A Blog About Blogs: How I Organise and Track My Blog Reading and Research

A couple of days ago, I posted the below on Twitter as a kind of passing remark on what I happened to be doing at that moment:

However, it generated some interesting questions and so I thought I would pull together my personal process for managing, collating and keeping track of the many, many blogs that I read. This, then, is a blog about blogging or maybe more precisely a blog about reading blogs.

I should also say before beginning that I’m aware this may appear a very convoluted process, and in many ways it is, but it works for me and was very much a response to the days when I would constantly forget about or misplace an interesting post or vaguely remember something I read but, at a later date, have very little chance of actually finding it again.

Whilst it may require some initial set up time, the below process involves very little upkeep once established as most of it is automated. A couple of the services are also paid for, but not a lot and, for me at least, well worth the time spent using them. It’s also worth saying, all of this is done via my iPad, but most of the below could easily be done with any computer.

Step One: Feedly

The first step in the entire process is using Feedly, which is an RSS feed collation service, meaning it automatically collects in one place any blogs published by specific sites you have previously added to it.

Here, then, is a segment of my current list of blogs on Feedly and if I come across a new blogger that I’m interested in I would just add their site to this Feedly list:

In practice, what this means is that whenever any of these blog sites publish a new post Feedly automatically grabs that post and collates it in one place.

This means I’m never at risk of missing something because I happened not to be on Twitter at the right time. It also means I no longer need to use the bookmark service on Twitter itself, which, despite best intentions, tended to be a graveyard of posts I thought I would read but never did.

Despite Feedly being the place that collates and manages all of these posts, I don’t actually read any of them via Feedly directly. Rather, once the posts are added, Feedly lies dormant and I never actually need to open it up. Where do I read them in that case?

Step Two: Unread

Rather than using Feedly to read these various blogs, I use Unread, which does, unfortunately, come at a cost. What Unread does is to automatically pull anything stored on Feedly onto its own reader, which looks like the below:

So, I can go into Unread, as I do most days, and have a live feed of any news blog posts generated from Feedly, which I can then read there and then or save for later (more on this in a moment!). This is constantly updated and so the moment a new blog post is posted it’s sent, via Feedly, to Unread.

An obvious question would be why use and indeed pay for Unread when all it is doing is pulling the information already freely available on Feedly?

There’s a couple of reasons for this:

1) The reading experience on Unread is far better than Feedly and generally a lot more enjoyable. The fonts, backgrounds, styles are all much more customisable, and just generally a more pleasant reading experience. Given most of my blog reading is done via Unread, this matters to me.

2) It syncs and works incredibly well with Instapaper, which is the next step in the process.

Here’s what it looks like to read on Unread, the original format of the post being re-formatted in plain text and all fonts/backgrounds/colours being customisable:

As mentioned at the start, this may all seem like a lot of work, but it’s really not: all I’ve done up to now is add blog sites to Feedly and Unread does the rest once synced to my Feedly account.

Step Three: Instapaper

Instapaper is a really great ‘read it later’ app/service, which basically means anything I see on Unread that I want to read or pay particular attention to, but just not right at that moment, I share to Instapaper. These are then stored there until I am ready to go into Instapaper and read them, as below:

However, once reading on Instapaper there are a couple of useful things I can do beyond just simply reading the post. For example, it’s now possible to categorise and store these blogs for future reference so that I can easily find them again, as below:

I can also, as I’m reading the post, highlight anything that is especially interesting or make a note about it, like this:

The note could be made by typing or you could even, if you have an iPad, use the scribble function with an Apple Pencil so that it’s effectively like handwriting these notes like you would if reading on paper.

Instapaper is therefore the centralised repository of all the blogs that I read and think that I might want to refer back to at a later date as opposed to Unread which is constantly updated and much more transitory.

It’s really useful, for instance, if I want to revisit my modelling practices to be able to go to the relevant folder in Instapaper and pull up all the relevant posts, some that might be going back months and that I otherwise might have overlooked or forgotten, as below:

However, Instapaper is also very valuable for another reason: any highlights I make in it are instantly collated and synced to another app and website called Readwise. This is done without any additional labour by me: I make a highlight in Instapaper and it’s directly sent to Readwise. But, what’s Readwise?

