We spend a lot of effort online trying to get our message out; publishing newsletters, posting on Facebook and Twitter and generally trying to get other people’s attention. However, the Internet is just as valuable for the information you can take in. The trouble is that it can be like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. How can you find high quality information about subjects that matter to you, that doesn’t waste what little time you have available?
I have always enjoyed finding and sharing interesting and entertaining stuff with others. In my college years, I worked at the campus radio station (KAOS – the best call letters ever) playing music that I liked and chatting about it to the 50 or so people who were probably listening. In our current Age of Too Much Information™, there are lots of people sharing great stuff about topics that we care about, if only we can find it.
I want to share with you a few of the tools that I use to generate lists of material that I find useful, from people that I respect and trust. You can use them yourself to create timely collections of articles that are full of information relevant to your specific interests. All of these tools are free because, well, I’m cheap. Some have paid upgrades but they are not required.
Twitter is the ultimate fire hose. Tweets go rushing by in 140 character chunks at mind numbing speed. And yet, perhaps because of their space limitations, tweets often include links to excellent sites, blog posts and articles. If you’ve chosen the people you follow well (a subject for another post), you can find a wealth of valuable information. But how do you capture it?
Sort the people you follow into lists (see Using Twitter Lists) that you can review at your leisure. My lists include Local (for following people near me), Product Updates (for following products that I use), Technology, Politics/Culture and Social Media.
Paper.li is an automated service that creates an online “newspaper” from sources that you provide and one of those sources can be (ta-da!) your Twitter feed. Give it your Twitter info and it will create a nicely formatted and categorized paper full of links from the most popular tweets of the people whom you follow. My personal paper, the Smart Stuff Daily, publishes every morning at 6 am and I read it on my tablet while I’m eating breakfast. It is the source for most of my social media posts and a great learning tool.
With a little more work, you can filter the content of the links in your paper to a particular subject or region. I also publish a paper called Mother Lode Notes, which includes stories from my local area and topics of interest to rural business people. Hint: this paper draws heavily from the people I follow on my “local” Twitter list.
You can actually substitute any RSS feed reader for Feedly but I like them because they took up the RSS cause when Google Reader shut down in 2013. If you’re not familiar with the concept, feed readers allow you to capture blog posts to read later, either within the reader or through a link to the original post. Every time the website is updated, the new content is picked up by the feed reader. Though most people don’t realize it, RSS feeds are everywhere (RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication), allowing website content to be shared with other sites and services. All WordPress sites have RSS baked in and automatically enabled.
Once you set up an account on Feedly, there are a couple of ways to getting it to follow your favorite sites. The first is to go to Feedly, click the “Add Content” link and enter the title or URL of the site you want to follow. Feedly will discover the RSS feed and add it to your list of sites. I suggest that you create categories within Feedly and sort your sites into them for easier reading.
The other method takes a little more setup but allows you to add a new site to Feedly from within any website, similar to bookmarking it. Add to Feedly for Chrome adds a button to easily subscribe. Firefox users can use RSS Handler for Feedler to add Feedly to Firefox’s subscribe button. Unfortunately, this option is not available for Internet Explorer.
As Feedly pulls in articles from your favorite blogs, you can see which ones are new and unread. For those of you who start to feel anxious when you have accumulated a long list of unread stories, remember that this is not a competition. Feel free to use the “mark all as read” button to clear everything out and start again with a clean slate.
Much of the content that you’ll find using these tools is impermanent. There are no back issues of Paper.li and once a Feedly item has been marked “read”, it disappears. You’ll want some way to archive the links that you want to return to and Diigo is the tool I use. Diigo is essentially a list of your bookmarks in the cloud. Each entry can be tagged with one or more searchable keywords, so that you can find it again later. You can also share these bookmarks, if you wish. Diigo has other features, including annotation, highlighting and sticky notes, as well as a premium version. I just use it for bookmarking.
Enjoy and share your personal library
There is so much thoughtful and informative material online that it’s a shame to waste time with all the cruft. Using tools like these gives you control over an amazing range of information, on any topic you can imagine. In appreciation of the people who put so much time and effort into creating and sharing their knowledge, I hope that you will consider passing it on to others who would appreciate it.
Card catalog photo by Ted Eytan