The "5 Things I'm Reading Now" block you see to your right is a feed coming from my new WordPress site, labs.johannabates.com. After migrating this blog to Drupal 7, I found I missed having a WordPress site to play with. So I set one up, and the next thing I knew I was using it as a kind of "cloud notebook", a place to store links and ideas. So far, it's been working for me in ways that other services—like Delicio.us and Evernote—have failed.
I'm not a fanatical Getting Things Done adherent, but the method and its many offspring have definitely helped me become more efficient. One of the best tips I ever picked up was about sorting incoming snail mail. Don't necessarily put your incoming snail mail sorting and recycling bin where you wish they could go if you were just a bit more organized. Instead, put them where wherever it is you naturally dump your mail when you come in the door. This concept has served me well, and it's how I evaluate software tools for myself, and for orgs who ask me for guidance.
Software has to work with you to in order to work for you. It doesn't mean you might not have to change the way you do things, and it doesn't mean that change will necessarily be easy at first. But in the long run, the change should feel somewhat intuitive, and should make things easier. (This can be particularly difficult in an org where people do things in different ways, and what's "intuitive" to one person isn't to another. But that's another post.)
Over the years, I've used Delicio.us for bookmarking. I've never been much of a social bookmarking fan, though. I really just want a place to catalogue links and notes in the cloud, and I do my sharing on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. There are many other cloud-based software tools that do this. I have a colleague who loves Diigo, which I haven't tried. I gave Evernote a go after many people recommended it to me. But Diigo and Evernote almost do... too much. You can capture screenshots, along with links and notes and clips from the web that you can highlight and annotate. And they both have mobile versions. I do plan to explore Diigo and Evernote some more, particularly around collaboration with colleagues and friends. But in the meantime, I just want a simple notebook of my own. A notebook in the cloud.
So I made myself a WordPress site. I often read blogs at night on my Droid. Between the WordPress Android app and the Press This link in my browser, I can easily post a link and tag it with a category when I find something I want to come back to later. I have a category called "Reading", and I pulled that feed into this Drupal blog via Aggregator. That automatically creates a block in Drupal of the most recent feed items, but it links to my WordPress site instead of directly to the external link. To do away with that two-click problem, I made a View block and rewrote the output of the feed item title so that it uses the URL from the body of the feed item (stripped of HTML tags) to create a link to the original source. So many reasons to love Views.
I'm sure there's more experimenting to come, because I love WordPress. Honestly, what I think feels best about using WordPress as my cloud notebook is that the data is on my (okay, virtual private) server. I own the open source software tool, and I own my data. In a world of murky privacy where Facebook, Twitter and Google ultimately control the majority of my communications data, that feels soothing.
Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt