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Processing the Information Firehose

Published by marco on

The following article explains how I personally organize, consume, and produce information.

Writing Process

I get information from carefully selected sources, combining more narrowly defined streams without the help of an algorithm—or at least not a single one. I defer reading, viewing, and listening—preferring to determine the order that I consume content rather than letting fate decide.

I will sometimes read or watch something immediately—and even then, only if it’s short—but almost always spike it for later, so I can continue doing what I was doing.

I find that pretty much anything can wait. I’m almost always way “behind” (no hot takes), but neither do I have to worry too much about having reacted too quickly and regretted something I’ve written.

I use Tools to obtain Inputs and generate Outputs. Each of these is detailed in its own section below.

I generate content as follows:

  1. Add articles to Instapaper
  2. Read some immediately, citing and annotating in Apple Notes or starting article drafts on earthli News
  3. Download weekly list of unread articles to Kindle
  4. Read articles on Kindle, highlighting and annotating
  5. Mark articles as Liked and Archived on Instapaper (Instapaper Likes are automatically posted to Twitter)
  6. Copy highlights/annotations to Notes on earthli News
  7. Start article drafts on earthli News with other content
  8. Publish articles on earthli News (also automatically posted to Twitter)

The further down the list I get, the more time I invest in writing and copy-editing.

  • A “like” on Instapaper shows up for people who’ve subscribed to the newsfeed or are following me on Twitter, but there’s no context about why I liked it or what I liked about it.
  • I just started the Notes as a way to add context without a huge time investment on my part.[1]
  • Articles, as ever, require more time and inspiration.

Tools

I use the following tools to retrieve and manage content.

NetNewsWire for Mac
A fast and easy-to-use news reader; I’ve used it for years and years.
Apple Podcasts
This product was spun off from iTunes a few years ago. It’s a decent podcast player with few frills, but it does what it needs to.
Apple Notes
This product is included with MacOS and tracks formatted notes with cloud synchronization.
Amazon Kindle PaperWhite
An E-Reader with highlighting and note-taking functions. I can transfer highlights and notes as a simple text file.
Project Gutenberg
A source of free E-Books for out-of-copyright, older material.
New York Public Library
A source of more current E-Books.
Instapaper
An online tool with browser plugins to which you can add articles to read later. It strips the articles down to the text and can also send “newsletters” to a Kindle.

Inputs

At the beginning of the chain are inputs. I prefer textual input, but I listen to videos and podcasts as well, occasionally transcribing passages I find interesting.

Newsfeeds
The largest amount of information comes from Newsfeeds (RSS and Atom; I don’t really care). I use NetNewsWire for MacOS. I read some right away, but mostly go through them quickly, adding articles to Instapaper.
Hacker News
A tech-heavy web site with a pretty decent algorithm for choosing relevant and interesting articles for the home page. I scan the short home page once per day for a couple of minutes.
Reddit
A news/social-media web site on which I’ve built a few multi-reddits that yield some interesting stuff, but I use it more for fun than research. Lately, the quality of content has dropped, so I use it much less. A couple of minutes per day.
Podcasts
I listen to some podcasts regularly and sometimes transcribe information for articles. I much prefer reading, but there’s lots to learn in long-form interviews.
YouTube
I rely on YouTube nearly exclusively for videos and have a subscription (it came with Google Play Music). I use the main Watch Later list a lot, moving longer videos to custom “Watch Later” lists for Public Policy/Philsophy, Tech, and Music. I sometimes transcribe information for articles.
Books
I read books with no real agenda, going from non-fiction to fiction and back as I please. I have a bunch of wishlists at both the New York Public Library and Amazon, though I prefer to loan digital works from a library than to buy them. Once I’ve read a book, I don’t really need it anymore (mostly because I track citations in Book Reviews).

Outputs

From all of these inputs, I publish to various outputs, ranging from automated lists and feeds to self-authored articles.

This is a hobby; my main interest is to organize information for my future self. Therefore, the publishing schedule isn’t very predictable. I’ve included approximations for the different types of content.

earthli News

earthli is my personal web site, where I publish my blog “earthli News”.

Notes
Citations and quick annotations on articles I’ve read. One per week.
Articles
In-depth essays on various topics, usually including citations from articles, podcasts, or videos. At least one per month.
Movies / Series Reviews
Synopses/impressions of movies or series I’ve watched. I’ll generally collect 10 movies/series reviews per article, so usually about 12 per year.
Book Reviews
Citations and synopses/impressions of books I’ve read; I’ll generally have one article per book and then a big wrap-up article per year. Usually about 24 per year.

Instapaper

  • Liked: A running list of all article I’ve liked. Several per week.
  • Archived: A running list of all article I’ve read. Several per week.

Twitter

My Twitter consists nearly solely of auto-posted content from my Instapaper Likes and earthli News articles. Several per week.

YouTube

The following are public playlists to which I occasionally save links to videos. Anyone with a YouTube account can subscribe to these.


[1]

I currently have over 2500 published articles over the last 20 years or so, but also over 1100 drafts. Some of the drafts are huge but were never polished enough to publish or their time had come and gone.

Some of the drafts are collections of links and citations that I’ve meticulously collection, but also never published, always thinking “I’d get to it.” I don’t have that kind of time or energy, so I invented Notes to at least make an in-between version with some context.

This isn’t because I think my choice of citations is particularly clever, but because I use several sources that do something very much like this and I appreciate it very much.