Confessions of a Content Curator
Automate as much as possible!
For anyone who follows me on Twitter — @richardlennox — or is connected to me on LinkedIn, you will likely have seen a steady stream of articles and posts that I share from across the web. On occasion I have collated this into a specific post — like this one on Internet Economy Sensibilities — but it is generally just a steady stream. The two questions most people ask when speaking about this are “Where do you find it?” and “Where do you find the time?” Like most things there is a simple answer and a more detailed explanation. The simple answer is: I fill any otherwise wasted time and automate as much as possible of the process of discovery. The complete answer is more complex, yet relatively straightforward. What follows is my set-up.
Finding the time
I am lucky, I work in an industry that I am passionate about. I don’t want to switch off from it completely and I am almost always connected. I am also wired to continuously improve what I do. To support that, I look to the inordinate amount of information available from the web for content, related to things I am thinking about or working on, produced by my peers from across the globe.
We are all busy, and I am no exception. Committed to the work I do and the time I spend with my family — I don’t have that much spare time. That said there is an inordinate amount of wasted time in any given day — time moving between things, time waiting on something or someone or the 15 minutes between 2 meetings where meaningful work is not an option are two simple examples. Enabled by my smartphone, I fill those gaps with reading. Some of the best times for this activity are when I am moving from place to place — a trip with dead time in the airport is perfect for a solid hour or 2. I also make the time — committing to a at-least-once-a-day reading habit. That time is precious so I have worked out ways to pull relevant content without trawling for it.
I have 2 basic reading modes — the Quick Skim and the Full Read. Everything passes through the quick skim filter. Starting with the title (I’m a sucker for click bait!), the first paragraph or 2 and then the main points within the body, I can decide if it’s something I choose to read in full or not. I will always fully read later there and then as saving for later (except for pre-determined circumstances) doesn’t work for me. Ultimately, I am optimising for the best use of my time.
My objective in sharing interesting content is to maintain a public archive of what I have found valuable for me to go back and refer to at a later date. I also assume someone else will find it equally valuable. A public forum therefore makes sense. It also has the side benefit of keeping me honest with myself) in my reading.
Choosing what to share does require some greater consideration than just an archive. I share only what has been through my Full Read mode, and only then if it was actually a valuable read for me. I try not to share anything that I consider offensive and I have no agenda in what I choose to share. It should not be considered as my position on the subject — often times it is a counter argument to a stance that I would take. This is no less valuable to me than something that supports my positions.
Automating Content Curation
I can’t automate the reading — I don’t have a neural implant to feed the content into my brain and I am not sure that I would ever want one. I try therefore to automate practically everything else. Utilising various apps, web services and technologies, I have managed to find a very simple work-flow that automates everything I need across my iOS devices. The best bit — the total cost of getting up and running with this — it’s all free.
Content Discovery and Consumption
I rarely read an article in-situ or in the web context. Most of it is done through an aggregator or content reader on my iPhone or iPad. This is best for ease of reading including simplifying content — I can always click onto the page if I feel I am missing something — and for cross device consistency.
Zite is my current go-to for content recommendations and sourcing. Its recommendation algorithms drive a strong set of requirements. Having been using it for well-over a year I have got my recommendations down to sourcing highly relevant content. I get to up vote and down vote content relative to the article itself, which helps tune their recommendation engine as well as set global themes for the content I am interested in. The reading format is simple and clean so its a good consuming platform as well.
I started with Flipboard when I got my first iPad. The experience was great but it wasn’t targeted enough to my needs. I found it was supporting less full reads so I moved to Zite. I still use Flipboard but primarily its used for filling perspective gaps — looking beyond the highly tuned recommendations of Zite to allow for that broader view of the world. With Flipboard’s acquisition of Zite — the services are more intertwined now — I haven’t got around to testing the different types of content recommendations I would get solely from Flipboard.
Since discovering Medium, I have found a great stream of different commentaries and stories. The Internet Economy writers seem to have adopted it as a good, easily accessible publishing platform for writing and the content curation and recommendations seem to work well for me. I previously hooked it up to a reader but now with the app — consuming is easier.
Whatever you think of RSS, it is a content curators crutch. There was a time when I subscribed to over a hundred sources — and without mobile this was impossible. With the almost disastrous discontinuation of Google Reader, something needed to fill the gap. While I tried other alternatives — Feedly was the easy choice. I now subscribe to a lot less feed but do tend to focus on aggregation sources and those who are already doing their own content curation surfaced through link blogs.
LinkedIn’s move to offering External Publishing has made it a source of good original content. Prior to it’s acquisition of Pulse — I had been giving that App a shot. It’s a nice way to consume the content directly from LinkedIn without the noise of the main application.
I’ve rediscovered the power of a content curators email. Like the link blogs they are pre-curated articles that are published sometimes daily e.g. Quibb; weekly e.g. Devops Weekly & Startup Foundation Curated; or on a more random publishing frequency e.g. Scott Hanselman’s Newsletter of Wonderful Things. Getting a list of interesting links into the inbox beats most of the Spam I get.
There is a time when I am forced to be offline. A long-haul flight or trip to some known minimal connection area. To that end I experiment and flip between Pocket and Instapaper. Both are good for offline reading and I’ll tend to load either up with enough content for the time I am disconnected. Neither are really my perfect content sourcing tool but the reading experience is good. Add in the ability to post directly to buffer or via IFTTT on favouriting or liking the content (once synced with the server) and they both work in my set-up. I am yet to pick between them though.
Content Bookmarking and Sharing
It’s important to me that I keep track of what I’ve read —in the past I’ve spent a good hour Googling for an article that was highly relevant to what I was working on. A fine waste of time. Bookmarking and sharing are an essential part of my content curation process.
Buffer is my first choice for sharing content. It allows me to schedule the publishing and literally creates a buffer or queue to publish the content 3 times a day — I don’t need to worry about it — I drop shares into the buffer and move on. Its as easy as using its various bookmark plugins across browsers and the tools above, or directing the link via an email. Where that’s not available I can use IFTTT (see below) to find a mechanism to enable the cross posting (e.g. from Buffer to Evernote).
IFTTT is a web service that creates basic ‘If _This_ Then _That_’ linkages between web services. While it allows linkages for many reasons (e.g. Home Automation) it allows me to augment buffer functionality with new targets. It creates the link between buffer and Evernote for my personal archive OR allows me to link Buffer to the internal company reading lists (Slack coming soon).
I’m a big Evernote fan and use it exclusively for my notes. Using it as an archive of interesting content is therefore natural. The search and tagging allows me to quickly find content I am looking for.
This type of sharing is well suited to Twitter. Its short and sweet and its how some people consume interesting content. I used to use Twitter as a source until I found some of the above tools. I felt that timing mattered too much for good content discovery — see it in a few hours or its gone for good.
Most of the content that I share is very much related to my professional life. The target audience is therefore most appropriately my professional network — therefore sharing to LinkedIn makes more sense.
Content Curation — just one way to keep moving forward
Finding interesting content is just one way of maintaining a broad view of what is happening across the technology sector. As well as finding interesting experiences and opinions across the web — I read from the web because I enjoy it, it keeps me thinking about new options, changes I can make and generally moving forward. By streamlining the process with these tools I also get to make best use of the time I have to read.
Have I missed anything? Do you know other apps or services that would improve my set-up? Got an Android version? Let me know in the comments.