Taming online information overload

by | 15 Apr, 2019 | 1 comment

This is a guide through my experiences in bookmark and online information management. I have captured, sorted and archived material with a variety of tools over the years. Some of these tools might also be useful to you in your quest for infotopia.

Bookmark management

My quest for infotopia all started with the Del.icious bookmarks platform sometime back in the 2000’s. Bookmarks (or favourites) at that time were stuck in your web browser in a folder structure. Del.icious enabled me to sort, tag and share bookmarks in a, well… deliciously accessible way. Suddenly I was able to collaborate on bookmark collections with my colleagues.

Pinboard is what became of Del.icious, but there is a subscription fee. In a revealing description of my own preferences, Pinboard is described as, “a bookmarking website for introverted people in a hurry. The focus of the site is less on socializing, and more on speed and utility.” Raindrop.io is a new bookmark manager, like Pinboard, but bolder and more attractive (and not just for extroverts). Raindrop has a reasonably useful freemium mode.

Until recently I was using Diigo to manage and distribute bookmarked articles. It is still a great choice for cloud-based collaborative bookmark management in teaching. Diigo comes with a plethora of capture, organising, searching and sharing features that can fit into the workflow of researchers, teachers and students. It is easy to publish to an embedded Diigo widget on UTSOnline, Canvas, a web page or an RSS feed.

I used InstaPaper for a while, when I read articles offline, away from a wifi connection (a similar tool is Pocket). This was in the early days of the iPhone and when mobile data charges were steep. Reading on mobile devices is much less of a problem now with faster, cheaper mobile data charges and hi-res screens better suited to reading. The main trick apps like InstaPaper perform is to convert hard-to-read microscopic text on websites obscured by advertising into an optimal, offline, distraction free reading format. InstaPaper includes ways to sort, search and share articles.

Pinterest is something I have treated in the past like a book mark manager, but unfortunately the image-centric approach didn’t suit me. Pinterest helps you capture, categorise, and tag online ‘nuggets’ of inspiration. It is a good choice for people who collect online material of a visual nature (in design, architecture and media for example). Pinterest helps you discover more stuff related to your interests, but the ‘candy-store’ approach might distract from your task at hand.

I divide my ‘book-markable’ and collectable things across two categories based on context, content type and purpose: web services and utilities, or articles and artefacts.

 

Web services and utilities

Web services and utilities are the things you need to access regularly, quickly and easily. Typically, these are links you need to run your personal life (banking, booking, buying etc.) as well as what you need to get through your work day (UTS services, facilities and systems). They are restricted to the web browser bookmarks (or favourites) bar where basic naming, ordering and grouping is all you can do. These bookmarks are for items you need to access regularly, not a dumping ground for everything you find. Browser bookmarks can also synchronise across all your personal devices in the cloud for anywhere/anytime access if you activate that feature. Your bookmarks are also quietly backed up as part of any other backup process you have in place.

A password manager is an essential tool in my online world. Like me, you probably have a need to safely store and recall secure passwords for countless web services and intranet systems. A good password manager works on all devices and integrates with your web browser to automatically fill in login credentials and is synchronised on all your devices. Some password managers can be used to store notes and other sensitive information in an encrypted vault in the cloud – great when you are travelling. While web browsers offer to store your passwords and credit card details for you, I prefer to keep my most sensitive details separate. I can’t endorse any specific tool or approach, but there is UTS reference on security awareness and password security.

 

Articles and artefacts

Articles and artefacts divide further in two types: ephemeral items you want to share or read later (but not keep) and things you collect and store long-term for research and curation purposes.

Feedly and Flipboard are currently my favourite ways to scan online news, twitter feeds and blog posts. When I find something worth sharing, I can email or post the item to my UTS colleagues in Microsoft Teams. Both Feedly and Flipboard aggregate material in a format that I can flip through on my iPad on the train and synchronise across devices. Feedly has a host of capture, collaboration and sharing options – its paid upgrade features are tempting. Flipboard formats articles more like a glossy magazine.

What if you need to keep a research paper grouped with related documents and media. What if you need to link the files to their original source online and store them alongside an appropriate UTS citation format. For this you might want to use a personal information manager (PIM). The PIM I use is DevonThink – a database with a magic front end designed for storing, retrieving, sorting, tagging, associating, linking and viewing whatever you put into it. DevonThink and Scrivener (for writing) were the dynamic duo in my own doctoral research. Scrivener could be used alone as both a PIM and writing tool combined. Both DevonThink and Scrivener have mobile apps so that you can carry a simplified and synchronised copy of your library around.

I need to mention Evernote in the PIM category. Despite its handy tricks and promise to help organise my online life on the go and at my desk, the freemium offering was unworkable for me and the subscription pricing too high (call me stingy). Evernote now offers much more since when I first tried it to organise my web clippings and it might be worth another try.

Citation tools or reference managers like Endnote, RefWorks and Mendeley can also be manipulated into being simple PIMs. They are much better suited though to managing library references, books, journals, articles and blogs with notes. Researchers may find these kind of tools adequate, but I find them too limited on their own. Endnote provides a synchronised cloud version of your reference library for access on the road. Endnote is free for UTS staff and students.

 

Not interested in fancy apps?

Without dedicated apps, you can manage web links, notes and clippings with the simple text and note taking apps already on your devices. Cloud storage services like iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive might provide all the collaboration, synchronisation and backup features you and your students need. As long as you can sort, group, search and access your notes anywhere you have a basic information management system.

Also handy are the filtering and organisational capabilities of your email client. Often we get useful links and references from friends and colleagues, but eventually these can get lost in the hundreds of emails. Unless you remember a particular unique word, searching for these months later becomes difficult. In Apple Mail there are ‘smart mailboxes’ and ‘rules’ to help you categorise and group messages. In Outlook there are similar tools: rules, categories and quick steps. I actually take my email organisation further in Apple mail by using an additional plugin for grouping, tagging, labelling and more.

 

Contribute your tips

I have shared just a few of the tools and tips I am familiar with to help manage bookmarks and online information. How do you manage your online information needs? Do you have any handy tips to share? Post your comments below.

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Francois

    Addendum: While I am not recommending software, I discovered this app that promises to help you find stuff you visited online, but I assume, forgot to bookmark. Its a worthy concept.
    History Search — Quickly find anything you did online
    https://historysearch.com/

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