Consolidating Personal Knowledge
This post is the second in series on how I’ve automated augmenting my memory, the first post covered how I create a diary which is my most important and frequently referenced memory aid. This post covers how I automate the creation of my personal knowledge management archive. This archive has been with me for many years now, although it’s expanding at a rapid rate, which makes retrieval one of my primary concerns. In the same way that I’ve found consolidating my diary into a single app, in that case Momento, I consolidate all personal knowledge management information into Evernote which I have on all my devices and the web. Although I started collecting most of this information manually, I’ve found over the years that I don’t have the discipline to do this for anything but the most valuable of information, so it’s almost all automated now.
This is what auto feeds my knowledge archive currently, each of the items goes into it’s own folder:
- The tweets I’ve posted get sent to Evernote using IFTTT. Although an individual tweet is pretty worthless, I’ve found that now that I have over 11,000 of them and they have charted nearly 8 years of my life, the whole collection is quite important to me. Unfortunately I don’t have this full archive in Evernote, but I do have it all in Momento.
- The photos I post to Instagram also get sent to Evernote using IFTTT, there’s not much personal knowledge in Instagram, but it takes no effort to setup the feed and it’s nice to have a backup.
- I do almost all of my web based reading using Instapaper and I use Evernote to capture all of the titles and the URLs of all articles I’ve read. Although I also capture the full text of these same articles I find it’s sometimes easier to search just the URLs in Evernote. I do this by feeding the RSS feed for my Instapaper ‘archived’ folder into Evernote using IFTTT. I’m planning to add additional folders in the future as not everything gets filed in the archive.
- One of the wonderful recent features of Instapaper is that I can highlight sections of articles that I particularly like and all of the highlights that I make on a single article get saved to a single note in Evernote. Just saving the highlights is great because these represent maybe a 20th of everything I read and this makes it much easier to browse my archive for ideas or search a high value subset. Instapaper sends these highlights to Evernote directly using it’s excellent email integration.
- I also save the full text of EVERY article I’ve marked as ‘liked’ in Instapaper, which is most of them (I only save to Instapaper the articles that I think are interesting). So as you will probably have noticed I archive my reading at three levels of granularity, this is how important my reading is to me, or more importantly finding things I’ve read, and of course it takes no effort to collect:
- just titles and URLs
- just highlights titles and URLs
- and the full text, titles and URLs
- Of course I don’t just read articles on the web, I read books too, whenever I can I keep two DRM free copies of every book I read, I keep one in Calibre in MOBI format and another PDF copy in Evernote. I include the ‘finished reading’ tweet that I write with my rating out of 10 in the same note as the PDF. I also spend a few minutes tracking down a good review or two of the book, especially non-fiction books, and I save them in Evernote too to help remind me of the books contents. I do the same for audiobooks
- I read books in the Kindle apps on my Paperwhite and iPad and this allows me to keep the highlights from the books that I’ve read in the same way that I keep highlights of articles that I’ve read. I’ve only recently started doing this and it’s frustrating because you can’t easily get the highlights for personal documents, only books you buy from Amazon. Getting the highlights into Evernote is also a pain, I have to navigate to an Amazon web page and cut and paste the highlights into a note that I manually create. I find it amazing that a near free system like Instapaper makes this process so easy, but the incredibly expensive Amazon Books service is such a pain!
- At work I read a lot of analyst reports and I keep a copy of those in Evernote too, these are so important that I manually tag these.
- I write a blog post most days and Zapier also keeps a record of these in Evernote, this folder of blog posts provides a backup of my blog, but it’s also easier to search than WordPress. I like Zapier for this rather than IFTTT because Zapier’s fidelity is higher and it also captures categories and turns them into Evernote tags. Zapier is a business service though and the free version is only suitable for low volume triggers.
- Finally every week I write a highlight report for work, ‘showcasing’ what I’ve done that week which I distribute via email, Evernote is on the distribution list, so I automatically create a weekly log of what I’ve achieved which proves very useful.
This all sounds like a lot of effort, except that it isn’t as it’s almost totally automated and free (although I pay for Evernote Premium, all the features I’ve described here are free). It might also seem redundant as everything is on the web and we have Google, unfortunately that’s not true either, it’s amazing how many articles on the web are no longer available after only a few years. It’s also worth pointing out that whilst Google is great at finding something on any topic on the web, it’s quite difficult to find a specific article unless you have some good clues about it. Since I will forget these clues long before I need to find the article again I like having the option of searching my tiny subset of curated articles.
The photo today is of Rossall Beach at Cleveleys where I planned out this article after cycling here from St Annes. You normally see pictures of sunsets from this same spot on my blog, but today for a change we have a sunny Sunday lunchtime picnic view.