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Digital Tools I Wish Existed (jon.bo)
333 points by todsacerdoti on Nov 27, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 136 comments

It definitely does not solve all the issues listed in the article, but for me Zotero https://www.zotero.org has been absolutely brilliant as a "digital content organizer".

While it is "marketed" for scientists, it is a very general tool, that allows me to archive, tag, organize and search any webpage (with the option of taking a snapshot) or digital item.

I started using it for research articles, but it quickly expanded as a general bookmark organizer, then to books and even some podcast and movies archival. I use specific folders as reading/watching/listening queues.

Best of all it is FLOSS software, which is an absolute requirement for me to future-proof my use, and has an API that can be used to interact with external software. I use it for example as a document "backend" for my emacs org-mode journal (via the zotxt-emacs package).

There is an online sync service offered at a very reasonable cost (including a free tier). This is one of the very rare online services I'm paying money for. My understanding is that the sync server is open-source, but not production ready for self-hosting yet. The devs are supposedly working on it.

I strongly recommend you at least take a look.

Not OP, I considered zotero, but for me, I used mobile too much and it seemed that it was a bit of the "wild west". I settled on Joplin which has a mobile app and has been great for me over the past 6 months. I'm working on a FF <-> Joplin bookmarks mirroring browser extension, which would get all of my bookmarks into Joplin as a SSOT.

Good point. I don't use it on mobile (I sync things between my personal and professional computer mostly) so I can't comment much on this aspect.

Joplin seems very nice indeed! But it seems to be more oriented for personal notes no? I mostly use Zotero for archiving webpages and various digital media (Zotero allows e.g. to embedded an epub as an item, or to add a link to a file stored locally).

Joplin has a bookmarklet that lets you screenshot or copy html if you want webpages: https://joplinapp.org/clipper/ I haven't gotten too deep into the "media" aspects -- but it's been great to act as a "digital note hub" that encompasses writing, research, and tagging.

Have you given Zettlr https://www.zettlr.com/ a try?

Yes a Zotero app for mobile is something unfortunately missing. Ot doesnt seem too hard to talk to their API though.

There has been a Zotero mobile app in the worka for awhile. The API is brilliant, if you’re an iOS user you can use Shortcuts to build with it.

Papership exists for iOS. It's not perfect, but it is good enough. I principally use it to search through the tree structure of documents, and then open them with other apps.

I discovered today "Zoo for Zotero", an android app that is Free. Seems to work well.

I'd like to agree and say joplin is great. I use synching to make sure my jolin notes are automatically synced between my phone, home computer, and work laptop

Curious why you don’t use the sync that ships with Joplin?

Joplin does not offer any original synchronization system. It just offers NextCloud, Dropbox, Onedrive, Webdav or the local filesystem. If you don't use any of those services, or you do not have a server where to setup Webdav, Local filesystem + Syncthing seems like the best choice.

To add to the point about "very general tool", it's even possible to hack Zotero so as to give Word/GoogleDoc some rudimentary dynamic content or Roam-like features. Just define a custom citation format (but mentally pretend citations as Roam-like [[links]]), and in Word/GoogleDoc invoke the Zotero add-on for insertion citation. The autocomplete search is fuzzy and fast, and Zotero inserts a field code with unique id that makes it easy to keep track of all references to the same idea/thesis/concept even under different aliases. Better still, if you alter the dynamic content inside Zotero it can automatically update the displayed value of the field code next time you invoke the add-on.

Another great app is DEVONthink [1]. It's not as good (if at all) at scientific citation management, but it's a brilliant app for saving a database of information.

Devon supports PDFs, Markdown, images, bookmarks (which can be viewed in the app), and more. The PDF handling is superb. The search is excellent, and it has extensive support for tags and metadata. Sync is very good. I also like that it stores each collection as a separate database file that you can keep in different places.

Among other things, I use it to collect and categorize images, which works really well because you can view any collection/folder as a "gallery".

My only complaint is that the databases are local, and you only sync between devices. I can't share notes with other people for real-time collaboration.

[1] https://devontechnologies.com/apps/devonthink

Their iOS app is a lifesaver, because it will sync robustly across iOS/Mac devices, via WebDAV on FreeNAS, and includes a built-in web scraper for public pages, PDF and even audio files. With censorship increasing, it's valuable to have a local cache alongside the tagged bookmark.

Agree on DevonThink. Unfortunately I have recently left the Apple ecosystem and have not found a good replacement for this for Windows 10. Almost everything else has been replaced or was cross platform.

(The other thing is Foreflight, which may keep me as an iPad owner solely for that. Sigh.)

You can share a whole database for collaboration, I have been doing this for years.

You can of course share for syncing, but real-time collaboration like Google Docs, or Apple's Notes?

I believe Devon has zero support for conflict resolution. It can only overwrite or duplicate on conflict.

