Tracking Links Publicly

If your ongoing interest fits somewhere in the range between amateur curiosity and professional research, you need a way to track things of interest that you discover. Assuming you are not averse to helping others and building your reputation along the way, tracking links publicly is a great way to go… with some important considerations:

Easy

Noting a link to something has to be easy. If it takes too long to do, it doesn’t happen. We’re all busy.

It’s reasonable to expect noting a link should be much easier than writing a blog entry. Some links merit significant description, but in most cases a sentence is enough. But you should expect to write something; links without any of your thoughts don’t really help anybody much.

To make noting a link easier, look for things like automatic link source parsing, autocomplete for book titles, simple keyword entry, duplicate entry detection, quick importance rating, and share buttons connecting to where you commonly post.

Safe

It would be great if all discussions were thoughtful and respectful, but you should probably skip supporting general comments. If someone has something to say about a link they can note the link themselves. Rely on your existing social networks, then get simple structured feedback through buttons to mark something as helpful, or to remember something for later.

The amount of personal information you divulge should always be clear and under your control. It should be clear what you are presenting, and more than that shouldn’t be available for anyone.

Providing helpful information to the public is of benefit to the community, and technology platforms have a responsibility to support constructive processes against common destructive patterns. If you decide you don’t want to hear from someone, it should be easy to filter them out.

Powerful

It should be possible to set up keywords specific to your ongoing interest so you can easily peruse the links you have noted. That’s in addition to standard text based search.

The links you post should be accessible how you want: as a standalone site, embedded in your own site, or via a news reader. And they should look good.

Best way to do that? Set up a theme at https://membic.org

Advertisements
Tracking Links Publicly

How to Make Resource Links Part of Your Online Presence

Part of what you do is educate and inform. You do this mostly through your own publications, but also by steering people to additional resources for context and detail.

You could probably point out quite a few helpful resources right now just off the top of your head. You have this knowledge because you continually read books and articles. You watch videos. You check out installations online and in the physical world. You have found, and continue to find, a wealth of information helpful to other people and informative of what you do in the context of the world at large.

Here’s how to make that part of your online presence.

Approachable Information

Other than events and similar things best kept on a calendar, there are three primary ways to access resources:

  1. Recently discovered
  2. Most highly recommended
  3. Search

You might also have a taxonomy, syllabus, or other value added organizational structure. Unfortunately maintaining that can’t be done automatically, but you can automate primary access which can help.

To automatically support primary access, you need to build from a standardized representation. At base, that requires some kind of reference to the resource itself. So you need a URL, a physical address, or a unique description (e.g. title, author, year for a book). This is referred to as a link.

To the link, you add a reason why you think it is memorable, an overall rating (quality, relevance, importance, usefulness), and any keywords you think could be helpful for search. Done. That’s all it takes to build, maintain, display and easily access all your external resource references on an ongoing basis.

The key is why you think a link is important. That’s not hard to write; a single sentence as a note to yourself is typically sufficient. And the impact is huge. Your reason why a link is important provides immensely valuable context for others, and it is just as valuable for your own reference later. Why references are important transforms a static and easily ignored list of links into an expert guided introductory overview of the contextual sphere you operate in.

Working Collaboratively

When an organization or group wants to provide reference links, contributors need to be empowered at different levels:

  1. Followers are interested in seeing updated references, but don’t contribute.
  2. Members contribute. They can also edit or remove their own references.
  3. Moderators have all membership privileges, plus they can remove bad references from others and approve new member applications.
  4. Founders can do anything, including remove or invite people.

Managing membership works by promotion or demotion, and an action log shows who has done what and when.

Collectively, the membership management, primary access to resource references, and framing descriptive information is referred to as a theme. A tightly focused group will likely have a single theme. A larger, more disparate organization could have several themes.

Extending Your Online Presence

Resource references from your theme can be displayed directly in an appropriate section of your website by adding a few lines of script. Once embedded, your website will continuously display updated reference links without further changes.

Each theme has an RSS feed that lets people keep up to date using a news reader. The feed can also be used in other ways, for example a blog sidebar with recent reference links to decorate your blog.

The permalink for a theme is a microsite, which can optionally be placed inside of your own custom domain.

When appropriate, you can easily share any new reference links (or an entire theme) on social media.

And it’s free.

For more details, click the info button at https://membic.org

How to Make Resource Links Part of Your Online Presence

Why Descriptions

Which is more important, the link or your description? Right now, for you, the link probably seems vastly more important. But the description you write is what provides context, which is important to your friends (and for you if you revisit the link later). That’s why social sites prompt you to write something when you post. Assuming you are going to bother to write something, what’s the best way to describe a link?

