My Information Existence

Throughout the day, as I come across interesting links, threads, articles, interviews and other things, I bookmark them, categorize them and into a vast cavern of information they go. All of this information serves as a sort of hyper-personalized search engine, but I’m the only person that has access to it. For over 15 years now, I’ve been collecting links to stuff that interests me. Some of them I read, some of them I skim, but most of them I stash away, only to reference later, if at all. To date I have 47,331 bookmarks, all of which represent me in some way. I feel like if someone or some machine wanted to really understand me, they would look at my bookmarks. 

This kind of all began in 2005 when I started using Delicious to bookmark and tag interesting things I came across on the web. To give you an idea of when that was, the second thing I bookmarked on June 14, 2005, was YouTube. 

My tagging has come a long way since 2005

I haven’t stopped bookmarking since. Yahoo! acquired Delicious and we all know what happened to companies acquired by Yahoo! in that era. Thankfully Pinboard, started by someone who worked on Delicious, came onto the scene in 2009. I exported all of my Delicious bookmarks and imported them into Pinboard, where they remain, but the service hasn’t kept up with my needs. As a result, I started using Raindrop about a year ago and have been really happy with the service. I have an IFTTT applet that pushes bookmarks from Raindrop to Pinboard for redundancy and because I like supporting Maciej.

Information Sources

Almost all of the information I consume comes from three main sources — RSS feeds, Twitter and email. RSS feeds have been, and continue to be, the dominant way I consume information. I use a service called Feedbin to store my RSS subscriptions and serve as a feed reader, for which I pay $50/year. There are “free” services and feed readers out there, but free is never really free and after Google Reader disappeared, it was a valuable lesson to us all that paying for things keeps them around. I use Feedbin in a browser tab when I’m using my laptop and on my iPad and iPhone, I use a $5 app called Reeder, which I like a lot. I currently have about 400 highly-curated sources, including popular websites, personal blogs, link blogs, Google searches and email newsletters. To give you an idea of what that means in terms of the volume of items several hundred feeds generate, I have just over 56,000 waiting to be consumed, tagged and saved. I will never get to most of them and I don’t care. 

Twitter is, perhaps, the most under-appreciated social network ever. I was one of the first few hundred people on Twitter and while my usage has increased over time, how I use it has changed massively. I’m a firm believer that the best way to use Twitter is to not follow anyone and instead use its Lists feature. I have a large-ish number of lists on all sorts of topics like breaking news, security and privacy, music, technology, IRL friends, Los Angeles, and so on. The greatest thing about it is you have access to the world’s experts in pretty much any field of interest you might have. When I come across a tweetstorm worthy of saving, I use a service called Threadreader to gather the tweets, save them to a Threadreader URL and then add a bookmark with tags to Raindrop. I generally bookmark the Threadreader URL as I find it easier to read than reading it natively on Twitter. Every time I heart a tweet, I have an IFTTT applet that saves it to Raindrop in a Twitter collection. 

Favorited for obvious reasons

Email has made a comeback since newsletters really started taking off. I don’t get a lot of newsletters in my email inbox. Most of the newsletters I subscribe to go directly to Feedbin. One of the coolest features is that you have an email address associated with your account, which you can use when you sign up for a newsletter. Hence, every time that newsletter is sent, it stays out of your inbox and can be read alongside everything else I read in Feedbin. Of the new newsletters that actually come to my inbox, I have a couple of link-heavy favorites. Dense Discovery is one of the most exquisitely curated newsletters out there. It definitely has a certain aesthetic and voice. I always look forward to saving it for when I know I can read through it entirely. I probably bookmark at least 60% of the links Kai sends. My other favorite is from Alexey Guzey and it’s called Guzey’s Best of Twitter, which is pretty self-explanatory.

How I Read

The two primary ways I read are on a web page in the Brave browser or in the Instapaper app. Brave is a Chromium browser, which means it’s based on Google Chrome, but you can think of it as a de-Googlefied version of Chrome that runs faster, behaves better and respects your privacy. The great thing is it can run Chrome extensions. One of the extensions I use to highlight quotes and passages on web pages is called Memex. I’m still trying to figure out how to integrate this into everything as there’s definitely some redundancy with Raindrop.io. Until I do, I’m fine doing a little extra copying and pasting. It’s a fairly extensible tool, so I’m guessing there is a simple way to integrate it, but I just haven’t had the time to explore this much.

Memex allows me to highlight things on web pages and save the text

I’ve used Instapaper since it launched in 2008. It really is the best, least distracting reading experience for articles. I’m able to save highlights as I read, similar to what Memex allows for. Articles are passively saved to my Instapaper through an IFTTT applet triggered when I save something to raindrop with the tag ‘toread’. I have nearly 13,000 articles saved to Instapaper and while it is somewhat of a black hole, I keep my subscription going because I really enjoy reading things more in Instapaper than I do on the web. 

Why Bother?

The big question is why do I spend all of this time and energy collecting and categorizing information. The boring answer is I enjoy learning and the ability to recall information that I don’t need to store in my own brain is magical. It also allows me to build and see relationships between disparate things through tagging. If I want to see all of the medical research on Parkinson’s Disease that I’ve come across, it’s simple. If I want to read over the latest research findings on COVID-19, I don’t have to use DuckDuckGo or Google. I look in Raindrop because I’m tracking it regularly. It really does feel like a superpower. Curators are the new creators, after all.

There is another, more existential reason I do all of this. It represents me in some way. It’s a piece of me. And while I’m currently the only one able to extract any value from the work I put into maintaining all this information, I’d like to figure out a way for it to be accessible to others as sort of a human-curated, micro search engine.

The Next Frontier

The next phase, which I’ve dabbled in a bit, is really turning more of this information into knowledge. The productivity space has become extremely interesting in the last couple of years. There is a new class of leaders building on the incredible foundation laid in the early aughts by David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and a bunch of powerful new apps and tools. People like Conor White Sullivan, co-founder of Roam Research, Tiago Forte, founder of Forte Labs and creator of the Building A Second Brain course and Anne-Laure Le Cunff, founder of Ness Labs are people I learn from every day. I can’t remember a time when a piece of software changed my life the way Roam Research has. Tools like Readwise are changing the way people turn information into knowledge. It’s a great time to be swimming in a lot of information and I’m only just getting started with my ocean.