I use zotero to manage literature reviews and citations. But it is frustrating how the web version (I won’t install the desktop version) sucks at importing content. The magic add works for many sites and papers, but not all. The fact that it can’t import a citation is so annoying that I’ll probably drop the tool and use endnote that sucks so much more, but at least works consistently.

You are really missing the magic if you don't use the desktop app. It syncs across devices and web as well (through their servers or yours with webdav)

I use it in an environment where I can’t install desktop software.

I would like to install, but my annoyance is that I think they aren’t implementing to try to drive more installs.

It’s FOSS, they don’t have deliverables so I doubt that is their motivation.

I thought it was odd that it opened the system pdf viewer to view documents. I could be wrong, I’m not sure if it was possible to configure. It seemed to slow down the experience when clicking around to preview documents/links.

> Write programs that do one thing and do it well.

> Write programs to work together.


I used Zotero when it had the web capture and highlight tool and stopped using it when it was removed. Have they added such a tool back in or are there any alternative or plugins to recover this functionality?

Not sure if that is what you are asking, but Zotero has plugins for saving web page directly from the browser: https://www.zotero.org/download/connectors

I use it extensively with FFox.

Regarding highlight tool I can't say, I did not look for the feature (I usually take my notes in a separate Note item attached to the article)

Is a link saved as an offline web format with fulltext, or just as a link?

It uses SingleFile under the hood so it saves a full offline page in HTML.

I use Zotero. The native UI search is horrible and is very slow as it needs to load gigabytes of info but it uses SQLite internally and I use my own software for doing serious things.

The author of the article is overcomplicating things. He wants the moon and as a result, gets nothing. He is paralyzed in the quest to perfection.

If instead of this, you start using your own tools today, you improve it over time. For example I use structured text files for hierarchical info storage and my tools are quite sophisticated compared with how I started. At first it was a simple S-expression lisp file done in an afternoon.

I also use databases.

I log the time I spend in HN and it is quite small. I just read as fast as I can(5 minutes) whatever interest me and organize it, every day. I write but don't read replies or anything that goes over my allocated distributed time.

Then after a while I spend time for getting deep on something and then I read all the books, all the articles,ask my friends, watch all the videos of a given subject in parallel.

Take for example Clojure. I spend a week doing nothing but immersing myself on it, real work, and use Anki to learn it.

If I were to read just one book isolated, I would not understand anything. Multiple perspectives is much better and funnier.

I would like to store ALL actual text I ingest from the world, it wouldn't be that big. It would be immune to the unreliable nature of the web. I'd trigram index it as it went in to enable better search. (I read somewhere yesterday that's the way to do it)

I'd also like all the audio and video I hear/see to have a transcript of any spoken words, with a recording, and timestamps. Video is huge, so that would need to be managed a bit.

Given these requirements, I can see a need to start riding along with Moore's law again. Text is well within our capabilities, we can't read that fast, so it should be quite feasible to store it all. The need for more storage and processor than my laptop has comes in to play with audio and video, especially transcription and storage.

Having stored this content, I want to be able to search it. I want some form of content/sentiment analysis to allow search by concept and association.

I also want to be able to rate it, not just in a single dimension, but in an arbitrary number of them. Something can be funny, insightful, literally false and metaphorically true, a bit racist, somewhat political, and in English. The thumbs up/down or limiting to a single 1-10 scale works well for forcing into a single database field, but not for actual real world use.

Every single piece of stuff fits into multiple orthogonal hierarchies, you can't store that information in any single rank system without information loss.

As for sharing, it has to be something I pay for, or host myself, with possible federation. Ads corrupt.


Implementation - The first step is to simply tap the stream of web traffic I see in the browser, and train a classifier to recognize text/not text. It is important to link it back to the source.

Once I have a reliable stream of text, I think the rest starts to align.

this would have been easier years ago when everything you surf on the web was stored as files in a cache directory that is accessible to the user. you'd just have to copy all text from that directory into another persistent directory and use something like ripgrep over it.

I've tried building similar things and this is the issue I've run into. I want to log every bit of text I read, but either I'm breaking HTTPS to sniff it off the wire (and then mangling that data to try to get to the actual content I read, not the formatting of the site) or I'm going to have to write an app for every platform I use and switch to reading exclusively through that.

Then you run into copyright issues...

you dont have to break https. one (browser specific) method to do this is just build your own extension (like chrome extension) that loads on every page, and sends that data to your persistence layer.

for example, have ur extension on page load, get the body.innerText or innerHTML, send that as a post request to your localhost server at some endpoint, and have it write to your persistence db.

then build a query layer over it. since your db can be stored anywhere like a cloud, you can just build an app/mechanism to query that central hub from any platform or webapp.

copyright issues aren't realistically a concern when only you are using it. if im going to save a picture from the internet and use it as my laptop wallpaper, i'm not going through the arduous process of getting copyright licenses to do that. hopefully, you were referring to something else.

