Back in 1997, it was a front page headline in the newspaper that told me Princess Di had died. That may have been the last big event that I heard first on the walk in from the driveway. Today, the way I find and consume media in my Mac environment is through a rich set of tools and people, in a way that I barely have conceived even just a year ago. (The subtitle of my post here is to observe how we are continually revise our view of the future with the dramatically novel innovations that occur regularly. )
The most significant changes in my media environment result from the iPad, links flying at me from the Twitterverse, and the increased capacity and power of the iPhone 4 (which was a delightful improvement for me as I stepped up from the original.)
Role of Twitter in Discovery: Twitter has become a fascinating and increasingly valuable overlay to my information gathering experience. In my office environment, I have TweetDeck running off a MacMini with a dedicated monitor off to the side. Like the flow of people down a busy sidewalk, I glance at the tweets of the people I follow and and hashtags I track. The vast majority of these contain links that point to content I may find interesting.
Learning to use Twitter is like learning the environment in a vacation spot you’ve never been to before. Everything seems strange at first, you don’t know the etiquette of the people, or where anything is. By the end of your stay, you know the little short cuts, precisely what time that delightful breakfast place opens, and the place in your memory that you first arrived to seems quite foreign.
And with its ability to freely follow people and track interesting subjects, Twitter is like opening the windows on a spring day — it is such a lovely way to have a pulse of what is going on around the world, and be exposed to new thinking.
RSS: Like a faithful dog, RSS is still part of my environment. Using Netnewswire, it is the way I scan the headlines from hundreds of newsites and blogs for places that I am already familiar with.
Google News Alerts: I also pull my Google Alerts into Netnewswire, which is far better than receiving discrete emails containing groups of links. In Netnewswire, for example, the Feed URL for “Social Graph” alerts is:
I copy and paste this into the address field of Safari, modifying it for other topics I want to follow, and hit enter. This causes a dialog box in Netnewswire to pop up which asks if I want to subscribe to this new RSS feed.
New York Times Alerts and ‘Timespeople’ – I have a few news alerts set up directly with the New York Times. I follow a few tech topics from them and some specific journalist there. The links arrive each morning by email, but I would welcome RSS or a way to pull it in to my twitter environment more directly. They do have ‘Timespeople’ (I am ‘fjglynn’ there) where New York Times readers can ‘Recommend’ articles for other New York Times people that they follow. These tools are interesting, but obviously separate.
Instapaper: Now, as I come across content via links in Tweets and via RSS feeds, I quickly browse some pieces right then, but longer pieces I want to read later when I have time, an in a more comfortable place with my iPad. I use two primary ways to accomplish this. The first is Instapaper, which is almost magical. They provide a browser plug-in that you click when you’re on a webpage that you want to ‘read later’.
This causes the sensible parts of that web page, i.e. the article, and most of the time, accompanying photographs, to be cached up in the cloud for you. Then, when you fire up the InstaPaper app in your iPad or iPhone, they pull down the articles you tucked away. I used to print stuff and put it in a ‘read-later’ pile. Now they appear on my iPad, and I actually read these articles and posts.
Save PDF to iTunes (for iBooks): Thank you, Anthony Martin. He posted a wonderfully helpful piece describing how to add ‘Save PDFs to iTunes’ to the Print PDF dialog box in Mac OS X. I use this from any application on my Mac (e.g. Powerpoint) or from a browser for longer articles that I treat more as permanent “Library” documents on my iPad.
Tagging PDFs in iTunes (for iBooks): Anthony’s approach, described just above, puts the PDFs in the ‘Books’ section of my iTunes Library. I also drag native PDFs on my Mac that I download from the Web into my iTunes Library directly, and they also appear in Books section. For each of these, as I add them, I do a ‘Get Info’ to add helpful metadata to the PDF: Year, Author, and most importantly, Genre (which you should think of as ‘category). This pays off when I open the iBooks app on the iPad, select PDFs, and then choose ‘Categories’ from the viewing options on the bottom. iBooks then sorts my PDFs by Category, and makes my growing PDF library on my iPad much more accessible and valuable.
eBooks: I’m reading a lot these days about sociology and technology of social networking, as well as photography, one of my creative passions. With my iPad, I typically compare prices and if available get books via Apple’s iBookstore, or Amazon’s Kindlestore. The iPad of course lets you read the standard ePUB format that Apple chose, or the Mobi formatted books from Amazon using the Kindle app for iPad.
