Curating Things: How I Find Interesting Stuff on the Internet

As you may have noticed, I’ve fallen out of the habit of writing Things a bit more than usual recently, so I’m using that as a tenuous cue to instead write a post about how I find interesting things on the internet for Things generally (because that’s the bit I have still been doing).

1) Basic Aggregation
We all come across interesting things on the internet one way or another. The most basic thing I do is aggregate things I think would be suitable for Things in a Google Doc. The theory is that I then review that document once a week and pick an interesting thing from each category to put in Things that week.

2) Google Reader Magic
I find a lot of stuff through my RSS subscriptions, which I follow in Google Reader. RSS is really great. Unfortunately most people can’t be doing with it, so they end up using things like Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr to do something similar, which is great in some ways and terrible in others. But that’s a post for another time.

Some RSS feeds, though, update far too frequently for me to follow. Examples of this include Boing Boing and FFFFOUND (sometimes NSFW). I put these in a folder called ‘overabundant’, and any time I check there may be several hundred unread items.

Google Reader lets you sort items newest first, oldest first, or by magic, which is to say, in decreasing order of how likely Google thinks you are to like them, based (presumably) on Google algorithmic magic leveraging the data from people that use Google Reader. In this way, I have Google do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of finding the most interesting stuff.

3) Twitter + IfTTT + Read It Later
As I mentioned a while ago, Read It Later is a really great service where a single click pushes any given web page to your ‘Read It Later’ list, which you can then return to when you have time from the same browser, another browser somewhere else, your smartphone, or your tablet. (Here’s their analysis on how they see this time-shifting happen by platform).

I follow some people on Twitter (including some Things recipients) that regularly post interesting links. I browse Twitter on my smartphone whenever I find myself in some kind of liminal time. So what I needed to do was find a way to pass links I find in Twitter over to Read It Later.

There’s probably a few ways to peel this potato, but I found a very easy solution in the form of If That Then This, a brilliant service which lets you glue different things together with a simple “If <x> Then <y>” structure. If I ‘favourite’ a tweet on Twitter, IfTTT looks for a link in the tweet and then puts that link into Read It Later. (I also use IfTTT to automatically cross-post my webcomic to Tumblr each week, among other things. It’s really great. You should put your email address down for an invite).

The really neat trick is that Read It Later pushes my saved content to my phone, so when I find myself in a slightly less liminal state (like travelling on the tube), I can read these articles even if I no longer have internet access.

Now, if I find an article to put on Things in this way, the process gets a bit ugly – I can tag it as ‘Things’ and then harvest it into the Google Doc later, or forward it to myself by email and capture it that way. Neither is great. But the overall advantage is that I get to read a lot of good, long articles, although I’m reading fewer books (so I’m cancelling my Wired subscription), and the Things category of ‘links’ now has a massive backlog, so I may have to change up the format a bit.

So there you have it. I’d be interested to know if you have any different methods of finding good stuff on the internet, or if you can see any clear improvements to the techniques I describe above.

(While on the subject, I suppose I should mention that I am on Twitter as @metatim, where I post links to stuff I do on the internet, including Things, and also including this very post).