>you dont have to break https

You do if you want to scrape what you're reading on your mobile devices too, or you need to write an app for every platform (like I mentioned). Safari on iOS won't let you do that.

Copyright is an issue if you're planning on selling this as a service or distributing it as open source (like youtube-dl).

> You do if you want to scrape what you're reading on your mobile devices too, or you need to write an app for every platform (like I mentioned). Safari on iOS won't let you do that.

It's possible you are desiring too much. This is one of those cases where you should consider the case of diminishing returns.

That said, unless you wanted to aim for 100% (I advise against), then just use Chrome or another app on your iDevice and the history is automatically synced to your non-mobile device, where you can leverage the previous trick to scrape those sites. No need for an external app.

> Copyright is an issue if you're planning on selling this as a service or distributing it as open source (like youtube-dl).

Sure, but that's a completely different tangent from your current scenario. However, it is still very much possible with slightly different strategies.

Breaking HTTPS seems to be the way to go.


It's open source, and handles that issue. It could spit out logs of everything.

don’t use a different app, scrape text you read from a full screen capture of your desktop

But most of my reading is on an iPhone or iPad.

This article is brilliant in so many ways.

> the core issue is an extraordinarily high level of friction in the process of finding, organizing, and sharing digital content

Absolutely. I think of myself as a very curious person, and an avid reader, but I regularly have hundreds of things in my backlog that I'd like to read or listen to, and I don't.

I tried to build a service like that, MNMN [0], in the form of a chrome extension as a start; but it seems that I didn't find the right product-market fit at the time. I keep going back to concepts like that from time to time.

My latest iteration (a little project I launched in ~2 hours last Sunday) is booktweets [1], which is just a summary of a book in a series of tweets.

I feel there's something to do/build there, but I quite can't get it right.

[0]: https://github.com/simonebrunozzi/MNMN

[1]: https://twitter.com/booktweets6/status/1330600043733159936

If I might be just a little bit snarky, in my experience the problem is not at all the level of friction in finding and organizing content. The main problem is that people put more minutes of stuff into their backlog "for later reading" than they take out. Every day the backlog grows, because every day there is more interesting stuff published and added to the backlog.

Apart from regularly declaring backlog bankruptcy, the only way out of this is to spend more time reading/listening and less time adding stuff to the backlog. No amount of optimizing the organisation of the backlog will help if you just keep going deeper and deeper into debt.

For me these kind of things aren't supposed to be "backlog", but more "library of things I'm aware exist". If I save/bookmark a few resources on X, that doesn't mean I intend to read all of them, but that I think if I need resources about X, those could be useful.

Yes, very true! Additionally, I’d like to query my friend’s libraries of things they are aware exist, and research experts’ libraries as well.

Pocket is great for this. Just hit that pocket icon and close the tab. Now it's gone from your life forever. I just hope that the browser extension will keep working even if the service closes down, so I can keep putting things into Pocket and never ever read them.

That is, until you collect a few dozen thousand pocket bookmarks at which point you are at "there was this thing... how was it called?... have I saved it to pocket? Maybe I did... or not?"

I think GP was being sarcastic.

I think it is fundamentally the emotional problem of FOMO. The way you solve that issue is by understanding clearly the tradeoffs. Better organization and an ever growing backlog sheds light on how much you can actually consume versus how much you must miss out on. The lack of knowledge regarding this is the source of the pain point.

I’ve been spending time organizing my bookmarks in Pinboard the last couple days and yeah, I have 1k+ “read later” links.

I think having a way to surface things saved for later would encourage me to start whittling down that list.

My idea for solving this revolves around the same concept as the "Snooze" feature in Gmail. When saving, estimate the timeframe you hope to read it: 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 6 months, "someday". Then condition yourself to read what's in your daily inbox, as opposed to chasing the shiny thing.

Thinking about it as 'backlog', that is 'something you are supposed to consume and use later' is mistaken I think.

When you think about it as 'external brain' it becomes much more reasonable thing to do. I'm not going to remember everything I read anyway - but I can suspect some content, that I don't care about consuming now (and possibly ever) MAY be useful at some point in the future in some way, and I'd like to skip few steps of consumption (like reading the whole thing, watching whole movie) and use it anyway (have a conclusion, post a gif reaction). It's still transhumanist sci-fi, but it looks doable now.

just let me save it, I still might want it later

You probably heard of it, but there’s a company called Blinkist that does the book summarization stuff. They seem to be doing well, so definitely there’s something to build there :)

Ps.: mnmn (manamaná) - amazing project name!

Thanks! Glad you liked it :)

>My latest iteration (a little project I launched in ~2 hours last Sunday) is booktweets [1], which is just a summary of a book in a series of tweets.

