Tuesday Tool Tip: ifttt

We are planning to offer a re-occurring feature on our blog called Tuesday Tool Tips. While not offered every week, these posts will describe tools that we find most useful or recommended by other trusted bloggers/sites.

Today’s tip is on ifft, which stands for If This, Then That.  If you use a number of social media tools, then you often spend too much time in repetitive tasks.  For example, you add a post to your blog, you then link to the post with a tweet.  ifttt wants to automate as many of those tasks as it can by providing you with snippets of code to accomplish a task without your intervention.  It does this by creating channels – that is, web services such as Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, and many more.  “Recipes” trigger actions from one channel to another.  For example, every time a post goes up on my WordPress blog, add it as a note to Evernote, or send it to Twitter or Facebook.  Another recipe might be every time you update your Facebook picture, update the Twitter one as well.  ifttt has even created a couple of its own channels for a calendar and weather.  So, for example, one recipe sends email whenever the forecast for the next day is for rain.  Others send emails when new books or albums hit Amazon’s top 100 list.  Other recipes include such actions as add photos from Flickr or Instagram to a Dropbox folder.  As of this date, there are 48 channels available.

ifttt used well can save you time.  Used poorly, it can add more time wasters to your email or other media.  It is all in how you use the tool.

This kind of tool is so new that there is no name for the category.  I’ve considered web service synchronization tools and web services interoperability, then settled on integrative services. Let me know in the comments if you have a better name.

Integrative Services: Time Savers Extraordinaire

The internet is full of silos – web sites or services that don’t play well with others.  Whether you’re retrieving or disseminating information, this requires a lot of duplication of effort.  Librarians and researchers are especially aware of this problem, simply due to the number of databases that must be searched to get a comprehensive view of the literature on a topic.  First federated searching and then web-scale discovery services were attempts to get around the problem and provide a simple interface to information scattered across many silos that require subscriptions.

But the open web has its silos too.  Both work and personal life may require using various social media such as twitter or facebook.  To get the same information on different sites required multiple data entry.  This is beginning to change in ways that will become more and more useful as time goes on.

My first real awareness of this phenomena was the blogging platform Posterous.  It allowed you to make the same information available on numerous web services.  For example, I had my personal blog set up to post simultaneously to Posterous, Blogger, facebook, twitter, and Live Journal.

So I was very impressed when I found iffft, the service that allows integration of many services through the use of recipes that trigger actions.  For example, photos you send to facebook can be sent automatically to Dropbox or Evernote, as can a WordPress blog post.  An upcoming Tuesday tool tip will focus on iffft and include more on using it to perform some tasks more efficiently.

Other products that I haven’t used are doing something similar. Hootsuite integrates social media and more, while there are products similar to iffft that are aimed at business users. Hojoki integrates cloud apps, and sends an a daily and weekly email summarizing your recent uses of these. on{x} (I hate that name) is similar to ifttt and allows you to remotely program an Android phone using a JavaScript API.

I’m the type of person who is more likely to notice the big picture rather than the details – just call me Meta Mary – so I find this an exciting trend that augers much for the future.  Being able to automate yet control how one interacts with the flood of information available (and constantly growing) will be helpful in dealing with information overload.  If anyone has come up with a name for such services I’m not aware of it, so I’m calling them integrative web services.  Corning has made compelling videos about such a future with their “A Day Made of Glass” and “Day Made of Glass 2” videos – while it focuses on devices, notice how smoothly simple the interfaces they use are:

Day Made of Glass [YouTube videos have not been working for me in Firefox, but are working in IE]:

Day Made of Glass 2:

Tuesday Tool Tip: Create Your Own WordPress blog in 20 minutes

For today’s Tuesday Tool Tip, I’d like to recommend a July 16th blog posting by Michael Hyatt at his site michaelhyatt.com entitled: “How to Launch a Self-Hosted WordPress Blog in 20 Minutes or Less.”  He includes a very nice video tutorial that steps you through each part of the process, using BlueHost as the sample hosting service.

I wish I had Michael’s post when I was creating our site here at academicpkm.org. He does a wonderful job of letting you see exactly  how to proceed and lets you view the entire process before you ever start so that you won’t be surprised by any information or decisions that have to be made along the way.  Don’t expect him to show you how to alter the default WordPress theme or how to handle the backend beyond typing your first post, but if all you want to do is create a place to blog, he takes the mystery out of the process.

I’ve been following Michael Hyatt’s Intentional Leadership blog for several months now.  He is best selling author of the book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World and is the former Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. His blog covers topics that range from personal development and  leadership to productivity and utilizing social media just to name a few.  I really enjoy his straightforward, easy style. I’ve listed his blog in our PKM Related Blog Roll if you are interested in exploring more.

Mary’s Information Ecosystem

Whirling Piece of Chaos

Organization?  We don’ need no stinkin’ organization!

