Do not miss important information – do not store excess

Author: Ury Smirnov. Category: processing of information. Date:29.05.2009, 13:59.

We have already discussed the costs, which results in the habit of working with the information to rely only on an Internet search: repeated search of specific information is much more expensive than its storage. However, the reverse approach is also fraught with the loss of time, if push in your knowledge base everything you hooked – without a clear understanding of how you will use it in the future – pretty soon you can not remember any particular text, for which efforts should be spent on backups of base.

Let’s try to look for a “middle ground” – and “construct” the technique of working with information that is based on the principle: “Do not miss anything important – do not store anything excess.”

We need:

  • to register in on-line RSS-reader of Google Reader (if you do not have – register at: www.google.com/reader/, or use an existing username and password from e-mail service Google Gmail);
  • free browser Mozilla Firefox (Russian version of the browser you can download here: http://www.mozilla-russia.org/);
  • five extensions to Firefox: DapperFox, Google Reader Watcher, NewsFox, Scrapbook and Wired-Marker (can be found by using the search bar here: http://addons.mozilla.org).

Memory is not rubber

Many users want to combine disparate information in a single program or in one online service. It is reasonable decision, giving, as it is fashionable today to say, synergies effect of time-saving. However, when the volume of the knowledge base exceeds a certain limit, the natural limitations of human memory begin to affect.

For a time the user makes a life easier by sorting information by section, the supply of its with the tags, notes-“flags”, annotations, etc. But time passes, the person opens a rarely used tag and finds that over the past five years he has been assigned this tag to thousands of publications. User can honestly admit that he carelessly gave the tag to the left and to the right, hoping someday to use it to look for five seconds, for example, the name of the second husband’s of niece of master barber of the first dog of the Queen of England. Similarly, over time, annotations become useless (user barely remembers even written yesterday), and “flags” (events such as the global crisis, denied the relevance of all the old notes “it is important” or “very important”)…

Personally, I found a way out of this situation, sharing my knowledge base into three unequal parts. The starting one is stored in Google Reader, intermediate and finishing – on my PC. The first one is ten times more than the second and third combined. But the main principle is that the start and finish bases have the same and extremely simple structure (five-seven, a maximum of ten thematic sections of the same name), and in the intermediate base I convert the thematic structure of the news in the structure tied to the tasks.

Thus, the proposed technique will allow you to separate in time the three most important operations to work with the information:
a) the thematic cataloging;
b) binding to specific problems;
c) determining the importance and relevance of information in the future.

Thereby the risk of errors in the handling of information drastically reduces. After all, meeting an important fact of subjects of interest to us, we are not always able to say what task we will use it in (maybe the problem itself was not yet born). And, moreover, we can not be sure that fact will not become obsolete in the light of tomorrow’s news. Meanwhile, the existing Web services and desktop programs often cause us to set the record straight «i» (tags, categories, etc.), on the spot…

In addition, described in this article technique gives the ability to perform each operation in different times and in different, natural for every operation tempo. Also, one can switch from one operation to another, taking into account the current mood, the interest, degree of fatigue, etc.

Finally, the separation of databases allows to simplify the structure of each of them – and no effort to keep this structure in mind.

Now let’s look at all stages of the work with information in the order and in detail.

Step One: quantitative filter

So, after checking in Google Reader, fill it with content, add the RSS-feeds of news interesting to you and analytical sites.

If the site does not have RSS-feeds (many of the resources – especially analytical and providing unique content for specialists – are still deprived of them) – it will not be difficult to design it by yourself using Dapperfox (enhanced browser Firefox). There are five simple steps – and service Dapper.net will turn into RSS-feed any regular structure of the text on a Web page (whether the news section, articles, blog entries, etc.).

Insert formed RSS-feed in Google Reader – and you’ll begin automatically receive announcements of all added to this page news and articles (with some effort due to service you can receive complete news, without having to open in a browser page with their full content.)

If you fear that all your twenty (thirty, fifty) Internet sources included in Google Reader, may lose sight of some important events, trends and ideas – then put on monitoring the most important media and blog sphere. It’s not as difficult as it may seem at first glance. Select keywords that identify your most pressing at the moment interests. For example, “brand management”, “internet marketing”, etc. (to filter information “garbage” choose your keywords carefully, and use search queries language). Then search through news service http://news.google.com and Service Blog Search http://blogsearch.google.com. Both of them are able to form RSS-feed of search results (a little secret: an inquiry into Google News, type with… transliteration! It will correctly translate it into Russian and will pick the correct news and, most importantly, will form the correct address of the RSS understood by “Google reader”). Using these tapes, you will be informed of the latest discussions of your topics in the leading Russian mass media of the CIS and blogs. If you have time to spare for the analysis of additional search results you can also insert in a Google Reader feed search service http://blogs.yandex.ru. As experience shows, Blog Search Yandex and Google intersect in something, but in some ways are different.