What to write

In short, write why you think the link is memorable. That may not be your first impulse, but it’s a great way to balance reaction and description. The reason you think a link is memorable provides “why” and “what” in a meaningful way without being wordy. It creates context that is appreciated by your friends, and it’s helpful if you come back to it later.

If why you think a link is memorable seems like a hard question to answer, try

  • Why is this link especially interesting?
  • What did I learn?
  • How does this relate to my view of the world?

Or make up your own alternative question. What makes something memorable for you? By answering why, you provide context for your friends, and for yourself if you revisit the link later.

Optional detail: Title and identifying fields

If there’s space, sending a title along with the link helps describe what the link is about. It can also help you find and fix things if the link changes or the content gets relocated.

Most times a title or name is all that is needed, but occasionally that’s not specific enough. When it could be ambiguous, consider including the author, artist, release year, address or other identification to help specify. Link content can change or become unavailable. Some titles may be available from more than one place, which could be different. Including identifying fields makes it clear what you are referencing.

When you have space in your description, include a title and identifying fields.

Optional detail: Rating

If you bother to share a link, it’s most likely above average quality or so bad it’s worth special mention. In either case, since you have enough perspective to know that not everything you share is The Awesomest Thing, consider including a rating.

The big advantage of a rating is it provides differentiation between something everybody absolutely must check out, and something that’s worth the time but can be skipped if things are really busy. The rating allows you to share more without overloading people because they can tell how important things are. A rating also helps find your best stuff later.

Including a rating respects people’s time and helps you organize. Stars are good because they don’t get confused with numbers or letters in the rest of the description.

Optional detail: Keywords

Keywords are a concise way to add another dimension to your description. For example if a video is appropriate for children, adding a “kid ok” keyword will go a long way towards letting parents know when a link is ok to click in the living room. It also helps everybody find content appropriate for sharing at all ages.

How effective a keyword is depends on what kind of a link you are sharing, but if you choose wisely and keep a list readily available, you can easily communicate a wealth of information with minimum text.

Consistent keywords add a whole other level to the description of the links you share.

Conclusion

Including a description when sharing a link creates context for your readers and for search. A well structured description will help your friends and yourself.

Looking for an app to handle link descriptions well? Try membic.

Why Descriptions

Why Types

Did you mean the book or the movie? You can’t always tell from just a title, so you need some type classifications. But taxonomies make things tedious and harder to use. How can you disambiguate without falling into the taxonomy trap? Can type classification be transformed from a chore to an advantage?

The right number

You don’t have to memorize every type to choose one, but you do have to load them all into your brain at once. Humans can usually handle two or three clumps of three or four items. The more you push it, the more people’s brain capacity you’ve exceeded. Traditionally, seven has been a good working maximum. Less is better, but if you are striving for coverage breadth you’ll probably hit the max. Don’t exceed it.

Nothing is going to work all the time for all things, so there will always be the “other” type. The goal isn’t to eliminate this catchall, but to minimize how often it gets used. If “other” gets a lot of use, then you might need to refactor your chosen types. Great type classifications may seem obvious in retrospect but they are refined over time.

Search advantages

Types may be necessary for disambiguation, but they also help with search. While it’s unusual to search by type, each type provides a context for secondary descriptive information that makes retrieval easy. Things like a physical address, or how creatives are associated with a work vary depending on the type. Useful associated keywords vary even more. The depth of information associated with each contextual type is what makes retrieval work well.

If a link dies or content is removed, descriptive information can help you reconstruct a reference through search. It can also help you decide if that’s worth the effort to do.

Good associations of descriptive fields and keywords make a richer and accessible search space. Types can also provide helpful filtering when there are a lot of search results.

Sameness

It might seem minor, but it can be annoying to check out something new on a friend’s recommendation only to find you’ve checked it out before. At the other end of the spectrum it can be fun to discover you and a friend have something in common you both really liked. Duplicate avoidance and commonality discovery both hinge on understanding if two things are the same.

It would be great if things had unique names or links, but they don’t. A video can be embedded. An article might be published in more than one place. Names vary. As humans we rely on secondary descriptive information to figure out if things are effectively the same. When making a purchase, specifics matter a lot. In a social situation where people are seeking common experiences, the simplest possible match is usually enough.

Minimal descriptive fields and simple matching keeps details unobtrusive and helpful. If a normally non-essential detail becomes important for a specific case, it can be mentioned in the title.