How is a Twitter account a “project” that you’ve “launched”?

> A centralized search interface for my digital brain

I actually spent years on-and-off building this. What I found is I don’t really care about MOST information I store, and the pieces I DO care about are kept in a place I can easily memorize (eg a couple folders on iCloud).

I ALSO found that nobody really wants to pay for a product like that (in my case, it was a desktop app that’d index everything on your machine - no cloud, etc). Similar products come and go every other month, and they usually die because 1) indexing isn’t cheap and 2) people don’t seem to use said indices much, in practice (crazy high churn).

The problem, in my opinion, is not specifically storing an searching, but rather connecting these pieces of data together.

This has driven my interest into Roam... a freeform ability to connect sources/idea/data that can drive cumulative value over time rather than fragmentation and dusty old drives/notes.

I'm super interested in Roam for this reason too, but the online-only subscription model is a deal breaker for me. And I'm not usually the one complaining about subscription based things or online-only things, but when it comes to all of my collective information that I've painstakingly organized, I'm really not into someone locking my memories behind a paywall.

I used to use DayOne as a journaling program until I realized the same thing: as soon as I stop paying, all those memories are gone, lost in time like tears in rain. Sure it is really nice and convenient software and the user experience is fantastic but if I stop paying, it's all lost. If they raise their price higher than I want to pay, it's all lost. If they go out of business or pivot or get sold or... it's all lost.

I'm willing to take that risk... but I'm not willing to pay for the pleasure of taking that risk. I ended up just writing everything in Apple Notes that's free on all my devices. Sure it's the same risk, but at least I'm not paying $165/year for something that can disappear whenever the founder gets bored.

> as soon as I stop paying, all those memories are gone, lost in time like tears in rain. Sure it is really nice and convenient software and the user experience is fantastic but if I stop paying, it's all lost.

Yes, this is why I made Open Source and open formats an absolute requirement when I started looking at journaling software. The content is irreplaceable.

After trying several things, I found that Joplin does everything that I need for journaling and note-taking. I made a point of donating to the project the equivalent of what I would have paid for a commercial offering.

Trilium is somewhat similar to Roam. https://github.com/zadam/trilium/

I think the problem is that the friction of getting data from mind to pc is too high. I'm not convinced the search needs to be that clever, but getting stuff to search isn't easy: A simple example would be working out a maths problems, I can basically type in LaTeX at the same rate I can think but nothing will ever beat some nice paper and fountain pen (for me at least) for actually iterating through my thoughts as they arrive.

Is this really a tooling issue? Every time I try to find and latch on to a new tool (e.g. Zettelkasten, Roam, DevonThink — you name it) I end up learning the same lesson over and over: it's not the tool. It's — for me, at least — a lack of organization. Although I'm fairly regimented in most aspects of my life, I realized that my digital assets are scattered all over the place: and I'm not the only one.

What's really help me over the last couple years, with getting organized, is discovering "Personal Information Management" (PIM). Also, this website rocks: organizingcreativity.com

Imho its the tool and the protocol. I am currently using a paper notebook. Why? Because, while inconvenient, I can use it in any situation, with any medium. I can write down an email task I got, IM conversations, phone calls, paper articles, websites I'd want to read (although I'll email myself the link), things I want to buy. I have one place to look at, and really only one. Old stuff that is done or rejected gets marked and crossed out, remaining readable.

I've wanted to do things digitally, but nothing really encompasses more than a single thing. You get email apps that maybe can define tasks from an email. Rarely more than one task per email. This is siloed from the bookmarks in my browser. Actually, more than one browser, so multiple bookmark lists. But using this even as a simple "to read"-list doesn't work, because I cannot add books, printed articles or PDFs to the usual bookmark list. Adding annotations is something to dream of. Mobile or desktop support is often broken or absent.

I'm currently trying out org-mode plus git. But I've tried a lot and I'm not getting my hopes up.

For people looking for customers: I wan't everything integrated. Don't assume everything to be the Web. Don't assume Gmail as my mail provider. Don't assume that I work primarily from my desktop or mobile device. Don't assume I'll write everything in word. And the kitchen sink ;)

Yes, of course it is a tooling issue.

I apologize in advance for my jadedness, but I see this sort of comment every time someone mentions the possibility that information organization tools could be better: "This is all very nice, but this other tool I've tried was kind of bad, and didn't really solve the world, so I think that actually everything sucks, and we should just (learn how to) deal with it."

Besides, I really don't see how this is relevant here, as it doesn't even seem to apply to most of the article's content - for instance, how would "organization" help with the fact that e-books/PDFs are woefully uninteractive and retain print-based limitations? Sure, I could manually collect all the illustrations, their backreferences, and look up every paragraph's mentions online, but isn't that kind of what computers are good at? Same with the book recommendation / sharing system.