That way, you’ll rake information from the Internet with rather wide “trawl”. In this chaotic and time consuming surfing the web will be minimized: with the bulk of professional information you will be able to work in the Google Reader. If in minutes you surf you do meet a valuable t news article on any new resource – it also can be added to a common base of Google Reader.

To do this, check out the “Your content – Notes» of Google Reader and drag to your browser bookmarks bar the button “Note to the Reader». When you come across an interesting article in the internet, you can select it with the mouse and click on this button: the article will be copied in Google Reader for your chosen tag. You can even equip it with your text commentary (but not necessarily). The only advice: if you are using a remarkable extension of safety for Firefox – NoScript (and it is used by any reasonable user of the browser) – turn it off on the copied page – otherwise it will block this completely harmless operation.

Let’s summarize the gains from inclusion in our scheme online aggregator Google Reader:

1. The consolidation of the primary flows of information in a single window in which you can learn at a fast pace with the essence of messages easily switching between sources, as required interrupting and returning to it at another time and in another day.

2. Built-in Google Reader reading statistics test that will help to get rid quickly of irrelevant RSS-feeds that only clog your information space and complicate the search in it.

3. Reducing the load on the PC. If you read your many RSS-feed in a desktop RSS-reader instead of online, then after a few months you will feel that your computer slows down.

4. Fast built-in search in all sources and in each of them separately. However, the search of Google Reader, is likely to be useful to you only from time to time, for research purposes, as all important information will be stored on your PC.

Step two: thematic filter

Technically, this step is very simple: you need to create in a Google Reader set of case tags. They should be a few: five-seven, a maximum of ten tags-headings, exhaustively describing your main professional interests (for example, “management”, “marketing”, “finance”, “personnel”, “logistics”, “production”). However, the tags should be selected carefully. It’s even possible that to reflect on the range of your true interests will require more than one day. Carelessness and haste at this stage will lead to the fact that you will have to introduce new tags as you work, complicate their structure – and eventually come across with all the charms of man-made unmanaged information explosion.

What to do with tags? Every time you come across a story that might well be used in the work (for example, as an example of the successful experience of others – to improve business processes in your own company) – assign to the news one of the created tags. Subsequently, opening any of the tags, you can view the messages selected on the subject. Thus, soon inside Google Reader flow you will begin to form compact core business information.

Step Three: filter of the tasks

Many users limit the creation of their base with the previous two steps: it is enough for them the opportunities offered by Google Reader. But if your data flow is large (and a professional always has it great), then to manage it every day will be more and more difficult. The main problem is that the news should be bound not only to the topics of interest to you, but to your practical problems.

For example, you put the news in a thematic thread “marketing” – but, by and large, it also would have to tag “forward to the deputy” and “read out at the meeting.” And the next news – you will provide with tags “to check back in a month”, “to use in a report,” etc. If this is not done, then two weeks later you will not remember for what, in fact, you have saved this news. The problem is that if you add these “tags-tasks” directly in Google Reader – it will be very difficult to operate two dissimilar structures of the tags in the same window (I tried it – I do not advise). It is better to assign “tags-tasks” elsewhere. The blessing, Google Reader allows you to make public any selection of news collected from any tag – and thereby convert it to RSS-Feed, accessible from the outside. The concept of “public” in this case is conditional: if you do not tell anyone this RSS-address no one else will use it. You only need it most. 🙂

Insert your address lists in RSS-aggregator NewsFox ​​- and formed into Google Reader thematic threads (“marketing”, “management”, “finance”, etc.) will be automatically sent to your PC. You will receive on your PC a complete copy of thematic collections already formed manually in Google Reader. In NewsFox ​​you’ll be re-watch the same news, but under quite a different angle: from the point of view of practical problems. Create in a NewsFox ​​five-seven, a maximum ten of so-called “labels” (tags analogues), corresponding to the typical tasks to which you apply the information. For example: “Food for thought”, “argument for customers”, “to discuss with colleagues”, “to insert into the report,” “to publish in a blog,” etc.

It may seem that when re-reading the work will be slow at half. In fact, you will receive a significant savings in time and efforts. Your brain, freed from the need to manage a complex multi-dimensional structure of tags can focus on the essence of analytical and news reports. Separate tags appointment in Google Reader and NewsFox ​​due to its uniformity becomes a simple routine operation, for quality realization of which it’ll be enough a glance at the message. The time of careful reading “with a marker in hand” will come later, at the fifth step of the described techniques…

Essential is that, because the information flow at the input to NewsFox ​​is smaller than the input in Google Reader, you can not be afraid of slowing down your computer. Especially if you limit the storage time for news in NewsFox ​​with six months or a year: during this time the “brake” have not exactly time to occur, and labeled information will be used.

