How To Present A Resource List

Creating a resource list is easy. Making it presentable is not. When confronted with a list of the most interesting links in the world, people still zone out after the first few entries. So how do you make a resource list worth reading?

Say Why

“What” is apparent from the link title. “Why” is what makes the resource link worth presenting in the first place. “Why” is also what makes a link worthy of consideration. For each resource link, put a sentence with it stating why you personally think the link is worth presenting as a resource reference. Why do you think it’s important? What’s memorable about it?

If you do nothing else to make your resource list approachable, say “why”. People are reading your list because they trust your judgement, help them understand why something is worth their time.

Need more reasons why “why”? How about being able to find things better via search? How about remembering what you thought was great about the resource when you look at it next year? Seriously, if this takes any time at all then it probably isn’t that great a resource. Write a sentence why each resource is worth the time.

Make it look nice

Now that your resource list has been transformed from a boring generic list of links into a personalized, curated, compelling list of awesome resources, it’s time to add some imagery.

Maybe you don’t like this. Maybe you feel people should be able to read a list of awesome resource links painstakingly curated personally by you without needing graphics. Here’s why you want pics with each link:

  • Recognition and memory: People find and remember books by their cover. The cover might not have much to do with the content, but it’s helpful. Resource links work the same way.
  • Visual separation: A thumbnail image looks way better than a bullet point.
  • Light and shiny: Lots of text feels heavy. Pics add bling. Bling is compelling.

In addition to making your resource list easier to read, you are helping keep photographers and graphic design artists employed. Apropos those folks, make sure you have permission to use any graphics you find. If there’s an image you can reference from the resource itself, that’s best.

Organize

If either of the previous suggestions looked too hard to bother with, you may as well skip this part and jump right to the conclusion for help.

You’ve probably noticed that even a really nice looking, personalized resource list starts to feel long after a dozen items or so. What to do?

Breaking the list into sublists helps, and works well until you get more than a few items in each section. After that, attention loss starts to kick in, so only the first section gets any actual consideration. You could try a collapsible tree, but then it’s hard to see what resources are available. You can’t hide information into sections and still get an idea of what you are looking at. That’s why search is better than a taxonomy when you start having more resource links.

But what to search for? Here’s where your personal knowledge really helps out: Think about the resource links you are presenting, then categorize them into four major keywords (it’s ok to have a resource link that fits more than one keyword). Now make those keywords into radio buttons people can use to filter your resource links. Nice!

Not only do radio button keywords provide fast and easy access, they also provide an overview of the kinds of resource links you are providing. It’s another way to help people approach what you are showing.

Conclusion

If your simple resource links page suddenly seems more complicated, don’t worry – all of this is already set up for you. Just go to membic.org and create a theme for your reference links. Membic themes support everything described here, and they’re free. Each membic theme can be accessed as its own web page or be embedded into your own site.

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How To Present A Resource List

Mail-In Membics

One of the benefits of being an extremely large and wealthy corporation is you can get other companies to display share buttons linking directly to your site. Since by contrast Membic is a comparatively small independent organization, available options are more limited, but easy sharing is just as important. Unlike books, where it’s easiest to use the interactive auto-complete form, article links come up while you are reading various sources. You need a way to easily capture those links.

One option is just copy and paste the URL, but for some people that breaks their flow. Enter email.

Email

As a tried and true independent communication mechanism, email rocks. It works pretty much everywhere and it’s asynchronous, so you can deal with it when you have time. Perhaps most importantly, it is available from the browser share tab on every phone and tablet. And it can be installed on any computer.

Email is perfect for sharing a link to a small independent site like Membic. Simply mail the link to yourself at me@membic.org to make a new membic for your profile. Here are some examples to illustrate how that works in a few common situations:

Favorite Social Media Site

So you’re browsing through posts on your favorite social media site and come across a potentially interesting article. Here’s your flow:

  1. Click on the article to open it.
  2. If you decide the article is worth remembering, click the share button on your browser and email the link to yourself at me@membic.org.
  3. Return to your social media page and share as you normally do.
Newsfeed

Say you’re reading a news site and run into a summary or analysis worth remembering:

  1. Click the share button on your browser and email the link to yourself at me@membic.org.
  2. Continue reading the news.
Email or Text Message

Someone you trust sends you a link to an article:

  1. Click the link to go to the article.
  2. If you decide the article is worth keeping for reference, click the share button on your browser and email the link to yourself at me@membic.org.

