The Art Of Staying Up To Date

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An important part of our job is staying up to date. Technologies don’t really change that fast — HTML5 and CSS3 take a long time to be specified and implemented. But the ideas surrounding these technologies and the things we can do with them are constantly evolving, and hundreds of blog posts and articles are published every day. There’s no way you can read all of those but you’ll still have to keep up to date. Here are some tips on doing that while still having some time left to work.

Ideas Surrounding These Technologies and the Things we can do With Them are Constantly Evolving1

Filtering

The hardest part of staying up to date is not reading too much. So many articles are published on a daily basis, so you’ll need filters. It’s unfortunately hard to make a living by reading articles all day, so you don’t want to read marginally interesting stuff, and you don’t want to read too much. You only want to read relevant stuff. You could try to automate this filtering, but I found that the best filters are actually people and time.

People

Some people produce lots and lots of ideas. