Interconnecting your ecosystem
We often find information that has relevance to us at a later time, but being able to assess that and hold onto it can be problematic. The difficulty lies not only in methods and tools to easily keep it, but also in matching how and where we need to retrieve it. Do we search for this information, drop it in a folder, tag it for ease of future aggregation? Many of us use a variety of tools and services based on not only task types, but also information (or media) types.
In a previous column on information triage, I noted my preference for using Instapaper and Pinboard services because they can interconnect. Interconnection is where information tools and services begin to shine. We find information that has future use, or we want to review or consume it at a later point when we have more time and focus. Our tools or services have strengths for consuming, annotating, aggregating, searching and taking information across devices, archiving, etc., but few tools do more than one or two of those things well. That specialization helps map the tools and services to our needs and styles of work. But we also need many of those strengths across tools tied together.
Importance of integration
Services such as social bookmarking offer different features and functionalities, so selection of one is often a personal choice. But in our work environment, we use tools and services that do not have those capabilities due to work restrictions or because they have not kept up with current practices. This is where integration is important through plug-ins, bookmarklets (in Web browsers) or applications with built-in interconnections to other tools or services.
First, establish what service or tool will be the main repository for found information. When selecting a repository, look at how information is placed into it: Are there bookmarklets for browsers? Do other applications have connectors to it? Can you drag and drop things into it (if it is desktop-focused)? Can and how are things imported and exported in bulk? And how are things synced or available across your devices?
A lot of people use Evernote because it is available on many platforms and easily keeps things synced across various devices with native Evernote applications and Web service (mobile too). Other services are great choices as well, whether they are Web-based such as Diigo, Delicious or Pinboard, or application-based on the device. You may end up having more than one repository, which is fine. It is also important to establish and test exporting information out of the service and importing it into another, because services and tools may not be around forever.
After the repository is selected, it is good to sort out the information flows in your ecosystem. Where do you read information and consume media? Often it is in Web browsers, e-mail, productivity tools (MS Office and other services), or tablet or smartphone apps. Once you determine your consumption patterns, look at the tools and services used for consuming and find out if and how they interconnect and share to other services, to and from your repository in particular.
I like having a resource for reading longer pieces (Instapaper), archiving for search and aggregation of my annotations (Pinboard), managing images (Evernote) and searching within the documents (DEVONthink). Thinking through how you store, retrieve, sync and access the information later is important in selecting your services, as well as how they interconnect.
Make a routine
The workflows in your ecosystem should be as effortless as possible and, if possible, done with a click of a button or link (scripted if need be, but for most people that isn't the best option). Setting up interconnections might require plug-ins and/or adding account information. Try the interconnections to find out how they work for you. Check to see what metadata between services is transferred (my use of Instapaper for my longer and later reads interconnects with Pinboard, but I have to add annotations and tags to them and make those links public).
Lastly, it is important to use all of the steps in the ecosystem for a few weeks. Make them part of a routine. Many people find when they set up these systems, they are great at feeding one or two of them, but never get into a habit in the consumption and reuse stages. When they need information, it's not familiar or doesn't really work as needed.