Sadly, I am not one of those people for whom organization comes naturally.  At one time I thought of myself as a whirling piece of chaos.  It’s not that I approved of this, or wanted it, but things just seemed to spin off that way out of my control.  My mind is also the kind that sees the big picture but can be oblivious to details, and I like to think I’m the creative type. For those familiar with Myers-Briggs personality typing, I score high on both intuition and perception.  I’m envious of my co-blogger Crystal who manages to be both creative and organized.

I finally realized that work was a place I could be better organized, and I’m slowly working on it.  My email is now much better organized than it was, with folders and subfolders.

As a librarian, I don’t do a lot of original research.  I get to know about a lot of research tools (you should see my page of Google Alerts and my RSS feeds – Oy Vey!) but tend to focus on the forest rather than the trees.  For example, I’ve used Zotero for a project or two but am by no means a power user knowing all the tricks and nuances.

Evernote I am using and loving, learning to be a power user.  So far I have used it more for my personal life.  For example it is marvelous for storing information about an upcoming appointment at a place I’ve never been.  I save the name, phone number, and directions/map, and have it all accessible in the Evernote app for my smartphone.  We have been using it to organize our plans for this blog, and have a notebook for ideas for new posts.  So it is evolving into more of a tool for work life as well as home life.

It may seem odd, but I consider LibGuides, the software for creating research and class guides, a part of my information ecosystem.  As a librarian, it is how I package information for the use of my students and faculty in my liaison areas, and this is much more a part of my job than doing original research.  We have around 16 subject librarians at my university, but I’ve probably published half or more of the research guides.  In part it is because I’d rather do a set of related guides than have three or four rows of tabs (pages) on one guide.  Partly it is because two of my liaison areas, Public Policy and International Affairs, have many great web-accessible sources.  Another factor is that I was responsible for training other librarians on using the software, so I had to jump in and use it.  So now if a professor wants a session on using library resources for her class, it is a snap to spin up a LibGuide to use as a framework for teaching the session and something the students can use to jump start their research.

If PKM is only about managing the amount of information one absorbs, LibGuides doesn’t count.  But if PKM includes the tools one uses to be productive, and in my mind it does, LibGuides is a top tool in my information ecosystem.

I have also recently begun to use mind mapping.  I am not an expert yet, but was shocked at how well a mind map brough clarity to the organization of an article being written.  I used Mindjet  Connect, because it is free, web-based, allows links and attachments, and exports to Evernote.

To summarize, my information ecosystem includes:


Why a blog on Personal Knowledge Management for Librarians?

293: E = Ergophobia

I first became aware of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) as a specific area of study when Elisabeth Shields, now a friend and co-author of this blog, was the featured speaker at one of our Library Faculty Organization meetings at Georgia Tech.  I was so interested in her presentation that I later struck up a friendship with her and our other blog co-author, Mary Axford.  Over the next year, we met occasionally for lunch to discuss PKM, while each continued to explore, in our spare time, our own areas of interest in the PKM world.  What I discovered was that while literature on the parent field of Knowledge Management (KM) proliferated, PKM was more elusive.  I also discovered that people were talking about PKM topics, but calling them very different things.  Personal Information Management, Personal Learning Environment, Academic Workflow, Time Management, Information Overload were all terms that led me to discussions touching on various facets of PKM.  People appeared to be talking about PKM without often knowing they were doing so. There were blogs and online videos reviewing software tools that aided in PKM and described personal experiences on how the various authors had solved some aspect of information management in their lives. What I found more difficult to locate were academic level discussions of the PKM theory and practical applications, especially as it related to librarians and their users.  This was surprising to me, a reference librarian who dealt daily with Information Overload and PKM both personally and professionally as I tried to help students manage the myriad of challenges they faced blending personal life and scholastic endeavors.  For me, this blog is a way for Elisabeth, Mary and me to continue our PKM discussions and hopefully meet new friends that want to join us on our journey of discovery.

Elisabeth has already shared her personal knowledge management ecosystem.  Mine is still very much in development.  I’m in that “trying things out” stage. Here are the main tools I’m working with today:

Calendar:  I use our work calendar (Zimbra) as my main calendar.  It keeps me informed of work meetings as well as personal appointments (which can be made private from the rest of my work world if I so choose). My calendar is a main tool when I’m writing my performance evaluation each year. I review the monthly entries to make sure I remember to report all my personal learning classes & seminars, my major projects as well as some of those intensive, impromptu projects that we all do and then forget about by the end of the year.

Mail:  I have a multitude of folders and sub-folders where I keep track of mail related to projects.  It works very well for me now and using my folders and my mailbox search, I can usually find information quickly that my team is trying to remember.  What I don’t like about this method is that I recognize it is unstable.  Right now, we have very high limits on our mail capacity, but there is always the danger of system problems crashing my mail.. or a forced conversion to a new system (which happened a few years ago) where the folder/sub-folder setup I’ve created may be lost. I’m keeping my eye out for what I want to do in this area for the long-term.

