Turning phatic fumes into golden nuggets
It's pretty easy to think of social Web services such as Twitter and Facebook as simple, meaningless chatter. The small, phatic ramblings ("I had a cheese sandwich. It was good.") mostly have little value. But sometimes personal value can be harvested in not only what others are saying, but also in what we are sharing. And sometimes those little nothings, through contextual alchemy, turn into valuable nuggets. The key is to capture what is of interest and add snippets of value to help them be more retrievable.
The first thing we should do is to interconnect our services. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instapaper, news readers and more can hold slivers of varying value floating through them. Through Pinboard.in or Trunk.ly, for example, we can point to Twitter or other information streams and have them monitor selected things we share, mark or follow up.
For now, let's focus on Pinboard.in with paid archival accounts ($25). It does a good job of capturing the information in the flows we desire (but doesn't yet do so across all services). A paid account provides a fully searchable version of all of the links it finds and is fed, as well as the ability to tag and annotate all things it is fed or finds. The paid archival plan stores a full version of what we bookmark or it finds in our feeds to it, so that we have it for future use (should the Web lose track of that version). It makes the text in it fully searchable within Pinboard. That full-text search moves beyond simple tagging services, much like the added value of Evernote search.
I find a couple of things in this flow quite valuable. All links Pinboard finds are extracted and archived. Many of the things that Pinboard connects are links to Web pages already or are pages themselves. Second, it shines at connecting them, through authentication, to my main Twitter account. (Pinboard allows connecting up to three Twitter accounts and will also archive the Twitter-limited 3,000 or so most recent tweets.) Pinboard not only captures all tweets from now forward and stores them, as well as items I "favorite" within Twitter, it lets us turn any link in any of our tweets or retweets into a Pinboard bookmark and offers the same option for items favorited.
Full-text archival of things I share or reshare in Twitter and favorite has created a much greater value for me both for Pinboard and for Twitter itself. By being conscious that anything I favorite or share will be pulled into Pinboard, I share more into Twitter knowing that added value is sitting behind it.
Further value is the ability to contextualize information flowing through the phatic streams. With a little bit of contextual understanding, I can take "I had a cheese sandwich. It was good." and add value knowing that the person who tweeted that nothingness was eating at a food stall in Borough Market in London. I can favorite it and then add context in Pinboard with tags: food, restaurant, London, England, Borough Market. That small step will enable me to retrieve the recollection of a good cheese sandwich the next time I am in London and a bit hungry. Pinboard has a decent mobile interface to its service, so I have access to food recommendations that I have contextualized in my pocket.
Adding context to what can be noise can take some time, but given 15 to 30 minutes a week, I'll open my Pinboard Twitter favorites and add tags to those from important sources, thereby giving golden context to them. Imagine taking those small pieces and turning them into gems for work, writing or travel.