Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Do Not Read It Later!

If you're in IT, you probably read a lot. If you are on the Internet, you probably read a lot too (or look at pictures, which is like reading a thousand words… almost). And it happens in spells, doesn't it? You open an article, follow a link or two, check up a definition of a new term, a biography of a famous person, follow to a page of their quotes, then reading reviews of their books, then checking an article describing the nuances of backend architecture of the site you were reading the reviews on… and it continues, an endless fractal of spreading links, in space and time.

You'll see what I'm getting at.

Then you end up with too much to read. A good problem to have, surely — you don't want to miss the useful information, yet you can't afford to spend so much time reading this very moment. So you postpone the reading. And there are services that help you do it — like the precisely named Read It Later (now sadly re-christened as “Pocket”, thus losing all personality). There are other services of the kind, all nice and helpful.

My opinion and experience of this may be a very subjective one, your mileage may vary, yet my advice — don't. It's a trap! (couldn't resist, sorry)

For me these fire-and-forget backups simply turn into the same kind of storage where you put stuff to forget about it. Like your attic. Like your basement. Like that endless warehouse in the Raiders of the Lost Ark. David Allen was right when he said that putting things down in writing helps ease your mind. Putting things in RIL-type service you tell yourself “I'll read it”, yet you never* do.

* — opening the service once a year to see hundreds of unread articles doesn't count. Sorry, no, it doesn't.

So what do I recommend? Somewhat unrealistic, and doesn't reduce your stress level, yet I try to either read it immediately, just close it or keep it in an open tab in your browser.

The reasoning:
  • Read it immediately — obvious. You can skim it, you can diagonal-read it, if only to get the gist of it and be done with it. Problem solved.
  • Close it — be decisive, for goodness sake! You thought it would be interesting, and it could be fun, yet you just don't have the time, and it isn't that useful after all, is it?
  • Keep it in the open tab — so it annoys you. Yes! First it won't bother you much, then you'll have so many tabs that you won't be able to read their titles — that's when you will be gently nudged towards the decision to either read it (see above) or close it (see above).
Information ages. You move on (and age, too). Not everything you thought was useful at the time is actually useful even a couple of days later. Adding more stuff to the huge dump does not increase your chances of ever getting to the business of cleaning the dump out.

Now, you may have a system, a recommendation, an approach to how you deal with this — and I'd love to hear it. I may learn something interesting. And my open tabs annoy me :)


  1. that's why I have browser page with endless tabs for read it later....

  2. I don't quite understand what's the difference between Close and RIL? I had 5 browser windows with dozens of tabs in each. Until last week when I just added them all to bookmarks in special folder and closed the tabs. Effectively I closed them. Even better, I also helped myself not to worry that they are gone forever and I missed something important. I haven't done a non-reversible action and, for practical purposes, what I did is pretty much Closed them. It's the best thing to do, not the worst.

    1. It is very subjective, I agree :)

      What you describe is a way to miss something important and have a peace of mind about it. If you know the action is irreversible — you at least pause before you do it. If you still think it is not irreversible — you (I, actually) may do it blindly, and thus “close” without thinking.

      I prefer to actually make a decision about what I miss — even if I build a system that annoyingly forces me to make the decision (so far I manage with 2 browser windows + 1 at home :D)

      After all, there is always Google to find what I closed (or something “close” to it), if and when I need it.

      Yet I agree that you have a good point.