Feed overload? Ditch the guilt, embrace serendipity

Here’s what my feed reader looks like right now.

I’ve lost track of how many RSS feeds I subscribe to in my feed reader — somewhere between 100 and 200, I’m guessing. But that doesn’t matter, because despite the volume it’s surprisingly manageable and rewarding. The secret, I’ve found, is to let go of any sense of obligation to keep up with all that content.

It’s simply impossible to keep up. There’s too much stuff published online every day — hell, every minute! Why feel pressured or guily about not being able to achieve an impossible ideal?

Here’s what I do…

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Twitter actually can be useful

Some of my Twitter friends who helped me this weekend. Thanks!

Lately I’ve gotten back into Twitter — the service that is strangely addictive, yet people often can’t clearly articulate why they use it. It seems to have struck the online community at a subconscious level, and is seeking a conscious purpose or rationalization.

I’m agahran on Twitter, if you want to follow me there.

Twitter — or any “microblogging” service that focuses on very short posts — is an odd medium. It takes some time and practice to get a sense of what works here. When you first start, it helps to just choose a bunch of people you know or are interested in to follow and get a sense of the different styles of posting.

Over the weekend, I found Twitter useful when I learned that my blog was hacked by a spammer. As I rushed to understand what happened and what I needed to do to fix the problem, I posted to Twitter about it. I quickly received several Tweets, private messages, and e-mails in response to what I was Twittering about — mostly from people offering helpful advice or context, or helping me diagnose the problem.

Yes, the comments posted to my blog were very helpful. But Twitter was also helpful.

In my feed reader, I’ve subscribed to a feed for all tweets from the people I follow on Twitter. I scan that usually every couple of hours, as I’m checking other things in my feed reader. (For me, that’s more efficient than jumping to the Twitter site.) There I’ve found some timely leads for items I’ve ended up covering in Contentious, E-Media Tidbits, and elsewhere. Also, I’ve been able to offer fast assistance to friends in need — just like they did for me.

That’s the thing about having a social network: It’s most useful if you’re available to each other. Twitter can create that availability, but in a manageable way.

I’ll write more about this later. But in the meantime, how have you found Twitter (or other microblogging tools, like Jaiku or Tumblr) useful? Please comment below.

(Oh, and I just enabled the Twitterfeed tool, which should post a tweet announcing each new Contentious post. We’ll see if it works… UPDATE: Yep, it works!)

Lijit search: Good start as a “me collector”

Lijit as a “me collector” — see it in action in my sidebar.

Yesterday I finally got around to implementing the Lijit search widget on this blog. I didn’t realize until I started playing around with the widget settings that this cool little tool actually goes a long way toward being the kind of “me collector” I’ve been wanting.

Over the summer I wrote a post, I want one place for all my content: Pipe dream?, where I bemoaned the fact that since most of my work is distributed across various sites, forums, services, and social networks, it sometimes is hard for me to find and retrieve my own work.

Lijit allows me to create a search box that works across any collection of sites and accounts that I specify. You can now see it in action on the top of this blog’s sidebar. I have Lijit set to search the archives not only of Contentious.com, but also content I’ve posted on several services (my accounts on Del.icio.us, Flickr, Furl, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). Furthermore, it’ll also search my other projects such as The Right Conversation, I, Reporter, Boulder Carbon Tax Tracker, and more. I’ve also included the group weblogs E-Media Tidbits and SEJ2007, to which I’ve posted considerable content — although search results will pull up other folks’ contributions to those sites. And I’ve included my feed from Co.mments, the comment-tracking service where I track conversations I’ve joined on other blogs. (There again, Lijit returns comments by others in those threads, but my stuff is definitely included).

So now I can more easily find all of my stuff — and so can anyone who uses that search widget. Just remember that when you use my Lijit search, “blog” refers only to content on Contentious.com, while “content” pulls from all those resources I mentioned.

Also, I can update, add, or delete resources for my Lijit search widget and not have to generate new code and copy it to my site. I update my profile on Lijit, and the widget starts pulling from my updates list of resources. Way cool. Less hassle for me.

Plus Lijit gives me interesting search stats, too. That’s all free.

My “me collector” dream is still not completely fulfilled, however…
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More Gmail space; still waiting for GTDinbox update

A month after Google announced it was going to increase free storage space for Gmail users by an unspecified amount, I’m still seeing the storage space in my account creep steadily upward.

For context, a month ago my account had about 2.9 G of space, with 59% of it used. As of this morning, I have just over 4.8 G of space, with only 38% of it used.

Pretty cool!Also recently Google unveiled its new version of Gmail. The update hit my account Thursday. I haven’t had a chance to play with it yet, because I rely on the GTDinbox Firefox plugin for task management, which isn’t compatible with the new Gmail. The makers of that great plugin are working on a Gmail-happy upgrade. So for now I’m still using the older version of Gmail. A new version of GTDinbox may be out this week.By the way, if you’re a fan of GTDinbox too, please do consider donating to support its development and maintenance. I just did. They work very hard on this free tool.

– Nov. 14: 4927 MB
– Nov. 15: 4852 MB, 37% used

Why blogging conferences is so damn hard

Think it’s easy blogging a blogging conference? Think again.

(UPDATE: If you’re reading this post in a feed reader, you may see a big block of spam below. Sorry about that — my blog has been hacked. I’m working to fix it.)

The thing about conferences is that, in my opinion, it’s really damn hard to both attend the conference and blog about it much — unless I go to the conference specifically to blog it. A lot of things get in the way.