And as for the "queue manager" and the "memex", this was exactly the author's point, it is a call for tools for organization! No amount of self-organization will help with the scatteredness of digital information, that's just its nature - we communicate in different modes, using different media, on different platforms, for different purposes. Sure, you can and try to limit the amount of services one uses: only use Twitter instead of other social networks, only use e-mail instead of IMs and Slack, only watch videos on YouTube... or file every little bit of potentially interesting info into a unified personal database - but I think it's obvious how both approaches are untenable.

Regimented approaches only work in their own, specific contexts - for a multi-modal multi-medial landscape, one needs tools that operate with these principles in mind, and so far one can only wish they existed.

I index anything interesting I come across in my DAG-backed blogging platform.

1) I run a local instance. When I see an interesting link, I paste it into the textbox at http://localhost:2784/. This creates a new parent item.

2) I create sub-item under it which may include several tags, such as: #perl #toread

3) When I read the page, I create new text nodes under the item to annotate and locally store the information.

4) Whenever I want to publish something to my public blog, I add a child item with the #publish tag to it, and it's automatically pushed (using curl and HTTP GET or POST.)

5) My public blog is unauthenticated, but I could also limit publishing rights to e.g. only items signed by my particular PGP key.

6) When my notepad gets full, I archive it into a zip file and start afresh. This is how I deal with "information overload bankruptcy".

7) If I'm looking for something I annotated in the past, I use zgrep or whatever it's called on my pile of zip files.

Sounds interesting, have you written more about it anywhere? Is the tool available for others to use?

Yes, demo link in my profile, and source on github.

Demo link seems to be asking for credentials - is there a different url? Organization scheme sounds interesting, would love to know more.

Look carefully.

Ah, nice! The `l` threw me off, expected `u`.

Regarding the ebook section, EPUB 3 does in fact support interactivity along with video and audio [0], among other features, so it's not a technical limitation but rather one of effort for book creators, and for compatibility between multiple ebook readers.

[0] https://blog.bookbaby.com/2011/10/epub-3-explained-features-...

Whoa, I was not aware - thanks for linking!

Recently, I've been working hard on the very problem described. One thing that is crucial is having a model of the information hose. This information overload is ultimately a psychological problem and having a way to conceptualize the issue can help these sorts of problems.

The way I approach this is to have tiered system of files. The source is Tier 0, your cache (downloads, undeleted emails, etc.) is Tier 1, deliberately saved files in a structure are Tier 2, and whatever you are working on, view regularly, or feel particularly pleased about is Tier 3.

Here's a short blog post I wrote on this. https://blog.abnry.online/2020/11/18/digital-file-management...

There is obviously a lot more to discuss on this topic. But this is a start for me.

Thanks for sharing! Having read your blog post, I'm intrigued...but I'm not understanding the process involved in "curating" items between the tiers. It could be that i'm overthinking what you described, but I'm certainly curious to learn more about your process. I look forward to reading any follow-ups to this piece. :-)

Curation is the process of selecting items from a data stream. When you browse youtube, clicking on one link over another is a form of curation. You may watch the video for 1 min or the whole thing. Or you may watch for 10s and save it for later. That is another form of curation.

Then suppose you download the video via youtube-dl and store it in a folder. That is also an act of curation. And finally, if you watch the video every day, post it on a blog, use portions of it and edit it, that is also a form of curation.

The information overflow cannot be managed. I am not saving anything to Pocket. I do not open more than 10-15 tabs (by all means, I do not _persist_ tabs; the browser should start with a single empty window). For me, this is the only way to keep my sanity. I always want to read less, not more. For me, as an ADHD person, reading something even remotely interesting is a full scale addiction. I don't need to enable it more.

I'm personally constantly flipping between the two views. One day, I feel like I'd like the systems the article described. Save, backup and index everything. Give seamless ability to search and mix. But then the other day I just want to disconnect - because I have this sinking feeling that I read too much, and think too little. Like my own mind is being slowly eaten away by the countless topics I read about.

Couldn't agree more. I have approximately 10-15 tabs open on Firefox as well as on Brave and while reading through the content of one tab I come across some interesting stuff which in turn leads me to open another tab or two and the cycle continues.

True. At some point the answer to overload is to cut something out.

But I think he’s onto something, and I’m specifically looking at Slack and email, which seemed designed to force as many context switches as possible. Something along the lines of putting streams of information aside or in piles so I can deal with one at a time would be a sweeping improvement.

> so I can deal with one at a time would be a sweeping improvement.

Amna does this! (getamna.com)

I use a tab-limiting extension that automatically closes background tabs if they go over a certain number and haven't been interacted with for more than a certain amount of time.

I thought I'd hate it due to lost articles / sites but it turns out I never notice, and when I do miss something I can always find it via history.

