Info-bits in Flux

Posted on Sep 9, 2005

In a recent blog post at O’Reilly, Giles Turnbull writes, “A while ago, I thought I’d try an experiment: could I organise all my work, all my personal stuff, all my writing, in one huge text file?” You may think he’s crazy, but my first thought was “Cool! Another geek like myself who keeps everything in text files.”

Let’s face it. Despite all of the digital realm’s advances, it’s often the simplest and most efficient way to keep our information bits together on our computer. As a designer, a consultant, and a business owner, I’ve experimented with many different organizational options, both online and OS-installed, and it always comes down to this – no one system has been flexible enough to meet every information need other than a simple file (for me, written or stored in TextEdit) or my own personal blog database. Traditional software like Office are clunky and bore me with their slow start-ups, dated paradigm, and overloaded interfaces. OSX software programs are light years ahead of of Microsoft, but they often lack integration with my web life. New web-based apps (Basecamp, del.icio.us, Flickr, and others) are much more specialized, up to date and flexible, but there’s a definitely a disconnect in assuming I can always be online to access my own info-bits.

The other disconnect that occurs in my mental map is the overlap between various info-bits. On my computer, Tiger’s new Spotlight search definitely attempts to solve this problem by searching through file names and the content of the files themselves. So if I look for “new york city,” search results will include files with those keywords as well as any documents where I’ve used those words.

But what if I’ve also stored notes about upcoming exhibits in New York City in my Backpackit page online, or I have 515 photos tagged NYC on Flickr? I have to make my own associations in other ways (more text files to keep notes) or just let them exist as separate spheres of information – not sortable or comparable other than in my own head.

Of course, in this age of info-bit overload, even one huge text file isn’t going to suffice. As Giles writes, “I tried it. It wasn’t easy. While it’s sort-of comforting to know that you have everything you need at your disposal, it’s also a little daunting. Where did I leave that half-finished snippet of writing about such-and-such? I hope I can find it somewhere in this 4,000-line file…”

So how do we manage the steady stream of information flowing to us from both the online and offline world? A friend of mine has more than 500 feeds in his RSS reader. The popular blog community Livejournal has more than 7 million users with over 10,000 posts per hour. A recent story from BBC News says that “one blog is added to the blogosphere every second… A new blog is created about every second, there are over 80,000 created daily. About 55% of all blogs are active, and that has remained a consistent statistic for at least a year.”

With this amount of data, people’s desire for integrated information tools will only continue to grow at the same phenomenal rate.

2 comments

  1. Neil Hinrichsen on September 30, 2005 at 03:00 AM:
    I feel your pain!  I have also battled to find ways of organising a deluge of information.  Here’s what works for me:

    Treepad outliner – for all my notes on a book I’m writing, in one database, and everything else in my life in another database.

    Net Snippets – allows me to instantly cut whole pages, just snippets, or just links to Web pages; stores them as HTML files in a file folder structure, so accessible to other applications, including Google desktop search.  Basic version is free.  Invaluable.

  2. Emily on September 30, 2005 at 05:07 AM:
    Neil, thanks for the tips!  Look forward to trying those out.