Read it when you need it!


This post was triggered by a tweet from Jess McCulloch (@jessmcculloch) that initiated a train of thought much longer than suggested by her original question.

Jess’s tweet  raised the issue of the “Read later” tag/list asking does anyone get round to their “Read later”s. I sent a reply to the effect that I never use “Read later” options as I know perfectly well that I will never read them! This started me thinking about what I do actually do with respect to dealing with the myriad links and posts that cross my desktop each day.

My online “imperatives”

These are some of my personal strategies (other than using an iGoogle page for easy access to many things):

  • Don’t try to read/view (or promise myself to read/view) everything that passes across my desktop.
  • Don’t collect “read later” lists because I know I won’t do it.
  • Have in my GoogleReader feed only very few feeds from blogs I have a particular reason to follow. Even then I don’t expect to read them all in depth or even at all.
  • Skim anything that attracts my immediate attention eg from the title or topic mentions and then tag with Diigo. That way I can find it with a search of my Diigo tags.
  • Adopt a read it when I need it approach – hence skimming & tagging in Diigo for those items that interest me at first glance rather than reading them in depth.
  • Adopt a find it when I need it approach – use my search skills to find what I need when I need it then tag in Diigo for future use. This saves me inordinate amounts of time as I rarely read, and therefore don’t catalogue/tag, an item until I need it.

  • Use different bookmarking applications for different purposes – for example all my virtual room links and a number of frequent access sites are saved via Google Bookmarks for easy access whereas I use Diigo for web pages, blog posts etc that need to be tagged for me to find relevant ones.
  • Never re-share, re-tweet, re-post links without reading or at least skimming them first! This is one reason that I don’t re-tweet often. I know it is counter to the way most people operate on Twitter but I am unwilling to re-share anything I haven’t accessed myself!
  • With anything that gives me a daily/weekly email of updates I rarely open these until I want information from them. I simply file them in a folder labelled with the source and then access & keyword search the folder.


I think I am lucky in that I remember key information relating to things that interest me (I have a magpie mind) even if they have only been briefly mentioned or have been submerged in other content. Also I am  a relatively good “searcher” and usually find it easy to access the information I need quite quickly when I need it!.

5 thoughts on “Read it when you need it!

  1. Thanks for good suggestions!

    However, I think that for a “read it when you need it” to truly work, you’d need a push notification system of some sort to provide you with contextually relevant material, depending what you are currently doing.

  2. Hi Santtu

    Thank you for the comment! I do indeed use some “push” strategies but only as as indicated above. Ie GReader and some groups etc that give me regular digests. I see titles of the GReader ones and they are from people whose posts I have enjoyed before – some of these I skim. the group digests I simply file in an email folder so that I can search the folder for a specific topic.

    Because my interests are eclectic and I access a very wide variety of different topics in seeking ways to better engage my disengaged students I find that I can easily have too many notifications. It is far more time efficient for me to search at need & then bookmark.


  3. Agreed, the wider the variety of interests, the more difficult it is for an automated system to provide anything contextually relevant. At the very minimum the system should learn based on your behavior. There should be an easy-to-use feedback systems which would lower the amount of notifications you receive.

  4. I have a real phobia about systems that “learn” and give me what they “think” I want/need. For me this runs a major risk of excessively narrowing my focus.

    My concern with systems that “learn” is that when they give me, for example, customised search results I: a) lose serendipitous learning/discovery; b) will no longer have the opportunity to “know what I don’t know”; and c) I will cease to be taken out of my comfort zone.

    For me Web3.0 (semantic web) is the scariest possible “Big Brother” scenario!

  5. The system I have in mind would definitely ensure serendipitous learning/discovery. Think more of Stumble Upon or Amazon’s recommendation algorithms than the Semantic Web. The suggestions would be based on other users’ behaviors and opinions, not (only) on some top down ontology. And these users would be similar enough to you to bring relevance but not too similar so that your focus is not narrowed.

    I know that this is far from trivial to implement (or even design), but still worthwile to investigate.

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