Confirming Your Post

When you send a link to yourself at me@membic.org, membic mails you back with a confirmation link so you can can verify the reason why it was memorable and add finishing touches like selecting keywords or themes. If you made a mistake and don’t want to confirm, you can cancel editing and delete the membic, otherwise when you save, your new membic will show up in your profile and all themes you’ve selected.

Computer Browser Setup

Mobile devices generally all have email sharing built into their browsers already, and Safari has share built in on all platforms. If you don’t see an option for sharing via email from your browser menu, you might need to install a service. This happens mostly for full computer browsers. Some known examples:

  • Chrome: Search the web store for an appropriate sharing service to integrate. I chose this one.
  • Firefox: Select Additional Tools and Features off the main browser menu, then add the share button. Alternatively the Email Link action from the File menu also works.

Augmented Memory

To get the benefits of augmented memory, make a membic when you find something worth remembering. Mail-In membics are a quick and easy way. Next time you find something memorable, mail the link to yourself at me@membic.org

Mail-In Membics

What You Read, Who You Are

What you read shows a lot about who you are.

When you suggest something to read, it

  1. Reflects your own skill and expertise.
  2. Associates you with the author.
  3. Connects what you do with the article content.

Suggesting articles in addition to books amplifies these benefits many times over, so providing an updated reading list as part of your web site can do a lot for your web presence. Here’s what that should look like, and how to set things up without adding much to your weekly content maintenance.

What it should look like

People looking at your reading list are interested in

  1. seeing what you’ve read recently,
  2. seeing your most highly recommended articles,
  3. searching your links and/or browsing by category.

Your reading list should not have a category outline. You don’t want to maintain a taxonomy, and reading classification names is not enjoyable. Assign keywords to links and let people browse by keyword.

Every link should have a short note from you about why it is worth reading. The note makes the links personal. It helps others and it will help you also if you search your own reading list later.

Your reading list should have an RSS so automated trackers can follow it.

How to set things up

To avoid adding to your weekly content maintenance workload, integrate your reading list updates with your social media posts. Connect a social media automator to your reading list RSS to handle both at the same time. Reading list entry updates make great social media posts.

You read a lot. Train yourself to recognize that moment when you just finished reading something impressive. Words like clarifying, comprehensive, energizing, insightful, or brilliant might spring to mind as indicators something is memorable. FWIW, something is brilliant if it seems obvious and clear in retrospect, but you would not have been able to articulate it before. When you read something like that, add it to your reading list immediately.

Avoid the trap of saving for later. That only saves time if you never read it again. Take the few seconds to record it while the context is fresh in your mind. Let your reading list manage the reference context for you.

Next steps

Set up an account, and create a membic theme for your reading list at membic.org. Click the membic theme settings for the code to insert it into your website, and the RSS address for connecting it to automated tracking. Check this previous article for an example of how to connect your theme to your social media automatically.

What You Read, Who You Are

Eyeballs, Mindshare, and RSS

The noisy and fast paced battle for eyeballs is slowing. If you are one of the popular few that have managed to rise above the din, congratulations. Whether you’ve made it or not, expect that visibility is going to continue to get more difficult, and more hierarchical, as the noise floor continues to rise.

What if you don’t have time to post all the time while feverishly monitoring all your social media feeds?

You are going to post less. Make it count.

What to post and where

The first step in communicating more effectively is to differentiate between ephemeral and memorable. Your reaction to the latest headline is ephemeral. An article that does a great job contextualizing recent events is memorable.

Continue to do whatever you do with the ephemeral. For the memorable, first post it for reference, then do whatever else with it. Where to post:

  1. Blog

    If you can write a few paragraphs about your reaction to something, write a blog entry. I use WordPress, YMMV. If you don’t currently have a blog, setting up and getting started will take an hour or two, but after that creating a new blog entry is simply create/edit/save. If you have a website, make sure your site references your blog, and your blog references your site.

  2. Reference

    If you just want to keep a link and a sentence why it was memorable, add an entry to your reference links list. I use Membic, YMMV. If you don’t currently have a list to track your references, setting up a membic theme will take an hour or so, but after that you just write/edit/save. If you have a website, embed the reference links from the theme as a page within your site.

  3. Calendar

    If something is time dependent, put it on a public calendar. I use Google Calendar, YMMV. You (and anyone else) can overlay your public calendar on top of your personal calendar for a complete view of what is going on. If you have a website, embed the calendar as a page within your site.