> the browser should start with a single empty window

I’m building Amna (getamna.com). It does exactly that. And let’s you open new windows based on the task you’re working on.

I am only using pocket these days to search through the things I have used before and need to find. like bookmarks.

I am surprised nobody has mentioned Datasette+Dogsheep by Simon Willison. From his excellent talk on "Personal Data Warehouses: Reclaiming Your Data" [1], "Dogsheep is a collection of tools for personal analytics using SQLite and Datasette". Simon's intended use of Dogsheep is to query/see what big tech knows about us. A more compelling use case for me is being able to full-text query my pocket, twitter and gmail. Add slack and text messages and I am happy to pay ~$100-200/year for this privilege.

[1] https://simonwillison.net/2020/Nov/14/personal-data-warehous...

I believe that the author is facing what I call the "KTX" problem: you want features K,T, and X, but there is no tool on the market that offers exactly those features. Instead you can have a horrendously complex product with all A-Z features, or you can live without some features.

To address this, I've been developing a framework I call Web Widgets. These are mini web-apps that run completely in the browser, but send data back to SQLite files on the server. Because the server is pretty simple, it can host a wide variety of apps, so users can build their own tools using only JS+HTML code. I've used Widgets for fitness, diet tracking, personal productivity, mood tracking, and even learning Chinese characters. I am now opening up the system so it can be used by other people, if you are interested check out this page:


I am offering free accounts, free tech support, and even free development for early adopters.

Discussion of personal productivity tools/practices always makes me think of Stephen Wolfram's overview of the systems he has in place: https://writings.stephenwolfram.com/2019/02/seeking-the-prod...

Indeed, he was and continues to be an inspiration to me.

Finding and organizing digital content is super hard. I built LinkAce [0] for me to have a self-curated archive of articles, websites and videos found online. But this is just the tip of the iceberg and despite having my own tool that does exactly what I want, I find it most difficult to find content.

You have like 50 sources in your RSS reader, 300 people you follow on social media sites and like a dozen of other possible sources for interesting content. But what I noticed: once you add a new source to your feed, chances are high that a) it doesn't really fit your interests and becomes noise, or b) it becomes a "famous" source and quality of the content stagnates over time as more and more low-quality content gets pushed into it.

Personally, I don't see any chance that this will be solved in the near future, because the current state of the web with walled gardens, propietary content formats and the unbelievable push for monetarization of content leads to more and more problems.

[0]: https://github.com/Kovah/LinkAce

I just want a content alert system. Tell me when my author's new book is out. I don't care about the con appearances or the awards or the community drama or the writing update. Tell me when the album is out. I don't care that the band is on tour or they traded out a drummer or they have a new interview on YouTube.

Right now there's no way to immediately find out about the stuff from people I like without exposing myself to the cloud of bullshit surrounding their lives.

I think you need to go to whoever has the motive to provide only the information you require. So for the author's new book (with none of the trivia of their lives) you could follow the author on Amazon and they'll notify you when they have a new title out because that's how Amazon makes its money.

To be notified about a musician's new album, you could follow them on Spotify (I do this and Spotify gives me an automatic playlist of all my favorite artists' new music.)

If you go to Twitter or Facebook, their motive is to keep you hanging around every day for each piece of gossip, so you'd need to avoid those.

There are a few projects taking on the “book log” thing, one is https://thestorygraph.com

It’s remarkable how Amazon is just letting Goodreads run with no maintenance and seemingly nobody behind the wheel. I can’t decide if that’s better or worse than the Google approach of killing off popular products that they’ve lost interest in.

It is better to at least keep it running.

https://beta.readng.co/ is the only thing I found as goodreads alternative, but the collection of books needs to be improved. They support goodreads import, but only a fraction of books gets imported into your account because they don't have all of those yet.

I love they have an option to abandon a book, which is missing in goodreads.

Better, I think

These are exactly the problems https://histre.com/ [1] is working towards solving. Take a look at https://histre.com/features/ as well.

[1] Disclaimer: I'm working on it.

I keep looking for a good tree-based chrome history tool, specifically with the intent of connecting/dumping this information into Roam. Is that on your roadmap?

Tree based history is available already. I haven’t built Roam integration yet. I do plan to do that.

I signed up with no indication that it was a paid service with no free tier. Felt a little played tbh.

There is a free plan actually. At the bottom of the page: https://histre.com/pricing/

I'll make that more prominent.

Exactly the same feeling. It is not clear that the service is paid because it is mentioned that the extension is open-source. I understand you need to keep the lights on, but it is better to let know about about the pricing I upfront.

You mentioned there is a free tier, but can't see what's supported on free vs the paid tiers. It'll be better if you add the free tier and features to the comparison chart. Just my two cents.

A great idea regardless, kudos.

