Organizing and Sharing Knowledge
This article is the all-encompassing thought train of me wrestling with the overarching concept of organizing and sharing knowledge online. I’m building an application that deals with these very concepts, so consider this market research that you get to listen to.
If you are just a passer-by person then check out these services, I go into more detail about their use below.
- Link sharing: Delicious, Digg, Reddit, Twitter and New Digg
- Read links later: Instapaper and Read It Later
- Blogging: WordPress, Blogger and Tumbler
- Image sharing: Facebook, Google Picasa and Flickr
- Audio Sharing: Sound Cloud, Last.fm and Myspace
- Video sharing: YouTube and Vimeo
- Document syncing and selective sharing: Dropbox
- Document sharing: Scribd, Docstoc and Slideshare
- Groups of Documents Sharing: Drop.io
- Desktop to Web: Cloud App and Skitch
- Personal organization and pseudo sharing: Google Notebook and Evernote
What do we organize and share online?
There are a few things that a person shares online. When I think of the types of things I share, they are: links, original written content, documents, images, video and music. I rarely share music and with videos I upload them to YouTube and share them with a link. So, for me what I want to really tackle is sharing links, images, writings and documents.
What do we do with links?
When I think about how a person creates and shares links, Twitter, blogging and Delicious come to mind. Delicious is probably more a personal bookmark management system that is synced online than it is sharing, but I do know people who publish the RSS feed of their bookmarks online. Also, delicious popular is a good way to find popularly bookmarked links. So this service is incredibly important for organizing links. It must be considered the default way to use bookmarks aside from simply bookmarking in the browser.
Another link sharing service that comes to mind is Digg and Reddit. These are all link sharing services at heart, with the added feature of voting them up and commenting on the links. Really, I don’t see any difference between digg and delicious other than where the focus is put on. Digg was created as a social news site. Well, delicious could have been the same thing had they had commenting, voting and a home page that featured it.
Twitter is also great for sharing links, but only one link at a time. I now find more useful links through twitter than anywhere else at this point throughout each day. Simply because I follow people who share content that is interesting to me. Currently there is no way to vote up the usefulness of a tweet, but in reality you are voting on the usefulness of all tweets by a single person with your follow.
There is no way to really go back and find the best links through twitter other than looking at number of retweets, so I see there is room for someone to create a better service around links and link discovery for twitter — many startups are trying to do this. Then there is the new Digg which is trying to be social sharing of useful links, basically Twitter without the middle noise.
What do we do with writings?
Blogging (WordPress and Blogger) is the most prevalent way to share your own writings online. The shortened (micro blogging) form of this is Twitter, which is obviously picking up a ton of steam.
Tumbler sits right in the middle of Twitter and Blogging. I don’t really see it as blogging, I see it more as simplified sharing. I know there are people who use Tumbler to blog, but more often I just see it as a way to drop in a link and write a paragraph about it. That is what almost all tumbler blogs I see are. A little longer than Twitter, but less than a traditional blog.
Sharing collaborative writings
The way many people are able to write together is usually through a wiki. Wikis are great for documenting open source projects. jQuery uses a wiki and so does most projects. It just a natural way to see edits that a group of people are making to a series of writings.
A relatively new way of sharing writings is to publish it on github. With github, anyone can download that content, make edits and submit a pull request. The github team used this to have their ebook translated into a ton of languages.
What do we do with images?
Facebook, I believe, has become the primary source of sharing images online. I think it has pretty much become a photo sharing website at this point with the ability to play social games as well. Flickr is specifically for photo sharing and has received tremendous growth. I hear Google’s Picasa is great for photo sharing as well.
How do we share audio?
I’m not too familiar with audio sharing, but I imagine myspace is the leader. I’ve been hearing a lot about Sound Cloud as well. Itunes would be the biggest paid audio player. Last.fm is great for sharing your musical preferences with others.
How do we share video?
Of course YouTube and Vimeo are huge players in the video sharing space. There is a new class of applications for sharing paid videos, but those services are far less mature than YouTube and Vimeo.
What do we do with documents?
First and foremost I think of Dropbox (referral link, I get extra storage if you sign up) when I think of documents. With dropbox, you can keep your files up to sync and share folders with other people. This is more of an organizing activity though and not really for public sharing.
Of course Google Docs comes to mind again, this is a great service for both storing and editing documents. But again, I don’t see people tweeting out google doc links. Usually it is shared on a private mailing list or by email.
Drop.io is great for taking a bunch of documents, putting them in a group and sharing folders online. I kind of see it as a public Dropbox. Except there is no way to keep your drop.io folders synced on your desktop. Everything is done through a web app. I have seen drop.io links be shared in blog articles, twitter and via email.
The most prevalent ways of sharing documents would be Scribd, Docstoc and I’d also include Slideshare in this as well. The great thing about these services is that you can preview and download a page at a time rather than having to store the entire document on your computer at one time. There is also the social aspects as well. I see people embedding and sharing scribd and slideshare links quite often.
The final way is email which is very personal, has no collaboration aspects.. it is mostly for historical reference and one-offs.
Personally managing all of these things
Google Notebook and Evernote both come to mind when I think of organizing information. Both applications have the ability to write notes, organize them into notebooks and use a rich text editor to edit the contents. They both feature searching across all your notes. Google Notebook doesn’t allow you to upload documents, but Evernote does. Evernote also OCRs your images to extract text from pictures you take. Very useful for mobile. I believe Google Goggles is also doing something similar. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google Goggles integrated with Google Notebook soon.
“When publishing a notebook that contains content from websites, please remember to respect the hard work (and legal rights) of the people that created the content. Publishing a notebook is the same as creating your own web page — don’t include content in your notebook that you couldn’t legally publish on your own webpage.”
You can take a Google Notebook or Evernote Notebook and share it online. It converts that notebook to a webpage. I’m surprised I haven’t seen more of these links online.
Sharing things from your desktop
There are only a few services that let you share things from your desktop. The Mac-only Cloud App is probably the only service out there like this. You can just drop in a file, link, anything and it publishes out to a publicly available shared link. You can make each thing public or private.
Skitch is worth mentioning too, because for images you can edit and then share them quickly.
Building the future of organizing and sharing
Over the last eight months I’ve tried to hash out all of these ways of sharing and making knowledge available to be shared with others. The concept of sharing knowledge with each other is incredibly important to me. I did create a little prototype that was shown to some angel investors and they gave me funding for round two. Hopefully in a month or so the team I have put together for this can have a publicly available way to share and organize information as the first step of many towards making a better way to organize your information and share it with the people that you want to share with.