Occasionally two things turn out to be the same even when all the descriptive information is different. When that happens it’s good to give people a way to note that so they don’t bump into it again.

Conclusion

Done well, types are far from a necessary evil and can be distinct advantage in a variety of situations. For any situation dealing with a variety of different things, handling types well is a key design aspect.

Why Types

Search, Bookmarks, and Notes

How do you save a link? You’ve just found something memorable and want to save it for future reference. Now what?

Search, workflow, and social networks have transformed the world immeasurably since the early days of saving web pages. You no longer need to remember things that are easy to find, things that are task related are pretty much tracked automatically, and you can immediately broadcast anything interesting to everyone who is listening. So what’s missing?

In short, listening has gotten harder. There is so much being found that we can’t follow all the broadcasts. The conversation has been overwhelmed, yet we still discover things. Here are a few strategies on how to deal with remembering and sharing.

Memory and Search

The default strategy for keeping link references is your brain and a search engine. Always available, and usually reliable. Not collaborative, and limited to your own memory, but if you forget then it couldn’t have been that important. Right?

Usually right, but not always. A link may become more important over time but you stopped remembering it before that. A pattern of links might be important but not discernable from what is in your working memory now. You may want to revisit memorable links from a different perspective. Perhaps it’s simply been too long, or something else came along in the meantime so you lost it.

With memory alone, collaboration is limited to what happens to come up in social conversation. That’s a very small potential. Just remembering might be the default, but there are better options.

Bookmarks

Bookmarks are NOT a better option. I’m mentioning them because it can be tempting to try use bookmarks as a place to save memorable things. Don’t do it.

It is possible that there are people who know what is saved in their bookmarks, can access their beautifully organized folders faster than searching, and always check their bookmarks first. I’ve never met anyone like that. However I have met several people with large and unwieldy folder hierarchies and a limited knowlege of what is actually in there or how to find it. Don’t use bookmarks for memorable links, bookmarks are for sites you access regularly.

Notes

Notes ARE a better option. Making a note can be as simple as writing a line in a loosely structured file, or as advanced as capturing site contents. A note can be related to something you are working on, part of a group workflow, or something else. Here are some aspects to consider when evaluating where to save a note:

Work or play? Even if you could use the same technology for a hobby as for your work, you probably shouldn’t. Keeping work separate from personal is kind of like keeping collaboration separate from social.

Known timeframe? If the notes you are making are related to a sequence of tasks or events, you may want to group them together on that basis or put things on a calendar. In the absence a known timeframe, notes accumulated over time should not degrade into a mess.

Your own reference or shareable? You make notes because they are helpful to you, but some of your notes could be helpful to others. If you want to collaborate, consider how you and your collaboration buddies will share. Think about what you would like to receive. Make sure you can send accordingly.

Considering these aspects will help provide some perspective when deciding if a technology is useful for your situation. If choosing a technology seems like too much to start, try just saving links in a simple text file for up to a year. Then you’ll have a better idea on how you want to use your notes and whether you want to collaborate.

General strategies

Regardless of what technology you are using, the most important thing you can do when noting a link is to include a line about why you think it is memorable. A one-liner about why a link is worth remembering will increase your chances of finding it, provide context for why you noted it, and facilitate sharing.

The second most important thing you can do is be selective. When you are working on a task, you might note a lot of links. For collaborative sharing, you want to be more selective. Curating is a skill that improves with practice, and it is worth some time to do. A well curated collection is a goldmine of useful information.

For collaborating on selected links, check out membic.org.

Enjoy listening again.

Search, Bookmarks, and Notes

Link sourcers are cool.

Link sourcing: scouring the vast wasteland of the internet to discover the few things actually worth paying attention to.

Maybe “scouring” is too strong a term, but if you’ve done any searching for things that interest you, chances are you’ve waded through a lot of links to discover one or two that are memorable. When you share those links, you are link sourcing.

Why link sourcers are cool

When you receive a link, you think of the link sourcer as both helpful and knowledgeable. They have passed on a great tip and made you aware of something new. Even before you click, you recognize they have given you the results of their discovery time.

There is nothing more clickable than a link received from someone you really trust. Especially if they happen to mention why it is worth your time.

A trusted link sourcer is someone you want to keep in contact with.

Sourcing links

Sometimes sourcing links is easy. For example when a friend sends you a great link and you just pass it along to others. Other times you wade through so much average to bad content you begin to doubt human potential. Here’s a few tips to keep in mind as you establish yourself as a link sourcer:

  1. Say why. In a phrase or two, say why the link is important. Enable your audience to quickly decide if a link reflects their interest and is worth their time. That way, even if they don’t click through, they still appreciate that you sourced it. Keep it brief, one sentence is best.