Right now I’m at Blogworld Expo in Las Vegas, where yesterday my blogging ethics panel went very well (thanks to my excellent panelist and a very engaged audience). More about that panel later.

Here’s a quick rundown of my reasons (or excuses) why I have a hard time blogging at conferences, unless that’s my reason for being there…

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GTDinbox clashes with Gmail update

What’s happening with the GTDinbox upgrade? Watch the Productive Firefox blog.

Apparently, Gmail is undergoing a major upgrade, which is being rolled out to users. The upgrade hasn’t hit my account yet — but at least I’ll be spared a nasty shock when it does.

As I’ve mentioned before, I rely heavily on the GTDinbox Firefox add-on (which applies David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system functionality to Gmail) to manage my tasks and life. The Productive Firefox blog, by the creators of this tool, recently announced that GTDinbox doesn’t yet work with the new version of Gmail.

A new version of GTDinbox that will work with the new Gmail should be out soon — so if you haven’t yet started using this tool, you might want to wait for that. (Watch the Productive Firefox blog for the announcement.)

In the meantime, if you get hit with the Gmail upgrade, you can apparently select an option to use the older version of Gmail, so you can keep using GTDinbox until the new release is ready. Here’s the latest news on the progress of that upgrade.


How I Tweaked GTDinbox to Suit My Style

I absolutely adore this productivity tool. My stress level is way down, and I’m getting more done.

Now that I’ve been using it for a few months, I have to say that GTDinbox (a Firefox plugin that adds functionality for David Allen’s Getting Things Done productivity system to Gmail) has totally rocked my world. It’s definitely improved my productivity and reduced my stress level.

Admittedly, GTD has become a bit of a cult. It’s a benign cult, but some practitioners are absolutely rabid about it, or purists. That’s not me.

Right now, organizing my life and work via e-mail (actually Gmail) is a big enough step forward for me. I’m learning how to use this powerful tool well first before moving on to other aspects of the system.

Consequently, I’ve started tweaking GTDinbox so that it works with the way I think and the way my life goes. As I discovered at two tools-related workshops I gave in DC last weekend, a lot of people are interested in this particular tool.

Here’s a little video of how I use GTDinbox.

And here are the tweaks I’ve made that are helpful for me, and why I did them. They might not be right for all GTDinbox users, but consider them food for thought… Continue reading

How to blog without the time sink

Andrew Mason, via Flickr (CC license)
Yes, you can blog without all your time running down the drain.

Recently a colleague asked me a question that I hear from many people: “How can I blog without making it a time sink?”

It seems to me that the key to blogging efficiently is this: DO NOT treat it like writing an article or report. That is, make blogging part of your ongoing processes for research, notetaking, and communication.

A blog post is not (or at least, it shouldn’t be) a writing assignment you must prep for and deliver as a finished package. Let go of the idea that you must have everything nailed down, organized, and edited before you publish. (A tough one especially for writers and journalists, I know, but consider it a kind of experiment or Zen exercise.)

Here are some specific techniques to accomplish that mindset and habit switch…

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Gmail Mobile: My Dialup Lifeline

My inbox, seen through Gmail mobile. Lean and fast.

I’m spending the weekend relaxing up at my cabin near the Continental Divide. We only have dialup net access here. (Don’t razz me for getting online from here. I use my computer and e-mail for much more than just work!)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m pretty reliant on Gmail for my e-mail — and my e-mail helps me organize and manage my life and work. I like Gmail’s functionality and conversation-centered interface — plus I’m now completely hooked on the Firefox Gmail plugin GTDinbox.

Trouble is, Gmail is Ajax-heavy — and thus desperately slow to load and use over a dialup connection.

My solution? When I’m up here at the cabin I use the mobile version of Gmail. It’s totally bare-bones, but it’s good enough for quickly checking or searching my mail.

So if you’re on dialup occasionally or regularly, and you want to use an online service or site that’s desperately slow to load, see if they offer a mobile version. It might not have everything you want, but it might be good enough and much less tedious.

Oh, and also try changing your browser’s preferences so that you’re not automatically downloading images. That speeds things up, too. Less pretty, more practical.

And now, back to relaxing on the deck, in a cool summer breeze, with a glass of rich red Argentinian wine and a book of bizarre short stories by Vladimir Nabokov… Priorities, folks…


Shared Docs: Gateway Drug to Wikis?

Chris Carfi, via Flickr (CC license)
Wiki maven Liz Henry of SocialText.

At the unconference segment of BlogHer 2007 in Chicago, I sat in on a small-group discussion about wikis (sites that can be collaboratively edited either by a defined group, or by anyone at all).

The discussion was led by one of my favorite wiki mavens, Liz Henry of Socialtext. I was glad that this group included some total wiki newbies (even wikiphobes) as well as wiki fans. That diversity of view was useful because, I’ve found, the concept of a wiki is rather alien and even suspicious to many people. It’s hard to give up the idea of one person having control over a document.

One thing that emerged from this discussion is that most of the wiki newbies or wikiphobes did know, and had used, shared documents via services such as Google Docs or Zoho. That concept was less alien to them than a wiki because it utilized familiar document types (word processing, spreadsheet, etc.) and because it solved a common problem — the frustration of a team working on a document passed around by e-mail.

That got us thinking: If you’re trying to introduce a team or community to wikis to aid some sort of collaboration, and if you’re meeting resistance or low adoption rates for the wiki, try working first with a shared document. Once they get used to the idea of collaborating on a document (any document, really) via the Web, wikis start to look more appealing and make more sense.

What do you think of this approach? Have you tried it? Did it work or not? Please comment below.

(NOTE: I originally published this item on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.)