Thanks. Yes, I'll add it to the comparison. Free plan has all the features of Solo plan and it is "upgrade when you can".

I was JUST thinking about this last night. I’m always saving articles to Pocket and I spent like 20 minutes last night trying to find a way to sort that content and gave up because it seems you can’t.

Does anyone remember Readlists? You would input links to different articles and it would format and compile them all into a single kindle ebook.

Does Pocket work for Medium and/or Twitter? I'm not too concerned about indexing my entire base of knowledge, but I do often locally save a bunch of articles to maybe read on the weekend when I have some time.

Saving Medium blogs and Twitter threads locally just doesn't work, so I've pretty much stopped reading Medium and treat Twitter as purely ephemeral.

Kinnnnd of. It does better on Medium. I had to start sharing Twitter stuff to iOS notes bc I bookmark a lot and I went back to find something and I couldn’t go older than May on phone or PC.

From what I could gather, Twitter’s bookmarks have a limit and it deletes the older but it’s not said out loud.

If it's a simple Medium article, sure. If it's a monstrosity (for example, this: https://onezero.medium.com/how-to-destroy-surveillance-capit...), it doesn't get parsed correctly.

As for Twitter, you can bookmark a link to the tweet, but it won't parse a Twitter thread for example. Same applies for thread compilers (like https://threadreaderapp.com/).

Probably the biggest annoyance with Pocket is that you can highlight stuff, but you can't export your highlights. It has an API, but it doesn't support highlights. Contacting them about that resulted in something like "we're a small team and have no API expansion updates we're willing to share right now" (paraphrasing). They also protect their sign-in form with Google's Captcha, making it non-trivial to scrape that info. The best option I found (https://github.com/karlicoss/pockexport) requires fiddling with browser's dev tools to get the consumer_key, but I couldn't be bothered to get that to work.

Memex (https://getmemex.com/) just gives you a browser extension that allows you to highlight nearly every text on desktop, but becomes completely useless on phones (they're too locked down for something like that to work).

I have a simple bookmarklet that takes pocket highlights in current page and list them in your devTools console. No API keys required as everything is just DOM traversal.

I was also frustrated by their API not supporting highlights, I emailed their support and they replied exporting highlights is a good idea (Yes, Einstein) and they'll consider it. I love pocket TBH but this is really a PITA. So I spent sometime dabbling to create browser extension that let me copy highlights to clipboard, and ended up tuning down to a bookmarklet. Let me know if you want to try it, I can put it somewhere and will share the link.

I'd be interested in that! At the moment I kind of do the work twice. First highlight in Pocket (usually on mobile), then a second time in Chrome Desktop for long-term storage in Dynalist (using the excellent Dynalist Highlighter extension)

Counterintuitively, the author goes on and on about their primary complaint, which is that insights take too long to find.

The rest of the article is a manifestation of figuring out how to deal with it.

If people gave away their core insights and nothing else most of the time, most mediums would be reduced to post-it notes. That’s a hard sell for creators.

It's a problem of incentives. Books sell much better than post-it notes, so if you have a brilliant insight you better come up with at least 100 pages of filler to turn it into a book. Or at least make a one hour conference talk, a 10-minute youtube video, a 7 page research paper, or a three page blog article.

The only medium that rewards getting to the point is casual conversation, which is one of the reasons why on conferences you often learn more in five minutes of talking to the right person than in the entire rest of the day.

Controversial suggestion: maybe we need to get used to remembering and finding less rather than being on the endless search for The Tool That Does It All.

There's something intoxicating about breathing in the latest ZettleNoteMarkdown thing: I know this only too well, having played with many of them, but maybe there's a limit to what we could or should worry about remembering or finding?

I know it's unpalatable, and it makes me feel a bit sick to not be able to find Thing X that I know I've looked at once, but ultimately we're on a hiding to nothing. There will always be MORE and maybe we need to get used to it being ok to settle for less...

Author here. In some sense, I agree. The internet has too much incredible stuff on it, more stuff than a hundred human lifetimes would allow for enjoying, much less remembering/understanding/learning.

I think I desire these tools more out of the frustration I experience in working with, sharing, and remixing the little content I did/do have enough time for.

My hope is if I spend less time getting highlights and information from one platform to another I could spend more time arranging them into something interesting.

Paging @hyphen, it sounds like his Memex is exactly what you want! Better than ArchiveBox for sure for this use-case.


Author here - been following this project since I learned about it about a year ago. Excited to try it if/when it launches in a public beta.

Hey I’m working on Amna (https://getamna.com). It seems super relevant to this problem space. Will post to Show HN next week for more thoughts.

Amna is a fast way to do context switching. You write a task, and start working on it. Amna gives you a space with an editor and browser (more in the future), and saves your work. It makes information really easy to navigate. Though not great for general browsing, it’s perfect when you have a task to do. And you can easily come back to something at a later time.

