Information overload

In a typical day, I need to look at stacks of stuff: a few hundred emails, a thousand-plus RSS headlines and God knows how many web pages. I use a bunch of excellent programs to try and manage all of that, and while they all work really well I’m drowning in data. The problem is that each program is very good at a specific thing, but the applications don’t talk to one another.

For example, I use Entourage to manage email. It scans for junk and trashes it, sorts mail into appropriate folders, colour-codes things according to the sender, and it enables me to store things in particular folders. NetNewsWire tracks my favourite feeds and enables me to flag things for later. Firefox is a damn good web browser. But that’s not enough.

What I really need is the ability to do the same thing in all three programs. For example, if I think an emailed press release is worth flagging for X magazine’s news section, I’ve got an Entourage folder for that. If it’s just reference, I’ve got a folder for that too. If it’s for a forthcoming feature for Y magazine, guess what? Yep, folder for that. But in NetNewsWire, which I use to manage even more information than Entourage, I’ve got a single option: I can flag items, but I can’t tag ’em (unless there’s a feature in the program I’ve missed). The result is that I end up with a *huge* flagged items folder containing hundreds of things, some of which are appropriate for X mag, some for Y mag, some of which are for background research, and some of which are just funny. There’s no way that I can see to tag the flagged items so I only see the things I need for the project I’m actually doing. I’ve tried dragging individual posts to new folders – which seems logical enough – but all that does is add the entire RSS feed to your new folder. Ech.

Same with Firefox. Bookmarks are a pretty blunt instrument, and of course they don’t work if the site’s down or your net connection’s flaky. Saving pages is a pain in the backside, and while I know it’s possible to save stuff and add Spotlight comments for future searching it’s very time consuming to do that (and Spotlight’s turned off on the Mac Mini, because I can’t afford the performance hit).

What Entourage, NetNewsWire and Firefox have in common is two things: they can all display text and Web content, and they support folders (albeit in different ways: in Entourage it’s folders of mail, in NNW it’s folders of feeds). What I’d like to do is bring those programs together, to share a folder structure or tag system between mail, RSS and Web. That means when I’m doing Mag X’s news section, I can access all the material I need by clicking on the appropriate folder, irrespective of its source. As far as I can see, there isn’t a way of doing that with my current software.

Does anyone know better? Any recommendations appreciated.

4 thoughts on “Information overload

  1. gusto says:

    I have the same problem. The most efficient way I’ve found of doing this is to use plain text files, and stick the URLs of web pages or blog posts in there. If it’s an email I just add a note to say what it’s about and which folder it’s in. It’s not ideal but it works. The problem with this is that you still need to know what you’ll be writing about in the future in order to make the text files, and even then, you can end up copying and pasting the same URL into multiple documents because it *might* be of use. Actually, then, it’s not an efficient method at all :)

    I use Bloglines for RSS feeds but that doesn’t really help. I can save stuff as clippings but not by categories as far as I can see. And I do need something that I can use both at home and work.

    I think the best solution would be just to make the internet a bit smaller :)

  2. Gary says:

    Hey Gusto. The text thing wouldn’t work for me; what I’d really like is something that’s a hybrid of thunderbird and netnewswire – something that I could use to manage everything at once. I suspect you’re right about the solution being to make the net smaller…

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