Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My information consumption habits or how having a smartphone changed the way I work

This is in response to my last post where I asked what blog post you wanted to read, and this is one that got quite a few Twitter votes so here it is....

Since getting an iPhone (3GS) which was my first smartphone with 3G service almost a year ago (Dec 2009), the way I consumed information has changed quite a bit. While the internet services I use remains roughly the same, the frequency I use them have altered quite a bit.

I will describe in broad strokes the way I currently consume information on my 3 main computers, Work Desktop, Home Laptop & iPhone. This of course changes almost weekly as I refine my workflow and/or replace existing services. When possible I will try to bring up statistics pre-smart phone and post-smart phone


I love Twitter , and a huge part of my information inflow comes from my Twitter network. The number of ideas I have had that comes from Twitter probably dwarfs almost every other information source.  So I spend quite a lot of time on optimizing this.

My current setup : 

I use Tweetlist primarily for tweeting, it's similar to Twitter for iPhone except you can add comments when Tweeting & has good support for Twitter lists. My backups is Hootsuite (for scheduling tweets on mobile).

I follow about 500 people, but I can generally finish all the new tweets sent while I was asleep on my daily one hour bus ride to work. When I'm particularly lazy I use Twitter Tim.es to crowdsource and view what links are being popularly tweeted.

Some days I'm pretty sick of Twitter so I just use BoxCar , Notifo and Notified to look at pushes sent during the night (covered here), most of which are Twitter searches and Tweets from lists & ignore everything else.

I use the following push apps, BoxCar , Notifo,  to push to me tweets of interest. As noted in
Why libraries should proactively scan Twitter & the web for feedback - some examples , I use them to be alerted in real-time of tweets that match keywords I setup & respond if necessary.

BoxCar is particularly flexible, allowing you to be alerted of RSS feeds (e.g. RSS feed of Library news) as well as specific types of email (see next section).

On my desktop at work, I have Tweetdeck setup that popups alerts which alerts me in real-time of tweets that match the same keywords above, but when away at the desk, my mobile phone keeps me connected.

Will discuss how I manage saving of links from Tweets in second part of blog post.

Twitter usage change

My Twitter account was started in Jun 2008, but I only really started tweeting seriously from Jan 2009.  Comparing tweet volume will be confounded by the fact that I was initally using Friendfeed to push to Twitter social media updates from Delicious, Facebook, likes on Slideshare, Youtube etc, but as time went by I began to use this less and less.

Adjusted figures after removing Friendfeed pushed updates are as follows

From Jan 2009 to 31 Dec 2009 I tweeted 1,791 times, by 25 Dec 2010 I tweeted 2,355 times. This is an increase of 30% (Statistics from TweetStats) .

But why this 30% increase?  The number of accounts I follow didn't increase appreciably from a year ago.

Let have a look at the following showing the times I tweet courtesy of Xfer

Essentially you can see I tweet a lot on weekdays at about 7-8am. This as I said reflects the fact that I use twitter a lot at that time on my way to work (public bus). I generally spend the hour on the bus reading new tweets (and naturally retweets and responses). But let's compare before and after.

This is the distribution of tweets in Nov 2009 (pre smartphone)

Tweets distribution by hours in Nov 2009

This is the same chart one year later in Nov 2010

Tweets distribution by hours in Nov 2010

You can see that in Nov 2010, the bulk of my tweeting starts at around 7 am while I'm on the bus and stops before 8am, while in Nov 2009, I began tweeting at 8am when I just arrived at the office.

Somewhat less obvious is that distribution of tweets throughout the day is more spread out. This is most evident on Saturday. This results because on Saturday I'm out of the house/Office and don't have access to a desktop computer. Pre smartphone this cuts down usage and distribution of tweeting , while this no bar in Nov 2010.

This of course wouldn't be possible without having a smartphone with always on 3G.


My current setup : 

I use gmail for my personal account and a outlook exchange account for work. As a backup I forward outlook exchange mail to gmail which is automatically archived.

My mobile phone syncs to both accounts separately  (using googlesync for gmail and exchange accounts). Like most people I'm bombarded by emails, so while I use "push email", I tend to ignore most "pings". Instead I use a system where only selected emails result in a popup notification or sms. 

For example as detailed in Getting information to travel to you on your mobile phone , I use Boxcar to push alerts if certain emails that match a given criteria are received. These are high priority emails for example emails from bosses that meet certain criteria. Another option is AwayFind if you prefer smses.

Boxcar alert of email matching a certain filter

I do check my emails using my smartphone quite often. Sometimes though you receive an email that you don't want to handle straight away. The moment you read it, it will appear read as well in your exchange and gmail account. This can cause you to forget to deal with it later.

