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Your own private RSS feed

I was reading through Cory Doctorow's treatise (lifehacks) on the beauty and efficiency of all things ascii last night, and I felt like a drunk wandering into an AA meeting. I am not alone in my habit of dumping "everything" into one massive file in my efforts to stay organized. There are a lot of people who eschew complex personal productivity software for the good old text file.

This prevailing trend toward data dumping, according to Corey, points to the following conclusions:

Conclusion: We'll have private blogs

  • People use blogs all the time
  • They'll just use their blogs for everything, project mgmt etc
  • LiveJournal: 4% of posts are private -- people talking to themselves

Conclusion: We'll have private RSS feeds

  • People suck lots of data into RSS

That last bit is the real gem here.

Why? Because it's searchable, it's controllable, it's portable, and there are no data constraints. Sure, there are some formatting limitations, but does the basic information we use to make our lives go require bold, italics and table rows? When I was 23, one of my bosses used a Word file to hold all of his meeting notes, phone call records, todo lists, etc. He had used the same file for more than three years, and when I asked him why he took such a risk of putting everything in one place, he said that being able to use Word's powerful search tool to find even the most innocuous scrap of information outweighed any sort of risk. I think he was right.

However, what this plain old text format can't do and what a private RSS feed requires is structure, a way to create the what is perhaps the most important intellectual tool at our disposal: the phylum and kingdom. That is. We need a way to represent a hierarchical structure.

That's where an outliner comes in. I create one file per year to house all of my project notes, phone calls, todo lists, random thoughts and ideas, etc. And I use the Omni Group's OmniOutliner, which lets me create a logical structure of inclusion and exclusion. Ironically enough, when I travel, I export a text-only copy and synchronize it with my iPod. Still, by using an outliner that's able to speak xml (OmniOutliner can output OPML), I don't have to settle for this raw text file as my basic data record. I could, as Corey points out in his lifehacks document, create my own personal RSS feed sans blog, sort of a browsable, date-based way to browse the top-level items residing in my backup brain. It's worth the time to explore this notion. Thanks Corey!