If you periodically have operational information needs – create for them in the NewsFox so-called “Hunt groups”. For example, someone who follows the development of the global crisis can create a group with key search terms “crisis”, “Bretton Woods”, “mortgage”, etc. In these groups NewsFox will automatically store all the items which contain these keywords. This, by the way, will help you in addition to conduct the monitoring of relevant facts, to which you have not paid attention in a cursory reading in Google Reader.

Step Four: The Knowledge Filter

So, you have put on use the practical material that came in NewsFox ​​and was sorted out according the list of typical tasks. After the task is carried out ruthlessly remove from NewsFox all the messages related to it. However, some selected texts you’ll want to save, for example, an article describing the basic structure of your market and its key players, e-book of one of the gurus of management, compilation of practical advices on the security of business, etc. In general, talking is about the texts that you regularly reinterpret, cite, use in the work, etc. Very convenient option for storing this “finishing” knowledge base is a neat, feature rich and very popular among users of the Firefox browser extension Scrapbook. To describe all its features would need a separate article. Suffice is to say that in the tree structure of the side panel of Sсrapbook you can “drag and drop” not only individual web pages or fragments, but also multi-page e-books and entire sites.

Let me remind you also that you need to create in the Scrapbook exactly the same folder structure, that you have formed in Google Reader on the second step (in our example, these would be folders: “Management”, “Marketing”, “Finance”, “Staff”, “Logistics “,” Production “). With this one you get a giant power savings, since you do not have to keep in mind and be torn between two thematic information strategies.

And select for Scrapbook only the most valuable information without which you can not do, that you are afraid to lose (by the way, the skills of selecting data for “reference” finish base will help you to improve the quality of thematic selection in Google Reader).

Perhaps in consulting websites you often met phrases like “information – this is not knowledge”, “information still needs to be turned into knowledge.” The news, which took place in our scheme the way from Google Reader to Scrapbook is information transformed into knowledge.

Step five: the filter of the facts

Probably, the careful reader is ripe to ask, “How can that be? After all, the extracted information is used not only in the five-ten common tasks, but also in a variety of ongoing projects, which are constantly opened and closed. And the article says nothing about managing the information base for such projects”.

The fact is that for the current tasks we do not need to create a separate database. The project is the task of a limited duration, to support it does not require constant headings, it is enough time information structure, the selection of arguments, facts, quotes, etc.

For this purpose the extension of Wired-Marker is great. In the sidebar of this extension you will see dozens of colored folders corresponding to the ten colored markers (you can create any number of sets of folders). Wired-Marker runs on top of all your information sources and databases. In other words, when you read some text (no matter where: on a normal web page, Google Reader, NewsFox ​​or Scrapbook) – you can mark a quote, fact, a description with one of the colored markers. When you visit this document you will see your notes again. Yes, it is very effective and easy to use: look at the site in the internet and see again your old notes made with colored markers. By default, only you will see them – and only from the computer on which were made these notes. But if you want you can create a special link with the marked fragments – and send it to a colleague or business partner.

However, the main “trick» of Wired-Marker is in another: in the sidebar of this extension, you can drag and drop anything labeled as text fragments between folders-markers and their collections (this will automatically change the background color of a fragment!). That is, you can build the selected quotes in the desired logic, story sequence, and then by moving the extension in a special survey mode, see the entire collection as a whole. If necessary, you can always go back to the improvement of its structure, changing the sequence of the fragments. And finally, you can copy the ready selection to a text editor for final processing.

By and large, Wired-Marker allows to extract facts and quotes from the multi-dimensional information environment (i.e. as of the close, and from quite distant on thematic subjects posts) – and temporarily “reassigned” them to interests of a specific project. Reading the text in the browser with one purpose (e.g. to fill or clear one of your three information bases), you can simultaneously implement several other purposes. How is that possible? Very simple: send with a “smear” of marker found valuable parts to the appropriate folders of Wired-Marker, in which the blanks of your current and future articles, reports, presentations, lectures, letters, supporting materials, etc. store. And once a specific project is completed, the folder with the appropriate selection you can ruthlessly delete. For to go into new projects with archive balanced and clear head.

Last tip

No regrets dispose of the information lost relevance. For example, thematic tags of Google Reader, I suggest not clean at all – it is your archive. “Tags” in NewsFox ​​ can be checked, for example, once a month, “the treasury” of Scrapbook – every six months, and the tasks of Wired-Marker – removed immediately after execution.

Proposal for programmers

I have an idea of ​​extension for Firefox, including the above approaches, as well as another unique feature, in which users need a long time. If you are willing to undertake the development of such an extension and keep updated versions of it when changing versions of Firefox – please contact me.





Thank you for your comments and "likes"!



PS If you like this post - tell Google about it!