Posting memorable content generally in addition to socially adds depth to your web presence, and provides a way for people to connect with you even if they are not involved on your favorite social net. It helps others, and you will find it helpful yourself.

How to monitor

Returning to the original issue of feverishly monitoring all your social media all day trying to keep up, it’s ok to let that go every once in a while. Balance your socializing with some in-depth contact.

For those friends whose insights you value, ask if they have a website, blog, reference links list, or public calendar. You can merge the calendars into yours. For everything else, merge them all into a single source with an RSS reader. I use Feedly, YMMV. It may seem a lot at first, but keeping up takes a fraction of social media time, and it’s high quality stuff.

Talk to your friends about RSS

Like email, RSS is older technology. It’s not as old as email, but it’s definitely an old school web approach from a time before some of the web giants were quite as giant. It’s seriously powerful, and it’s seriously underutilized. Many people I’ve talked to haven’t even heard of it, so it seems worth mentioning.

Newspapers, news channels, blogs, reference lists, and other web sources have RSS feeds. Using a feed reader, you can gather all the sources you want to track into a single comprehensive overview. Check it out.

Eyeballs, Mindshare, and RSS

Using A Membic Theme For References On Your Website

You have expert knowledge enabling you to make informed selections of what is worth reading. You could probably recommend several excellent books, articles, videos, documentaries and other material well worth the time to check out. Where do people find that? Is there a page on your site? Is it up to date?

Probably not. Maintaining a website page sucks. So you throw a link into your Twitter feed or whatever instead.

Here’s how to to set up a proper reference links page with minimum hassle. And you can still tweet your links.

Your reference links page

A proper reference links page helps disseminate information, serves as a useful reference for your own memory, and bolsters your web presence. It makes it easy to see things you’ve found recently, automatically tracks your best finds, is searchable by text, and can be filtered by keywords. Your reference links page can be accessed either on its own or as a page on your website. It supports RSS so people can follow what you post, and it integrates with social media so people can follow there. Adding a reference link takes about the same effort as posting a link to social media.

A reference links page shows what you found noteworthy, enhances your memory, and provides interactive insight for others who are interested. The insight and memory improvements come from the short note you include with each link describing why it is memorable. For you, the reference page is about the links. For other people, your notes make it valuable.

What to post

The simplest way to build your reference links page is to take a subset of what you already post to social media. When you find yourself about to post a link that seems worth remembering, make a reference link first, then post it socially.

To reiterate about the value of a reference link, it’s your comment about why a link is memorable that makes it informative to other people. But it’s not just something you do for others; that comment also helps to jog your memory when you reference your own links. Your comment increases your recall and makes it faster to find things. Your reference links page is essentially an organized list of links, each of which has a sentence about why it is noteworthy. Each link-plus-comment reference link item is called a membic.

When you find something worth remembering, make a membic to associate why you think the link is memorable with the link itself. That also makes for a good social media post, so creating the membic doesn’t really take any extra time out of your day.

For the first half dozen or so membics you make, your reference links page might not be spectacularly impressive, but as it grows you’ll find it increasingly useful. If you consistently make membics for noteworthy resources, you may soon find that your reference links page becomes one of the more dynamic and impressive parts of your web presence.

Setting up

Getting a reference links page set up is going to take a few minutes, but it only has to be done once. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Create a membic account. You will need to provide an email address for password recovery. You will also need to provide a name and an image to be associated with membics you create. Pen names and icons are fine if that’s more comfortable.
  2. Make a theme. Click your profile icon, select your themes tab, and click “Create cooperative theme”. The theme will become your reference links page. Give it a name, image, and short description.
  3. Set a unique hashtag by clicking on the gear icon in the theme, filling the hashtag value and saving. You can’t reserve a hashtag worldwide, but it’s worth doing a quick search to try and pick something that won’t be confused with something else. The hashtag gets added when you tweet a membic, and it’s used as the URL for your standalone reference links page. After saving the hashtag, click the theme title to see the standalone reference links page link.
  4. Make some membics so you have something to look at. If you’re not sure what to add, try adding your top 3 books and the most memorable article you’ve read in the past week. To make a membic, click the write icon, fill out the fields, click the checkbox next to your theme and save.
  5. If you have a website, make your reference links page part of it. Click the gear icon for the theme, then the “Embed Theme” link. Copy the code into a page on your site to display your reference links there. You can customize the tab and link colors in the theme settings to match your site if you want.

