How to Organize Digital Information: Web sites, blogs, and more

“The flood of data on the Web has reached mind-boggling proportions.” (NPR, 2010)

So many websites, blogs, online newsletters … so little time. How can we keep up in the digital world? More importantly, how can we transform information into knowledge? Before information becomes knowledge it’s data, yet another challenge is finding good data when it’s needed. In this post I’ll provide a strategy and recommend tools to ‘tame the beast’ we call information overload.

What is Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)?
I’ve struggled to find a system for managing ‘information’ – information that I can refer to, cite and read when needed. There’s a name for what I’m describing – PKM, or Personal Knowledge Management.  PKM is about managing information, and turning it into knowledge that is of interest to the beholder – it becomes personal. The goal of this post is to introduce a system for managing information, though if interested in reading more about Personal Knowledge Management in the digital world click here – this resource describes PKM in greater detail.

The System to PKM
The first and essential component to effective management of digital information is the system itself. I’ve outlined a framework that involves three straightforward steps.

  1. Find the right tool or application to manage your digital content. It must be seamless in its application, not feel cumbersome or onerous. [The tool in the ‘old days’ might have been a filing cabinet, a set of binders, or notebooks]
  2. Identify knowledge that is important to you. What information do you want to collect? Decide what is of interest to you and divide your interests/projects into categories or topics. [If you were to set up a filing cabinet what would the labels be on the file folders within?]
  3. Establish a method to filter and select the data (Web sites, blogs, online journals etc.) using the tool you choose to manage your system. Establish criteria to follow that will allow you to select information with discrimination. Be selective.

1) The Tool
There are many tools to choose from for managing and sharing digital information, yet the selection of the tool is critical, it can make or break your system. You want a tool that is easy to use, yet can span across all areas of your life: personal, work, and/or school. Having one tool is ideal. I tried numerous tools before I hit on the one that works for me which I’ll describe below, though I’ve listed others at the bottom of this post.

Pealtrees: I discovered Pearltrees, which is a fluid and intuitive tool that allows me to manage digital information easily. It’s also visually appealing and organic in how it brings all of my projects together. It is a Web application where the user ‘pearls’  favorites and organizes them into trees (categories). The pearls are the live links [information].

2) The Knowledge – My Categories
The image below illustrates my ‘trees’ which are the main topics or categories of interest to me. Within each tree, there are branches which represent sub-categories, and then pearls which are live links within each that archive the information that I can easily locate when I need it.

To expand a ‘tree’ I simply click on the circle associated with the category.

To the right you can see what appears when I click on ‘Blogs’ tree – the expanded category, has several sub-categories, which in this case are the blogs divided into types. When I click on each, the ‘pearls’ (live links appear). I find this easy to work with, (once set up my categories (trees)).

The downside of Pearltrees is that it’s a public application, available on the World Wide Web for anyone to view. For those not comfortable with the openness of this tool, there are other to choose from.

3) The method 

The method involves two steps, 1) assessing and deciding if the information is worthy,  and  2) using the tool to archive or ‘store’ the information. My system is straightforward, after the initial set-up of the tool, I simply ‘pearl’ the digital information by clicking the Pearltree icon in my tool bar. I can also add resources/links, when I am working within the Pearltree application.

Closing Thoughts
The most significant lesson I learned from this process was identifying what knowledge I wanted to acquire, which led to defining the categories and sub-categories for which I would seek and select information. My goal is that I can go back to my digital information when I need it and transform it into knowledge. Though there is time involved in this exercise and in developing a system for PKM, it is worth the endeavor – there is no need to drown in information, there are life preservers out there. Grab hold and begin your own PKM system.

Further Resources:
– Google Reader
– Any Bookmarking application,  i.e. Delicious, Reddit
Pocket, (formerly Read It Later)

Information Overload is not Unique to the Digital Age,Tony Cox, National Public Radio
Life in Perpetual Beta, Harold Jarche Blog
Pearltees, and Pearltrees You Tube Video
-My personal Pearltree page, click here

9 thoughts on “How to Organize Digital Information: Web sites, blogs, and more

  1. Information overload has been around since the boom of the world wide web. Today, information management applications allow us to turn a pile of digital information into something meaningful and organized, which can later create a knowledge network for collaboration.

    With this innovation in mind, one must not forget the need for physical tools like notebooks and binders – indispensable items for personal knowledge management. I would say a mixture of both would help create structure, organize information effectively and turn it into a collection of useful information that is easily accessible for the user.


  2. Thank you so much. You’re a life saver. I was looking for applications like Pearltrees and Pocket. I just signed up for both.


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