mind” theory of cognition argues that the reason humans are so intellectually dominant is that we’ve always outsourced bits of cognition, using tools to scaffold our thinking into ever-more-rarefied realms. Printed books amplified our memory.
Partners remember things for each other, groups rely on experts on topics to remember things, we have used notebooks, diaries and then mobile phones to remember dates, telephone numbers and other bits. These days we rely on Google to remember things a lot, but increasingly we want our personal databases to store stuff in – Evernote is of course amazing for this, but Diigo (and other bookmarking sites) allow us to remember in public. We can search our memory, our record of good information sources, then people who are interested in the same things.
3. Creating latent knowledge: When I wrote about social networks in Me and My Web Shadow, I wrote about the people further out in our social circles, people we may not have much to do with day to day but we are connected to on LinkedIn or Twitter as our latent contacts. We can call upon one another when there is a possible shared interest, because the social network has remembered the connection for us and made it easy to pick up the relationship again. The things I store in Diigo aren’t my knowledge – I’ve not read and re-read the information to make it mine yet, but I’m keeping it available, in my reachable network of relevant facts, data, connections, resources.
Useful things to do with Diigo
All my colleagues at Brilliant Noise now use Diigo to store and share useful links. We have started using it with some clients too – both as a practical tool and as a way of introducing concepts like digital and network literacy. This has made my own use more sophisticated, as I’m reminded of some of the service’s features.
Here’s some things I recommend trying…
Sharing research or noteworthy links in a group: People emailing each other interesting stories and links is nice, but an inefficient way of sharing. It adds to the email deluge and can mean that useful reading gets missed as it is culled along with other non-urgent messages. I recommend this: set up a group in Diigo, get everyone to save relevant links there and people can request a daily or weekly digest email of all the useful reading.
Browser extensions: When you are using a desktop browser, most will have an extension or app you can install so that a Diigo window will appear for saving, adding notes and tags. Makes it really fast and easy to save things you might want to refer to again some day.
The iOS browser. There’s a dedicated Diigo web browser for iPads which is kind of useful for bookmarking and reviewing (although with some fiddling you can add a bookmarklet to Safari or Chrome. (There’s an Android one too.)
Emailing in your bookmarks: Actually most mobile browsers are good for Diigo, but a new feature may be even easier – you can email links and tags to your library. Really simple and fast – which is how I like my reading/bookmarking workflows.
Highlighting. The feature that really sets Diigo apart from other services for me is the ability to highlight text. This makes reviewing research, even just for a blog post easier, as you can see all the bits you found most interesting without going into the original article again. (NB: there is a limit of 1000 free highlights per year, then you need to go Premium.)
Syncing with Delicious. I keep my Delicious account active, partly for sentimental reasons and partly just in case it gets good again. This used to be simple and straightforward, but then someone at Yahoo! cut the API cord and I have IFTTT automatically cross-post there for me. (Here’s my IFTTT recipe if you want to copy it for yourself).
Syncing with an Evernote Notebook. Another IFTTT trick I use is to assign a certain hashtag to a folder in my Evernote. This is useful for research projects – for instance I was preparing a weekly trends briefing on the retail sector for a client for a few months. Since I read a lot in my feeds and on Twitter that will be relevant for something like this I just add a tag specific to that project and when report writing day rolled around I simply opened up the folder and started pulling out the highlights and stories – I’d distributed the research part of the workflow across the whole week and was able to go straight into analysis mode when the time came. Here’s the IFTTT recipe for that too, if you want to try it and amend it to your own nefarious purposes…
The premium option. It has become clear in the slightly darker, post-Web 2.0 world, that if you really love something, it is a good idea to pay for it. So I’ve gone premium on Diigo, in part to support them but also to access a really cool feature – page caching. Diigo will cache pages that you bookmark so that if they are deleted or the links broken you will still have the useful information you wanted to keep handy. It’s $40 a year – which when it is as valuable to me as Diigo is, is amazing value
By the way – my Diigo profile is here if you want to have a look at what I’ve been reading. Let me know if you have any tips to share and add to those here.
Right now there’s a couple of workflow projects I’m tinkering with, in the hope of not just getting more done, but more of what I want done.