There are vastly more things you can do with membic themes, but that’s the core of setting up a reference links page.

HTH
cheers,
-ep

Using A Membic Theme For References On Your Website

Connecting Membic to Hootsuite

For the past year, I’ve been pretty happy sharing my membics via Twitter whenever I write them. I had my Twitter account set to share on Facebook, and that approach generally worked well to keep a variety of people informed. However I couldn’t help but notice that I was sharing every membic for my epnewtech theme, and that made me think some automation could be helpful.

Social Media Tools

Social media tools are primarily for marketing, but they address the problem of reaching people who prefer to use different social networks. If you have more than a few people interested in your membics, chances are you will find yourself in this situation. Rather than choosing a single social network and telling everyone to find you there, you can use a social media tool to reach your friends using whichever network they prefer.

There are quite a few social network tools out there, with varying features and pricing. I decided to go with Hootsuite because they have been doing this for quite a while, and they are kind enough to let you get started with some basic features for free.

RSS Feeds

One awesome feature of Hootsuite is the ability to read from an RSS feed (hourly, every few hours, or daily) and post to whichever social network you want. Setting this up is remarkably easy: I connected Hootsuite to my Twitter account, then chose “Publisher” from the main menu, then “RSS Feeds”, and then “+” to add a new feed. On membic, I copied the link location of the RSS feed icon on the epnewtech theme page and pasted that into the Hootsuite dialog URL field. I selected to check the feed every 6 hours, sending one post at a time, and including text from the post in my messages. Done.

Hootsuite requires a URL shortener for links. I went with the default “ow.ly” option. Requiring a URL shortener bothered me at first because I’m one of those careful people who likes to read the address of what I’m clicking on. I decided it was ok because:

  1. Even though I’m moderately careful, I’ll tolerate the long and decorated URLs typically presented by popular social networks. I look at who the post is from, the description, and image to help determine if it’s ok to click, or if I need to go find it myself.

  2. A social media tool can’t do it’s job without tracking clicks, so a URL shortener is a requirement.

The actual impact of the shortened URLs ends up being minimally intrusive. More on that later.

First Tweet

After setting up, I posted a new membic and looked forward to seeing the automatic tweet. Then I waited some more. Nothing. Then I hit the docs and found out that Hootsuite won’t read a secure http (https) feed address. No problem, the membic RSS feeds can be accessed either way. So I rebuilt the RSS feed definition in Hootsuite using the plain http url. Hootsuite won’t retroactively post things from the feed, so I made another membic and waited.

This time the automatic tweet went through on schedule, but the tweet was pretty much just a plain text title. That’s when I realized the RSS feed needed some special care to serve Hootsuite well. Cutting to the chase, the solution is to tack &ts=sdvtvrk onto the end of the RSS feed URL. Looks cryptic, but it’s actually pretty simple if you know what the letters mean.

The “ts” parameter stands for title specification and it reads letter codes to choose which summary elements should appear in the title of each RSS feed entry. There is also a “ds” parameter (for description specification) which does the same thing for the body of each RSS feed entry. Because Hootsuite won’t read past the title if it is too long, I decided to just put everything into the title. Here’s what the letter codes are:

    s rating stars (as asterisks)
    d membic text description
    v vertical bar separator
    t title of the membic
    r type of membic (e.g. “book”, “activity”)
    k keywords

It’s likely some of the text won’t fit into the tweet, so I put the most important things first.

Working Automation

After tuning the RSS feed, the tweet from my article membic looked great! The text got cut off after 110 characters to fit the Twitter size limit, but with an ellipsis so it looks on purpose. The tweet included the article pic, the article title, the first couple of lines of text from the article summary, and the article source (e.g. “nytimes.com”).

The link for the tweet displayed as a shortened twitter url (“t.co”) which opens in a new browser tab when clicked. All standard and looking good. So what happened with that Hootsuite “ow.ly” URL shortener?

If you watch closely when you click through to the article (or check your browser history afterwards) you will see that the “t.co” link opens the “ow.ly” link which then opens the link to the article. The process is smooth and barely noticeable, allowing both Twitter and Hootsuite to note that the link was clicked. Adding one more click tracker doesn’t slow things down much.

