I just love how the tech around me makes doing the nitty-gritty work less time-consuming.
At the last count, I subscribe to nearly 140 RSS feeds. Admittedly, quite a few of these are notification feeds from project management and software development applications, but the vast majority are blog-based.
I use NewNewsWire to read my blogs (Apple only – sorry, D0nny), and I link it up to Google Reader (not compulsory) so that I can read subscriptions on my iPad, too (using FlipBoard). I tend to skim through the titles of new posts and then read the preview of those that interest me. If it’s really worth reading past the preview I’ll either read it there-and-then, or stick it in Delicious and Pinboard as research or reference material.
I thought I’d share some of my favourite blogs. ‘Favourite’ is a difficult thing to quantify, as my reading is quite diverse and what makes one blog better than another is difficult to pin down, if indeed possible. So here are my top 10 blogs, based on the number of articles that get to the final stage of being read and/or bookmarked – a statistic that is really easy to get from NetNewsWire:
(All title links lead to the blogs’ home pages.)
1. The Wall
“Social, marketing, media: Blogged”. The Wall is part of Brand Republic. The vast majority of the stuff I read from here is social media related. It’s a UK production aimed at marketing, media and comms industries. They have a large and varied selection of contributors and I find that I’m usually ‘in tune’ with their opinions.
“A Blog for Web practitioners Designed, Built and Curated by Carsonified”. Aimed pretty much exclusively at the development community. Lots of good stuff, though they are pushing their members-only content quite a lot. Curated by Paul Boag and Ryan Carson, amongst others, so quality is the order of the day.
3. Simply Zesty
“Online PR & Social Media”. Lots of interesting articles around the major social media / networking companies, along with info about advertising / marketing campaigns making use of social media. I’m not selling it well – it’s really good!
“Insight, analysis, and research about emerging technologies”. Number 4 on my most read list. I really like their daily “Four short links” posts highlighting ‘interesting elsewhere’ articles.
Design (print, online, anywhere) and Coding. Lots of good stuff about UX, UI and mobile. Plus, every month they have a desktop wallpaper calendar post in which designers put forward desktop wallpapers for download. Some great inspirational stuff and loads of useful insights, tips, tricks & techniques.
“PublicTechnology.net is the news and analysis resource for ICT leaders in the UK public sector.” (original emphasis). A must-read for me. Lots of interesting, mainly work-related stuff.
“… the place where we talk about what we do.” This is somewhat unfairly down at number 7, as I read every post – there’s just not as many of them as there are on, say, The Wall or Think Vitamin. This is my company blog, so it’s pretty much expected that I’ll read it. That said, it’s an interesting read. If you want to know what Public-i does, then this is where you want to start.
“Thinking about using the social web to do democratic things…..”. Catherine’s blog comes in equal 7th in the Ady’s most visited blogs top 10. Again this is very unfair (on Catherine) – I read every post. Admittedly I understand about 1 in 10, but that’s not the point. Mainly based around her PhD work, the blog continues to show how far down the intelligence scale I actually reside. Excellent analysis of where online meets offline and formal meets informal, along with identity, privacy, co-production.
“Helping you win the battle against wasted time, disorganization, and all other things evil…”. This is one of many time management / GTD type blogs I subscribe to, and is the most read. (And the one I’ve commented on the most.) Craig’s posts are excellent: sometimes challenging, sometimes obvious (after the fact), always worth reading if, like me, you get a buzz from time management.
10. Carl’s Notepad
“Thoughts and observations on the world around me”. Carl Haggerty is the Digital Communications Manager at Devon County Council. I made his acquaintance through work, started reading his blog and have found it to be a great read. Again, this doesn’t deserve to be in 10th position, as I read most, if not all, of Carl’s posts.
So there you go. My top 10 most read blogs. This time next week it’ll probably have all changed. It’s a very small percentage of the number of blogs I subscribe to, so I hope to highlight some of the others, which are just as interesting, in future posts.
Over the years I’ve tried many methods and tools to help me do things better. Most recently I’ve been concentrating on ‘Getting Things Done’ (GTD), which I’ve found to be very beneficial in managing my time (and, well, getting things done). I use the Pomodoro technique to time box my activities during the working day and use tools such as Evernote and Flipboard to manage my thoughts and information streams.
Where I’ve not yet found a suitable solution is when it comes to writing. And here I mean medium-to-large, structured documents, be they blog posts, reports or whatever. Up until now I have been using mind maps to help organise my thoughts but I find that I tend to become trapped in the structure I originally lay these thoughts down in. I’ve been looking for something more specific to the writing process and have discovered Scrivener.
I initially gravitated towards Scrivener because of its separation of content and format, the benefit being that you can concentrate on the words and structure of the document without unnecessary formatting getting in the way. It also has a full screen mode whereby you can completely immerse yourself in the job at hand without distraction, though this, along with pretty much everything else, is completely customisable.