Leaving the the laptop at home
I haven’t managed to do it yet, but this is about trying to use my iPad as a laptop replacement. My backpack is ridiculously heavy, and while it is a small triumph of The North Face baggage engineering the temptation is always to fill all of the useful little pockets so that I am never without everything I might possibly need to establish a mobile office. Travelling light is definitely not my style.
ChangePlayBusiness was an unusual event, to say the least, living up to its promise to be an unconference. About 40 innovators and entrepreneurs gathered at the ICA to play a game about creating businesses, the playing of which included connecting with one another (there were a lot of interesting people) and meeting subject matter experts on everything from financing to marketing (which is where I came in).
My role was to deliver a “masterclass” on understanding and communicating with customers in a “changing economy”. I chose to interpret this as an opportunity to talk about businesses in the age of networks, in the age of complexity.
The slides are here for those (with the push/pull error reversed!) who attended the session:
This is a great video in which Howard Rheingold (using Screenr, an interesting Twitter screencasting tool) explains his process, his workflow, for gathering information and putting it to work (or turning information into knowledge as he says).
The simple five-minute walkthrough is very useful to me personally, as I am thinking about both how I process information / knowledge and how to define and explain these processes and the digital literacies involved to others. Howard teaches digital media at Stanford and urges his students to use these tools as part of their work – so he has some strong insights to offer (to say the least).
There is so much information out there, in Twitter streams, in Google, in Delicious, in email in Facebook, in the articles that we read online, that the challenges for knowledge workers are becoming acute, specifically:
Attention: How do you focus on relevant things and not get distracted by the endless fascinating things being discussed in your social networks. Or as Howard has explained it before, how do you learn to switch from diffuse attention, where you are open to your network’s inputs and focused attention where you hone in on the thinking and effort around a single task, such as writing a report or chapter of a book. (The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr expands on issues around how we pay attention online and in deep thinking/reading long-form text, by the way – more to come on this from soon.)
Creating value / knowledge: Twitter for example, is wonderful. But you could spend all your time playing the game that is Twitter, collecting and sharing links with your ever-expanding network without ever turning the links into working knowledge, adding your perspective.
Blogging, for me, is one tactic for refining information into knowledge in this way (which is partly why I get twitchy if I don’t write a post for a long time). The discipline of switching my attention to creating a post and not diving back into the Twitter stream hunting for new hits of exciting information, is a way of of re-stating what I have learned in my own words.
That act of writing, reporting and analysising (even briefly) that both really understanding what I am reading and connecting it with other ideas, creating my own perspective. Sometimes that perspective adds value in my network, sometimes it just helps me understand things better (usually you don’t know which it will be – usefulness in networks is hard to predict).
In the video, Howard talks about various stages in this example process of turning information into knowledge. How I heard them was…
Tuning his network to get useful information: His Twitter network is tuned to topics he is interested in (multiple topics might be focused with Twitter lists, of course) and he uses Twitter searches to find new inputs.
Collecting/curating information: Useful sources of information are stored as annotated bookmarks in his Diigo / Delicious databases.
Refining the information in his own databases:Devonthink, a desktop personal database,?is put to work to categorise and combine bookmarks and documents, snippets of information. He is making sense of it, turning links and articles into personal, working knowledge.
Turning the information into knowledge: Howard describes the whole process as being about turning information into knowledge. In this case, he is writing a book about attention (which I can’t wait to read) – the Devonthink data informs his writing in the Scrivener application (which helps authors combine notes and draft manuscript elements in a clever way).
We need to be aware of how our own workflow/thinking processes work, for the simple reason that they are new, evolving, emerging. There are no neat sets of productivity tools available with a training course – we hack together our personal collections of tools and behaviours (I don’t use Devonthink for instance, and have done no more than dabble in things like Diigo and Scrivener, that Howard mentions as key elements of his process) that work for us.
To keep working effectively we need to be able to critically reflect on our own behaviours and adjust them. With practice it gets easier to do this. I think of the stages of the process like a kind of graphic equaliser – I’ll tinker with the levels as I go along, but as I get better at it I know there are pre-set patterns that will work best for different types of work: writing a speech may require little collecting from the network, but a focus on refining the information I have already collected my Delicious and my blog, whereas writing my new book will require tuning my network, interrogating it for new data and connections.
: : Note to self: One useful exercise we might carry out to examine our own processes and practices would be to turn on a screencasting tool and capture how we browse and what we do with what we find.