I prefer the app experience of Apple’s iBook over Amazon’s Kindle app, but both are lovely. I “highlight” passages, and delight in being able to later search though them. (And am fascinated when the Kindle app indicates passages that have been highlighted by a large number of readers). Also, even though each app saves my place, I keep a pretty current bookmark in case the folks I lend my iPad to flip though my books, changing the place.
The romantics among us will say things like “I just love the feel of real pages when I read.” My unromantic pragmatic comment is “I love having my books with me so I can read them.” I have a delightful and varied library with me wherever I take my iPad.
I should also say, to some skepticism I’m sure, that I read eBooks on my iPhone. Sometimes I’m in a constrained environment like the London Underground, or when I’m in a store queue and I have only my iPhone with me. You must try it — its a very readable experience. Doubting Thomas I was, I needed to try it myself, and it wonderful to have something good to read when your in line at the grocery store. And as if by wizardry, your place in the book stays synced across your devices. Upon returning to an eBook on my iPad after I’ve been reading it on my iPhone, the pages magically flip forward to right where I left off.
Audiobooks and Podcasts: With all I’ve said about eBooks, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Audiobooks and Podcasts. When I run, drive and alone, I get a great deal of “reading” accomplished with Audiobooks, which I’ll buy from Audible.com or iTunes. And I’m now quite accustomed now to listening to them at 2x speed with a setting on the iPod app of my iPhone. The pace at 2x is great, and Apple has done a good job with the pitch as it doesn’t sound like the Chipmunks. And the increased speed I think keeps you focused on the story, and you find your mind wanders less. And on the iPhone, there’s a “go back 30 seconds” button, which comes in very handy when you do want to replay part of the audiobook or podcast.
I have ripped my Audiobook CDs so I can listen to them on my iPhone. The process is painful, and I don’t recommend it, unless you already have the Audiobook CDs laying around. Here are my steps, with a special acknowledgment to Doug Adams for his wonderful iTunes scrips, especially, Join Together.
- Import Settings on iTunes: from my normal MP3/192Kbps to AAC/Spokenpodcast
- Before I imported each audiobook CD, I use the iTunes-Advanced-Join CD Tracks command on all the tracks of an audiobook CD
- Import into iTunes
- Then, I run the Doug Adams iTunes Script ‘Join Together’ on the group of files – one from each CD – this resulted in a single File
- In iTunes, I then did a Get Info, and made sure the Title, Author, etc. was as I wanted, and dragged in artwork.
Although Audiobooks are dominating my listening these days, when my mood calls for it, I have podcasts to turn to, with iTunes managing the subscriptions and downloads, and syncing to my iPhone. My favorites are This American Life (I’m not alone…), Fresh Air with Terry Gross, The Candid Frame, and This Week in Photo.
Apps on the iPad: As I mentioned earlier, I use Apple’s iBook App to read eBooks from Apple’s iBook store and it doubles as my PDF reader. When reading eBooks, I make frequent use of ‘highlights’ and ‘notes’ that I love being able to search though later. And as also explained earlier, I keep PDFs organized in by Categories. I look forward to a future iBook release where I can see two pages side-by-side when I have the iPad in landscape mode (articulating valuable/essential for photo spreads), as well as the ability to collapse Categories, so its easier to move around my growing iPad library.
Despite what RIM’s co-CEO says about iPad Apps in general, I think the Flipbook and Twitter Apps are lovely. I like having all the links forwarded by my friends, followees and hashtaggers right a my fingertips, and have the app pull the web page with the flick or click of a finger. Jim Balstillie can have his browser-based content, I’m sticking with these wonderful apps.
News sites are also realizing the value of the app experience, and they’re popping up all over. Its interesting to see different approaches, e.g. the New York Times App, and the Huffington Post. They, and others, allow delightful ways to browse articles quickly, and pull up the ones that interest you. The reading experience with them is amazing.
Closing Thoughts: This all probably sounds more complicated than it really is. Most of these approaches and tools are independent of the others, so you can pick and choose to suit your style. I particularly like how I spot content on my Macs, and cause it to be consumed on my iPad and iPhone. Finally, this is obviously the state of things in November of 2010. It will be interesting to revisit this in the future — this post probably doesn’t have a long shelf life!