Social Media Tips and Tricks #2: Read Smarter

Welcome to part 2 of the series on social media! This series of tips will focus on how to make your online reading more efficient.

Must. Read. All. The. Things.Social Media Tip #4: Work Smarter, not Harder. 

I love the internet. Billions of fascinating bits of information, lovely photos, and hilarious viral videos are uploaded daily.

That would also be the primary problem with the internet.

It’s easy to end up curled in a fetal ball under your desk just thinking about all the journals you aren’t reading, but that you think you should. And that’s the boring stuff.

What amazing podcasts and blog posts are you missing? What fresh hell of asshattery is some politician spouting off about?  The most important corollary to Tip 4 is:

4.1. Give yourself permission to not read everything.  

You can’t read it all. It’s impossible.  So stop feeling guilty about it.

4.2. No. Seriously. Don’t try to read it all.

Later in this post, I will explain how you can have have all the awesomeness of the internet delivered to you automatically. That can then become an additional source of stress.

Journal Table of Contents in your inbox? For a journal you haven’t looked at in months? Unsubscribe.
Feed or bookmark for a blog that updates rarely, or doesn’t match your interests anymore? Delete.
Be realistic. If you have a bunch of stuff sitting in your inbox, and you haven’t read it in weeks? It’s not urgent, and you can just delete or archive it.

Before you start using any of the tools I’m going to tell you about, take a hard look at what you are doing right now in terms of your reading and work habits.  What can you stop doing?

Look at your “dumb things I gotta do” list and get rid of items that are vague.  Take a day and clean your inbox and workspace completely.  Have you turned off your email notifications, so that you aren’t interrupted constantly?  Everything piled up digitally or physically around you is taking up emotional space.

This paper (just pages 4-8 to skip the academic jargon) has a very nice summary of the Getting Things Done methodology. Give it a look. GTD made a HUGE difference in my stress levels when I found it 7 yrs ago.

Now you are ready, grasshopper.

4.3 Use tools to make the time you spend sifting and looking for information as short and convenient as possible.

Still clicking through a bunch of bookmarks to look at stuff? Dude. UR Doin’ It Wrong.  You can have information delivered to you!

Many of my readers already know this, but I find that when I start talking about “RSS feeds” to my medium to low-tech-savvy friends, eyes tend to glaze over.  So let’s have a very brief review, and then jump into tools I like.

You can even get your comments via feed!XML is basically a type of web language that contains the content of a blog, newspaper, or many other types of media,  stripped of formatting and packaged to be portable. XML feeds are usually indicated with an icon; this orange RSS one is the most common.  Here’s the Bug Blog Feed, for example.  Because of this packaging, you can have news, blog posts and comments, or journal Table of Contents ported into a web application or emailed to you at your convenience.

Personally, I try to avoid having emails sent, because it not only further clutters my inbox, but it is delivered to me when it’s convenient for the publisher, not me.  Then it sits there in the inbox.  J’accuse! You have not done your reading!

Email is such a bastard sometimes.

4.4. Sometimes being a tool is a good thing.

Here are my favorite tools to automate my reading; most of them work on a “dashboard” model that allows you to arrange your feeds into groups, and even play a little with colors.  The key here is that I retrieve information when it is convenient for ME. Not when it is published.

Netvibes (the FREE version) is my favorite for reading, and it also has the ability to import your Twitter, Facebook, email, Flickr, and other social media streams. Because of the tabbed interface, I can login once, and have pretty much everything I need right on one screen.  In just 5 minutes in the morning, I know who’s posted new blog entries, if there are comments that need to be looked at on my blog, the weather, and who has ReTweeted me on Twitter. All without ever leaving Netvibes.

The widget view of Netvibes

In this screenshot I have Science, Nature, the Ecology section of PLOS, and the Knight Science Journalism tracker, a great blog that covers science reporting.  Once I login to Netvibes, it visits all the places I’ve stored and retrieves new content. I can see if I have or haven’t read it by whether it’s bold or not.   It also shows the time stamp of new information.

The tabs let me group what I’m reading by broad categories (Insects, Science, Nature blogs, Twitter Stream, etc.)  There is an almost infinate number of ways you can customize the display; having a short excerpt display as well as a title, for example.  Or a ladybug as part of the theme!

You also can toggle to a very stripped-down basic reader version, which is what I use on my iPad when I’m traveling.  The tabs that organize the content are still there, but the display is a lot more plain.

Reader/Mobile view of Netvibes

I set up a sample Netvibes panel for you to play with. Note that PhD comics and XKCD are included.  Don’t know if your favorite site has a feed? No worries–Netvibes will autodetect it for you !

The other major tool I use is Hootsuite, which I mentioned before in the context of scheduling social media posts.  Hootsuite also functions as a social media aggregator, so you can look at your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media streams without having to login and visit each site separately.

This is also where some of the little known features on Twitter and Facebook can come into play.  You can create groups for Twitter so that you don’t have to sift through all the posts to see, for example, people that like bugs.  Facebook also allows you to create lists.  This frees you from having to sort through the giant list of everything that is posted daily, AND is a way to circumvent the way that Facebook decides for you what is relevant.

I hope that everyone knows that they should set up a Google Alert for their name and whatever online products they are producing (blog, lab pages, etc.).  You want to know what people are saying about you, and also keep an eye on what someone with the same name might be up to that could result in confusion.

If you really want to build an online audience, go and say “thank you” when someone mentions you!  This makes the writer feel good, and it leaves a track-back for the curious to follow.  It is also polite, which is never a bad thing.

One thing you might not know about Google Alerts is that you can have them sent via XML/RSS feed into your reader, rather than your email.   Whenever possible, I shift things that are not time-sensitive out of my inbox and into a feed, where I control when I see them.

Readability is both an app and a web plugin that makes web pages easy to read, and also lets you save things to read later and deliver to your iPad or eReader.  If you like reading online but find ads and other design clutter distracting, this is pretty darn awesome.  It also lets you make fonts larger or smaller, and produces a printable version with just the text of a web page.

So there you have it. My four favorite tools to manage my reading and posting online. If you want to adopt them, you will need to invest some time to set things up. I have found it to be time very well spent.  If you have tools you would like to recommend, please contribute in the comments!

And now, because I’m auto-scheduling this post, I will go outside and work in the garden.

Other things I’ve written about Social Media:

More advanced nerds may also want to read:

RSS: Dead or pining for the fjords?

2 thoughts on “Social Media Tips and Tricks #2: Read Smarter

  1. For implementing GTD you can use this application:

    Gtdagenda.com

    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use checklists, and a calendar.
    Syncs with Evernote and Google Calendar, and also comes with mobile version, and Android and iPhone apps.

    [BUG: I removed the link since it is a for-pay application]

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