Step Four: Readwise

Readwise is an app and website that has a few different uses all predicated on the fact it is collating and storing all the highlights that you have been making in Instapaper. It’s worth saying too it also works with other apps like Pocket (an alternative to Instapaper) as well as any highlights you make when reading on Kindle. What, then, can it do with these highlights?

First, and perhaps most importantly, it creates for you a daily digest of a handful of highlights that you previously made. The idea here is to remind you of ideas or materials you have highlighted in the past that you might otherwise completely forget about. It provides an opportunity to re-engage with and enjoy again whatever you found interesting enough to highlight in the first place.

As you go through this process of re-engaging with the automatically selected highlights, you have the further option to discard or keep them and to select whether to see this same highlight again very soon or at a later point in the future. The app then factors in these preferences when automatically selecting what to remind you of in future days.

However, you can also go further and transform some of these highlights into mastery flashcards where you might, for example, ask yourself a question with the highlight being the answer, like this:

Again, these can be re-issued either sooner or later depending on what your preference is. In this sense, the app taps into the science behind retrieval practice and spacing to help you remember more of what you are reading, whether a blog post or a book you read on Kindle.

In addition to these primary functions, Readwise also has the added benefit of taking all of these highlights and notes, whatever their original source might have been, and automatically syncing them to a database app called Notion.

Step Five: Notion

Notion is an app that lets you build databases so it has the flexibility to be used for pretty much anything that represents information in a textual format. It is incredibly flexible. I personally use it for collating reading lists, storing notes that I might make when listening to podcasts or completing online courses. But, others might use it as a journal app or a sophisticated to do list.

Its other main use for me, though, is the final point of storage for any of the highlights I made in Kindle or in Instapaper that then found their way into Readwise. Notion automatically pulls in these highlights, categorises them and collates them in a centralised database, which ends up looking something like the below (which is the same information as in my original Tweet, just a different view):

There are then lots of ways to manipulate this data. I can, for example, add tags to the posts (for example, categorising by content such as ‘cognitive science’ or ‘feedback’) or I could organise by date that I read it or whether it is an article or a book, and so on. I could also add a brief summary of its content or access again the automatically uploaded URL. Using this system, I could then filter by ‘feedback and assessment’ and now have in front of me all the blogs I’ve read about feedback and assessment with highlights already collated. There’s not really a limit to the kinds of ways you could present and access the highlights you now have stored in one place.

This means that no matter when I read a blog post, I have all of its key ideas in one place and now categorised in whatever way I want for easy future access. And this is in addition to the benefits offered by Readwise, which, in the background, is automatically adding these highlights to Notion on an ongoing basis as well as reminding me of what I’ve read.

Isn’t This Just a Lot of Faff?!

Yes, quite possibly! I do definitely admit this level of ‘control’ wouldn’t suit everyone and does somewhat go against the fleeting and transitory nature of reading blogs, which often are consumed as a quick hit of information. This said, though, I do use the same system for longer reads such as those done on the Kindle.

However, even for blogs there is a lot of benefit in being able to access incredibly effortlessly and quickly something I read about modelling, say, 4 years ago and to see the highlights I made then as well as the full post. Or, to be able to have in one place, neatly categorised, everything I’ve read on, say, behaviour or curriculum design. I do also very much enjoy the ability to re-engage via Readwise and the options it affords for spaced retrieval.

I think it’s also worth saying that whilst more work than most would wish for, it isn’t actually that much effort. In essence, the process breaks down to something like this:

1. Add a blog site to Feedly (30 seconds)
2. Add recent posts to Unread (done automatically)
3. Read blog and delete or send to Instapaper
4. Read in Instapaper and make highlights/notes
5. Send highlights to Readwise from Instapaper (done automatically)
6. Engage with daily Readwise review (5 minutes)
7. Send highlights from Readwise to Notion for final storage (done automatically)

So, aside from the reading itself, most of the process is done in the background and automatically once everything is set up, but the benefits it brings can be incredibly powerful.

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