My Science of Reading

I wrote a little while about my process to write. Then last week at the Boston VMUG I presented about the ratio of consumption to production. Even the most prolific writer in the community will be reading many times more material than what they write. That leads me to outline my process of reading.

shutterstock_iPad Coffee

I am a huge consumer of blog posts, despite suggestions that blogging is dead I see huge value in reading what other people have written. I find well-written blog posts to be great for technical content. Often better than the podcasts that are supposedly replacing blogging. The ability to re-read a section is crucial. One of the important elements of my reading scheme is to use web services that sync between devices. My blog (RSS) reader of choice is NewsBlur. I pay an annual fee for NewsBlur and hope that keeps it alive, I wish Google Reader was still here as I preferred it. I could achieve the same process with Feedly, but prefer the interface on NewsBlur. I have NewsBlur as a desktop favorite and I have the native app on my iPad and Android phone. Most mornings when I wake up there will be 20-100 new unread articles across my 277 subscribed blogs. My rather messy blog list can be found in this OPML file that you can import into your favorite reading app. Over my first cup of coffee, I triage these posts. On sites like LifeHacker, there is a lot I don’t care about and I simply mark read and move on. This way I can follow high churn sites without using up a lot of time. Some articles are short and don’t require a lot of consideration, these I read while sipping that coffee. Some are longer or require more considered reading, probably after I’ve had breakfast and another coffee. These I send to Pocket for reading later. Read It Later was the original name for Pocket and is usually a better search term to find related apps as there are hundreds of “pocket” apps. The official Pocket app is a “send to” destination on mobile devices.  Usually by the time I’m onto the second coffee NewsBlur has no unread posts and if it’s a busy day I won’t look at it until the next day. Occasionally there will be something that needs to be read today but needs to be read after coffee. I leave these unread in NewsBlur and read them later the same day. I don’t bother with any of the offline reading features of NewsBlur, it is my online reader. The NewsBlur web service keeps all my devices (more or less) in sync with which articles I have marked read so I can use any device to triage blog posts. The “Send to” function on mobile devices makes them ideal for triaging, I can send to Pocket without leaving Newsblur. I also read a lot of posts on blogs that I’m not subscribed to and plenty of other interesting web pages. Twitter seems to be the discovery service for these blog posts although I also see a bit come from FaceBook. Again the Pocket app or Chrome plugin for Pocket make it easy to send content to Pocket to read when I have more time.

Pocket is my offline reader. It contains a list of articles that I want to read but need to be able to focus on to get the best value. Most days I add around five articles to my pocket queue. I have the Pocket app on my iPad and on my phone. Like NewsBlur I read from oldest to newest, this helps motivate me to read the older articles rather than letting them age and age forever. If I’m eating alone or waiting alone I read. Some days I will read one or two articles. On a long daytime flight, I might read 30 articles. While I’m busy I might not read much and my Pocket queue grows. I get concerned if there are 90 items in my queue and the oldest is two months old. I never worry about an empty queue and not having enough to read. It has never happened. Right now I have 38 items in Pocket. Down from 65 last week, before a cross-country flight.

One thing that is missing from my reading process is a way to find articles again after I’ve read them. Quite often I will know that I read a relevant article and want to re-check some details. Pocket has an archive and I really should learn to use that. For now, Google is my archive and I sometimes fail my Google Fu. The other missing element is re-sharing pages. I don’t tweet or blog lists of links to interesting articles. I really appreciate people who do this and it is how I find new blogs. But it never occurs to me to share links to things that I did not write. Naturally, I try to link back from the articles I write to the original articles that inspired me.

I still love podcasts, but usually more for news of what is going on in the industry and less detailed technical topics. For news, I listen to Speaking in Tech, In Tech We Trust and the NZ Tech Podcast. For near future technologies, I like Datanauts and Grey Beards on Storage. For more business-oriented content, the Eigencast and CTO Adviser are both great. And for future technologies I love the Cloudcast. Between these podcasts, I almost always have something to listen to when I’m traveling alone. I travel alone a lot even though I don’t have a commute to an office. My full list of podcasts can be found in this OPML file, which you should be able to import into your favorite podcatcher. One piece of disclosure, almost all of the hosts of these podcasts are my friends & I may occasionally be a guest on shows.

Consuming a lot of information is crucial to remaining current with what is changing in our IT infrastructure industry. The sheer volume of content created makes information overload a significant challenge. I am very happy with the system I use to learn from the community and industry.

© 2016, Alastair. All rights reserved.

About Alastair

I am a professional geek, working in IT Infrastructure. Mostly I help to communicate and educate around the use of current technology and the direction of future technologies.

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One Response to My Science of Reading

  1. Alex says:

    I have a similar system:

    Text: Feedly -> instapaper
    Video: Feedly (or other) -> YouTube content -> IFTTT -> pocket.
    Podcasts: dogcatcher (android), overcast (Apple).

    -Alex

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