Cascading Posts

If you have your Twitter account set up to post through to Facebook, that still works when Hootsuite automatically tweets for you, but the Facebook post shows the Hootsuite “ow.ly” URL as the source. To clean that up, I stopped the automatic post-through via Twitter, and set up a second automatic RSS feed publisher in Hootsuite. I used the same RSS feed URL as I did when setting up publishing to Twitter, but connected the feed to my Facebook account. When publishing to Facebook, there’s an option to choose your post visibility. The default setting is public, but I chose friends because that’s how I use Facebook.

In the Facebook post, the full membic text shows up because there is no size limit, and the post looks like you would expect with an article pic and source. Facebook indicates that the post was via Hootsuite, so any of my friends can see that I’m using automation. That’s worth being aware of if that matters to you or your followers, but for me it was previously showing my posts via Twitter, so it seems about the same.

As with all social networks, it’s probably a good idea to interact personally when you have time, but automation can still be a big help. For me it was especially useful since the time I spend recording something memorable frequently doesn’t coincide with the time I spend on social networks, even if membics might be part of my outbound social communications. In all, Hootsuite is a pretty cool tool to be aware of, and using it makes working with themes in membic even easier.

To see the results of Hootsuite automation, compare my twitter feed against the epnewtech theme.

HTH.

Connecting Membic to Hootsuite

How to build a public link archive, and why

There are many reasons for creating a link archive. Maybe you’re involved in a research project, or perhaps just tracking a hobby interest. Maybe your starting a learning process or fact gathering investigation. Building an archive starts when you dig deeper and start making notes on more memorable references.

At first, the notes aren’t really an archive. Even if you return for a second day to add more. But by the time you’ve come back to it a third day, you might be wondering if some structure would be useful.

Keywords

Resist the impulse to divide your notes into sections. After the number of references you’ve noted starts heading into the double digits you have some organizational concepts, but filing or outlining is probably going to get in your way. Instead, write down your top 5 (plus or minus 2) sub-areas of interest, cross-cutting concerns or framing topics.

It’s perfectly ok for a reference to fit into more than one topic. The point here is that the topics you are are creating represent how you want to access things. You’ve collected enough links that have an idea what things you want to look out for when you look through more, so build the topics that represent how you want to access the links in your archive.

Now make keywords for each of your topics.

Yes, keywords. Possibly the most poorly utilized access mechanism ever. That field that is all too often skipped or filled in with whatever springs to mind is actually quite powerful. Use it to access your links by topic. You’ve just created highly useful structure that enables you to find things even if you can’t remember the title, author or exact details. You’ve also just built a way to get yourself back up to speed fast if you put the archive on hold and come back in a month. Keywords are your friends because they enable access by topic, and that is powerful.

With keywords for topics, you’re about halfway to a kick ass archive.

Speed note

Why did I note this link?

Nothing is more obvious right now, and nothing is harder to remember later. Especially if it was an important detail. Write it down! Do you really want to read the whole thing again when you come back? The return on investment for 100 characters of text to jog your memory will save you a lot of time. Repeatedly. Don’t believe it? Try it.

While you’re at it, consider distinguishing between a completely awesome informational resource, and a relatively slow link with a few useful points you want for reference. That’ll help also.

The case for open

Congratulations! Nice link archive you’ve built. Is it just for you?

Seriously, is this just going to sit on your computer? Other people could learn from it. And you’re pointing out some good information sources that would probably appreciate a link back.

Not convinced? I wasn’t either at first but then I remembered what it was like transitioning to open source software development. Why should I show the world my code? Who wants it? What if it’s not good enough? Ultimately I went open source because it was easier to work with and I could get it hosted for free with no hassle.

Then I noticed a change in how I worked. Even though I wasn’t popular enough that people would follow everything I was writing, there was still an accountability and responsibility working in the open that elevated the quality of what I created. Not only are the things I’ve built in the open more useful over time, I can access them from anywhere and show them to anyone.

Since you know how to lay a foundation for an archive using keywords, description and an overall quality rating, there’s lots of software you can use to build a working link archive. Even a spreadsheet will work. Want to try open? Read on.

Building archives with membic.org

For shorthand, call that archive element link+description+rating thing a “membic”. Membic.org is free site where you can make membics and store them in your profile.

On membic.org, a link archive is called a “theme”. Once you have created a profile, create a new theme from the tab on your profile page. Define your keywords in the theme settings.

Themes have numerous great features, including being able to collaborate with others. As always, feedback welcome either here or on the site. Thanks for digging into things.

How to build a public link archive, and why