I’m very impressed with the User Manual that comes with the application – I’ve nearly read it end-to-end and will have to go back and re-read some of it, but it’s easy to locate specific information, and so works well as a reference.
The range of formatting available is also comprehensive; it comes with a number of templates for screenplays, scripts, and a host of other formats; and can output in HTML, RTF, for input into other writing / publishing applications, and also ebook and mobi formats for iPad/Kindle etc. And, obviously, you can modify existing templates or create your own.
As of now, I don’t have a lot of experience with it, so I may be singing it’s praises a little too early, but I’ve started a couple of projects with it and I am finding it a lot better than previous methods I’ve used. I’ve installed the Index Card app on my iPad and have been synchronising my writing across to it when I’m away from my laptop computer – great for train journeys – and this is working well for me.
Scrivener is a Mac-only application (beta versions for windows/linux here), so it’s not going to be the solution for everyone, but I’m hopeful that it’s the solution for me.
Update – 17th August 2011
There’s a follow-up post here with the results of my first end-to-end use of scrivener.
In a previous post, I recounted my initial thoughts on the iPad and said that I’d be trying it out on my little boy as a time waster / amusement.
I’m back from holiday and the iPad was a godsend, I have to say. I pre-loaded “Monsters, Inc.” and “A Bug’s Life” for Finn to watch on the plane journeys and, although he didn’t watch much on the journey out , he made full use of it whilst in the hotel room and on the journey home. He very quickly mastered the UI for the video player app – he’s had a lot of iPhone experience – and was jumping around between films and selecting his favourite chapters to repeat from the get-go. He also quickly found how to switch to the TV programme tab and spent a lot of time watching “Rex the Runt” cartoons (until his mum heard one of the characters say “bastard” and put paid to that – I guess it’s slightly inappropriate for a 3-year-old).
I, myself, did very little with it while on holiday. Didn’t get much of a look-in, TBH, plus wary of data roaming costs in a land where ‘free wi-fi’ is virtually unheard of.
So, a couple of weeks ago I finally bit the bullet and bought an iPad. I was feeling flush and so went for the top-of-the-range 64G 3G one.
I was cautious about buying an iPad – unusual for me, as I am a complete Apple fanboi. I really couldn’t see the point or need for one in my life. I manage to come up with a couple of possibilities:
- It would make a good coffee table browser. OK, but if the family are going to share it I want multiple user facilities so we can all get at our own email accounts without the embarrassment of having to read each others’.
- I could use it for work. Here there’s a better fit, as most of my work is around documents and numbers, resourcing and scheduling. (In fact, Pages and Numbers, if we’re talking applications.) However, it doesn’t meet all requirements, as I sometimes code (PHP, SASS) and a lot of our core work involves video – so iPad’s lock down on video formats excludes a lot of things it would be nice to have the iPad do for me.
So, like Natalie Inbruglia, I was torn. My Apple lust made me want one and my practical side couldn’t justify it.
This finally resolved itself when I said to myself, “We could really do with an iPad for work. You know, for testing and that.”, which was the excuse I was waiting to come up with, and so I went out and bought one.
Two weeks later
After the (well attended) official unpacking ceremony at work, the iPad spend the first few days if its new life in a bag doing nothing. I was still finding it hard to see what to do with it. Having spent the money, though, I did some research, got some apps and now it’s become a staple of my day.
I use it almost exclusively for work related activities; it’s great to take to meetings and I will be trying it out at a conference for the first time this week. (“Building Perfect Council websites ’10” – see you there!)
Although not exhaustive, here’s the list of applications I’m currently using:
- I use Things on all my Macs. The iPad experience is great, making good use of the larger screen that makes using it on the iPhone a bit frustrating. (That’s not Things’ fault, mind.)
- Again, Evernote is a staple application in my environment. I use it for knowledge management, mainly. Again, it’s been re-purposed for the iPad and is a really good experience.
- I do all my work off Dropbox. Available on all my computers, and also viewable on iPhone and iPad. This makes my life so much easier, as I synchronise my iDevices with my personal laptop, so having my files available in this way means I can sync them across from my Personal iTunes, into the iWork apps on the iPad (see next).
- Pages & Numbers
- The user experience of having to synchronise via iTunes is not good, but tolerable. The iPad versions of these applications are lovely. Although not feature-full (which causes problems when you want to edit files) they are well worth using for document creation.
- On my Macs, I use Mindjet’s Mindmanager, but on the iPad I’ve discovered iThoughtsHD. It’s compatible with most mind map file formats and has the added advantage of being able to load and save maps to and from DropBox directly. I’ve used it a little and so far, so good.
I’m off on holiday very soon, so I’ll be grabbing some childrens’ books and videos and putting them on the iPad; I think it’s going to be an excellent way to keep my 3-year-old occupied on the plane journey.
After that, who knows? If you have any great apps, I’d love to hear about them.