  2. Choose quality, always. You might be tempted to share a link to something average just because it’s the best you found and you spent a bunch of time looking. Don’t do it. How much people appreciate you as a link sourcer relates directly to the quality of the links you select. Better to not share anything than to share something that you are not willing to stand behind as definitely worthwhile.

  3. Pace yourself. So you’ve hit the jackpot on a search and discovered three or more defensibly awesome links to share. While the links might be great, asking for too much attention can backfire. For maximum impact, spread them out over a few days.

Your networks

Links you source will reflect different interests or focus, perhaps including entertainment or hobbies or professional interests. You’ll need to decide whether links related to particular interests are best for a specialized or general audience. Either way, for every link you source, there will usually be at least one good place to share it. A little planning ahead of time will make sharing with your networks easier and more consistent.

As a first step, decide where you are going to post. There are a lot of social networks out there, but your time is limited. You want to share in more than one place to maximize chances your audience can reach you. It’s also a good idea if at least one of the places you post is search engine friendly.

To further increase the ability of your audience to find and benefit from your current and past links, consider creating a unique hashtag for any ongoing areas of interest. Include that hashtag with each link you share. Most social networks support hashtags, providing an easy way for you and your friends to refer back to links you’ve shared when you want to look them up later.

Tools

To maximize your effectiveness as a link sourcer, and your ability to archive your links for your own benefit, take advantage of a site built explicitly for link sharing. Membic.org centralizes all your links, automatically manages your favorites, organizes by keywords, provides dedicated pages for each of your areas of interest, supports collaborative posting, easily shares to multiple social networks, provides newsfeeds and can be embedded in other sites.

Looking forward to seeing your links.

Link sourcers are cool.

Trusted Collaboration

Here’s a story of how a membic theme got started, because sometimes an example is best.

Brunch and the start of a Theme

I enjoy going out for brunch around once or twice a month. It’s a great way to get together with some friends to enjoy food and conversation. Not all of our friends have the same priorities about food as we do, but in this particular case we were getting together with a couple of folks who not only have the same priorities, but are even better than we are at finding interesting, great value places to eat.

After several email exchanges over a few weeks, we found a time and decided to try a grill we had all heard of but never been to before. The food was really good, and the location was fairly convenient given where we were all coming from at the time. Over coffee, conversation turned towards other places we had tried since we last met. One restaurant was in another city, but definitely worth remembering for the next time we were there, so it made sense to make a future membic to remember it (naturally I have membic.org on the home screen of my phone). We happened to mention that we don’t make membics for every recommendation people make, but if these folks say a place is definitely worth checking out then we completely trust that it is. After mentioning that, the response was something like “Exactly, I trust you for recommendations, but not just anyone.”

Someone (I don’t remember who) said the four of us should set up a membic theme, because it’s a curated list. That was when it became really clear to me what trust meant. It meant we could collaborate. If they think something was memorable, there is an incredibly high chance we will also. And vice versa. I’m definitely looking forward to this collaboration because what these friends note as memorable in restaurants is worth more to me than all the reviews on the internet.

Trusted sources

Usually when I think about trust, I think about it as the chance of getting misled. A trustworthy person is someone who won’t mislead me, either through malice or incompetence. This seems like reasonable minimal criteria, but to collaborate with someone I also need to believe that they would make compatible decisions. They might balance things differently, or have a different perspective on the details, but what we find memorable is compatible. Together we can build a curated collection, not separate lists mashed together.

Most of us have already chosen people based on exactly this kind of trust. That’s what it means to have something in common. But we don’t have everything in common, and we trust different friends for different kinds of collaborations. We have close friends who we love to spend time with, but wouldn’t want to collaborate on a restaurant list, but a movie list with them is a whole different thing. A membic theme helps us focus our common interest, which is part of what makes it different than a general posting to a social network.

Collaborating

Being part of a theme with your friends as members helps prompt you to make a membic when you discover something worth remembering. You might still mention it when you next meet, send a note, or broadcast to social media, but regardless if that happens or not, you will still share relevant posts when you want them. And learn from what your friends post about things you haven’t experienced yet.

Membic themes can be accessed by navigating from the site, but they can also be accessed directly via permalink or newsfeed, making them extremely handy for quick access. If you share an interest with some trusted friends, consider setting up a theme for collaborative memory.

Trusted Collaboration