Microsoft OneNote: I am lucky enough to have the Microsoft Office 2010 suite at work and on my work laptop.  So therefore I also have Microsoft OneNote.  I think in folders and hierarchical organization, so I find OneNote  (along with Microsoft Skydrive to sync between computers) to be a great “scrapbook” for me, both personally and professionally.

Evernote: Mary has also converted me to use Evernote for some things.  I especially use it for the collaborative space the three of us share for blog ideas, PKM info, etc. I’ve found this a particularly nice place to store notes of important tips I discover when reading books about PKM and tools.

Sticky Notes:  This is the neatest tool!  Along with Snipping Tool, this is one of the most useful things I’ve ever found in the ACCESSORIES folder of my computer.  Sticky Notes are exactly that… square notes that will attach themselves to your desk top.  You can move them around, change their color, change the note information, change the size, etc.  But I have YET to have one disappear… my computer crashes, I log off, my battery runs out… My cheerful little sticky notes bounce right back on the home page as I log in.  I love them for to do lists, reminders of things to check back on..I even have a personal inspirational one for some time management techniques I’m trying out.

So there you have it.  My beginnings of a personal knowledge management ecosystem. What other ideas are some of you readers using?


What is your personal knowledge management ecosystem?

Elisabeth here, wondering what your PKM ecosystem consists of.  Someone at THATCamp last week said she hadn’t thought of herself as having a personal knowledge management system, so let me elaborate:

Personal knowledge management is an activity people have been grappling with long before there were technology tools of the type we have today – but now it has a new label and there is more information coming at us as well as more tools.  What did we have 15 years ago – file folders, piles, bulletin boards, sticky notes, index cards, highlighters, dog-earing . . . ?

Typically, we didn’t ask how well those worked together.  Now, some of us are searching for the tool that will do it all for us – here are the functions that need doing on my list (in addition to the doctors’ phone numbers and the shopping list):

  • drop random thoughts in easily
  • store results of article database searches in subject folders
  • extract citation data and reformat it in different styles
  • save things I find on the web, or allow me to re-find them easily
  • help me organize our ideas
  • help me make sense of our ideas
  • store articles I want to read
  • let me make notes on those articles
  • tag articles with different subjects/keywords
  • search the texts of articles I’ve stored
  • let me write more productively than typical word processors
I still yearn for one tool, although years ago, when I took a personal knowledge management workshop with Steve Barth, who was about the only expert at the time, he told me I’d have to  give up that dream.  It took me years to accept that he was right.  Why?  I can find a tool that does one or two of these things the way I like to do them, and that does it really well.  The more functions it adds, the less likely I am to be satisfied by the way it does all of them.  And the less likely it is that it will do them all well.  Bigger programs tend to be clumsier and slower.
So I have not one PKM tool that does everything for me, but a PKM ecosystem. Here are the main software pieces, several of which I have used for years:
  • Evernote, my “junk drawer” :  it’s quick and easy to throw things in here, and I don’t have to think about how I want to classify them, but it’s also easy to re-find them (unlike my physical junk drawer).  This is the first stop for most things, and many will never need another home.  Some get tagged or put in a special notebook within Evernote; I also go through periodically and put some in another container, depending on how I want to use it.  Evernote is available on my Android phone, on and offline, and online on my Android tablet (which runs an ancient version of Android, since the manufacturer went out of business almost as soon as I bought it – hardware components are another post).
  • Zotero, for scholarly sources.  I still use the Firefox version, though I have the freestanding version as well.  One reason I stick with Zotero: it has metadata categories for source types beyond books and articles, such as blog posts, podcasts, interviews, cases, patents, etc.  Also, I like the fact that the main working interface is my machine; I am sometimes in the mountains with wretched internet service, and cloud-based storage would not work for me.  I love the notes features – both child notes (about articles) and free-standing notes, which I often use at the end of the day to note what progress I have made during the day (i.e., finished searching x database with search terms a, b, c, and here are my thoughts about how to start tomorrow)
  • TheBrain, a dynamic information mapper (most people would call it a mind map, but that term has negative associations for me, so I talk about information or idea mappers).   This is where I put things I want to visualize in web form.  It has copious notes fields and can handle many forms of attachments.  It’s the only one of my tools that requires a non-negligible expense, though I don’t consider it expensive.  One thing I love is that it recenters itself around whatever ide
    a I click on, so I am never lost on the fringe of my web.
  • Compendium , when I want to structure complex arguments logically, or track a wide-ranging discussion over time.

These are the main elements in my ecosystem – what are in yours?  How well are they working for you?  Where is your workflow breaking down?  What do you wish worked better?  What would entice you to change?

Note: TheBrain, PersonalBrain and WebBrain are trademarks or registered trademarks of TheBrain Technologies LP. Used with permission.