I highly recommend making the messaging simpler before you post it on HN.

That video is atrocious. At first I was upset at how much time you wasted on flashy poorly executed effects. Then I realized the entire video is like that. If you're going to show only one word at at time, it has to be something short like a 3 word tagline, not entire sentences. It's impossible to follow, you have so many cuts, so fast, padded with things like "woah, a browser".

I still don't really understand what the app even is. A lot of it is poorly worded, or shouldn't be there.

"Right-clicking to add a task" is not a feature that should be on the landing page. Unless you mean you can right click a tab that's not running your app. Nor should there be things like "Runs in Chrome" - so is it an extension, chrome only?

My 2c would be to make things as simple as possible for the user by cutting out ambiguity, and focusing on user stories.

Thanks for the feedback! Glad I’m testing it out beforehand. I’ll update the messaging and revisit the video to be clearer. Probably change it completely.

It’s not a chrome extension - it can open up chrome windows.

This is a cool idea, nice work. I’ve long wanted something like this, but with the option to include long-running terminals sessions as well and my IDE configuration. Something akin to Mac’s Spaces but allowing an instance of an app across multiple Space collections.

That’s definitely something we could do in the future. I know VS code can already do stuff like this.

I really do dislike your promotion video. Way too fast & flashy. Too many cuts taking me out of it.

Thanks for the feedback! I’ll clean that up

For taking video time stamped notes I use https://annotate.tv. You can write markdown and then export all your notes to PDF.

I'm currently working on your second need for book log / recommendations. So far we've managed to compile the biggest book recommendations database from celebrities / smart people on twitter. You can already save these books to your reading list, but it's not too sophisticated yet. https://www.readthistwice.com

Whilst people are wishing for a better book logging system, please allow me to politely plug what I'm working on: https://beta.readng.co

We're just getting started, but we're planning on tackling some of the pain points mentioned in the article

I just gave you a shout out under a frustrated goodreads user's comment under the same thread. I'm one of your beat and loving the app so far. Only thing is it doesn't have many books when comparing with goodreads.

I can't also find out how to follow others or add strangers as friends, (trust me my friends aren't reading). Looking forward to how this turns out.

I use Joplin heavily, for media queues and all of the information storage that I can. I even keep Web addresses there, rather than in the favourites of my Web browsers.

It's an Open Source note-taking app that stores Markdown and Web clips in SQLite databases, and can sync between instances using a variety of options, including generic WebDAV services. It has desktop and mobile versions, so the information is available to me everywhere. I still keep my emails on IMAP and my Website in Git, but I will draft any long text content in Joplin, and then just copy the text into the final location.

What if this need is illusory? What if hooking a human up to the web is akin to wiring a tiny LED to a trillion volts?

Oh I wish the RSS link is working.

Maybe this dynamic feed [0] works for you. Shameless plug: I build [1]

[0] https://rssproxy.migor.org/api/feed?url=https%3A%2F%2Fjon.bo...

[1] https://github.com/damoeb/rss-proxy/

If you remove the duplicate jon.bo/ then it seems to work; https://jon.bo/posts/index.xml

Thanks for catching this - will update on the site as well!

I cannot take seriously anybody who says "content" instead of "works" or "consume" instead of "read".

I have problems with it as well, but don’t know what the correct parent is that includes books, articles, blog posts, manuals, and related material. “Content” seems closest to me as “works” seems even more pompous and potentially confusing. In my own systems, I just punt on naming the concept and say “url.”

I use read, but I have a friend who frequently corrects me when I say I’ve read something where I’ve actually listened, like an audiobook. I use read because “listen” will confuse people slightly more in conversation that they started about the concept in a book they read. I’m not sure the correct parent is to the concept of reading a book and listening to an audiobook version of the same book. I tried using “process” but that’s pretty confusing to people.

I think the author also wants a parent to include watching a video, so consume may be best possible.

Maybe “regard?”

> that includes books, articles, blog posts, manuals, and related material.

Maybe the problem of the author is that grouping all these different types of works into a single bucket is a bad idea? If you only have books, you can easily grep around them (not really a need to index them), and so on.

For me, I want to store similar notes on all kinds of items and I use them all for similar purposes of training and entertainment. Seems like the author is trying to track similarly.

So still now sure what to call them other than content.

I can relate to this discontent with certain phrasing, it feels like some form of marketing in it's worst stereotypical form playing out and akin to scratching the nails upon a blackboard. FWIW the word synergy in the 90's would instantly raise red flags for me, today - not at all as less abused. Also speed reading enables you to gloss past all that filler and pull out the salient facts.

But I try not to let it get to me and made me wonder - how would somebody who couldn't see feel about the use of `content` over the word `read`? Text to speech been around long enough, possible somebody hearing this will have some interesting perspectives.

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