This post is horrendously OCD

Posted on 25/08/2011


Links. Used to mean websites, but now that the Internet’s almost doubling in size every (stat) years, they can mean anything. Essentially a link connects us to a file on the internet. Sometimes that file is a bit of code (JavaScript for example), sometimes an image and sometimes an entire webpage (made of images, code and possibly more).

There are so many links it’s unbelievable. You see thousands a day, possibly millions if you work online like me. Fortunately you don’t have to remember them all because we have Google. If you can remember which website you were on or at least what sort of website, you might be able to find your way back. But with Google searches becoming more personalised and location-based, there’s no guarantee that what you see one day will be there the next.

So how can you keep track of them all? Say I find something really interesting that I love and think I’ll want to refer back to. What’s the best way to find it again?

I’m (ever so slightly) obsessed with this issue, and not just because links are part of my job. Links are now a major part of modern life and how we keep track of them is as important as how we manage our daily lives. In fact, they’re one and the same.

So when I say links, what I really mean is one of the following:

  • Online information resources
  • Fun stuff
  • Inspirational sites for things I’m working on
  • Links that tackle or solve technical challenges
  • Places I’d like to visit
  • Things I’d like to buy
  • News I want to follow
  • Networks I want to join

In 2011 it’s almost unimaginable for a business, product or person to exist without some sort of footprint online. Since we’re in the process of copying and pasting our world into the internet, it’s not such a stretch to imagine everything having a digital copy. Even objects are beginning to have a digital presence (see QR codes and web 3.0…)

Since a link is now a substitute for something in life, how we remember, sort and navigate from one to another is becoming important (at least to me, with my slightly OCD nature). I’ve tried to satisfy this compulsion to collect, sort and reuse in a whole host of ways.

First of all, I used browser bookmarks, but following my first computer virus infection (some time in 2003) I realised the flaws in storing all this information on your computer. Even though some browser now allow you to access these across different computers (all you have to do is login), it still means you can only use, say, Firefox or ¬†Opera while browsing the web. Unfortunately, companies and mobile phone operating systems can be a bit limiting so it’s still not foolproof.

I’ve also tried emailing them to myself. Given how many emails I receive every day (some I subscribe to and others that find their way to be) this is clearly not the answer. It makes reading my emails even worse and you reach the point where you still can’t find the right link because of all the emails you’ve sent yourself.

What I’ve come up with is a way to process links depending on how I plan to use them. My “holy trinity” of order are, and

Say I find a great website that could be inspiring when working on a pitch. In this case I’d use Delicious to save and tag it so I can search, filter and eventually find it. Recently the company was bought from Yahoo who had left it to stagnate so I’m hoping to discover some innovative updates from them in the near future.

If I found a great resource that regularly posts interesting news about, say, cycling, then it’s add it to my Feedly (RRS reader). It’s the best free way I’ve found to manage and browse multiple news feeds, and refine how you stray across information.

What if there’s a link that relates to something I’m writing or working on (short-term)? If it doesn’t fall into either of the above categories (it’s not a static site I plan to refer back to multiple times and it doesn’t have an RSS feed), then I use Catch. Catch, like Evernote but with a better free version, lets you store written, audio, photo and reminder notes. Best of all it works across mobile and web so I can synchronise all this information and access it wherever I am. Catch is where compile interesting links to write about, and writing my blog would be unthinkable without it.

So for now I’m reasonably content with having sorted filed, saved and organised my digital life into three discrete tools. Just until I need to merge all three, or one of them goes down, but it doesn’t bear thinking about that. Too much chaos theory for me. I can cope with change, and rapidly, but I’ve got to find order somewhere.