I currently don't use a task manager/scheduler, and it is awkward to set it up anyway on a phone. So what I do is to use a service called  Laytr that allows me to defer the email such that it is resent to you in a future period.

Say you read and email on your mobile phone and it's an email with details about your desk duties for next month. It's very awkward to input all of this to your calender while on mobile, so you might want to defer this until you reach your desktop. While you can change this email to unread or flag it somehow, you can do this instead...

Just forward the email to tomorrow@laytr.com,tuesday@laytr.com, 1130@laytr.com or october@laytr.com and you will receive the same email again at those dates or times. Very handy if you want to forget about this email and handle it only later.

Sometimes you compose an email and want to send it later. On a desktop computer this is built-in with Outlook , and with gmail you can use Boomerang. What about on iPhone? You can use laytr again.

Email usage change

I was planning to use Xobni as blogged in Some email ideas for library use - LibX and Xobni  to measure changes in response time.

Unfortunately something seems to be broken currently, but I can see that my median response time from June 2010 to Dec 2010 is roughly 30 minutes.  I currently can't tell if response time has changed due to owning a smartphone, my guess is probably not since it I still answer the bulk of my emails at the desktop as only a minority of emails are urgent enough to answer while on the move.


I rely heavily on RSS to get news. Every morning when I reach the office, I will look at my social media dashboard that will keep me updated of every mentions relating to the library that I should be aware of.

Besides the already mentioned Why libraries should proactively scan Twitter & the web for feedback - some examples , you can also take a look at this with details on how you can use Netvibes, iGoogle or even Libguides to create a social media dashboard that you can see at one glance what mentions have being made of your institution. Currently I'm using techniques described here and here (hootsuite widget)

Social Media Dashboard (details)

I also have 2 google reader accounts. One is my personal account which includes RSS feeds of library, tech related feeds of interest to me. I check this only about once a week, because I have found that Twitter itself alerts me of most new items I should be interested in most of the time. There are some feeds though that are seldom tweeted by people I follow, examples would be lesser know blogs and some local stuff, so I focus on them.

I also setup a second google reader account.  In fact it contains 3 categories of feeds

1. Official channels (library social media updates)

This allows me to be aware of what updates are made by our various accounts (Youtube, Twitter, Delicious, Slideshare, blog etc). As I'm in control of most of these accounts, I seldom see anything surprising though.

2. Search alerts (Twitter alerts and Google alerts)

This includes Twitter search alerts and google search alerts in RSS and some special sauce. You might wonder why I have this if I already use igoogle, Netvibes etc as social media dashboard. The main reason is for searchability as the others only show the most current results.

3. Prominent blog relating to institution

This includes department blogs, popular student society and newspaper blogs , University event feeds etc. I just quickly scan these in the morning to get updated of what is happening in the institution (outside library).

All this has not changed with a smart phone. The main difference is that I read them on the way to work, using the app MobileRSS. This is linked such that, if I share any interesting item it will send to Twitter, which itself will store links in Diigo etc.

MobileRSS - Google reader account

I've tried apps like Pulse New mini, my6sense which present RSS feeds in different ways. The later tries to prioritze what is shown based on some algothrim of what you have read in the past, but I never got into them.


Pre smartphone I already used a system of Google calenders synced to Outlook calender (every 15 mins). With the smartphone I sync the iPhone calender to Google calender (real-time instant sync).

The reason why I have this three way sync is

1. Outlook calenders is used to set best times for meetings by colleagues

2. I personally prefer Google Calender as my main calender since it can set a very flexible system of reminders which you can get via email, popup and most importantly SMS.

Of course pre-smart phone it was difficult to check my schedule if I was away from the desktop computer, but now I have it all the time and I can confidently confirm good meeting times easily.

I've tried using some type of task manager/scheduler, including using toodledo, Geetasks, Smart Tasks 4 etc, but it hasn't took so far. I guess I came closest to adopting Geetasks which uses Google's simple task manager.

I do use Tungle to manage possible meeting times as detailed here, and there's a nice Tungle App.


This is getting long, so I will defer the part where I detail how I transfer information from my desktop computer to my iPhone and viceversa. In part 2, I will also detail how I save,store links , pages I read while on mobile. All this additional information consumed via phone also means less information consumed from other sources of course, and this will be covered in part 2 as well.

I currently don't have a Tablet PC, I wonder if owning one will result in further changes in the way I consume information.

My system is probably overcomplicated, and not everyone wants to be constantly "wired" to information but hopefully, you can use some of these ideas to be more productive and up-to-date.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Share this!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...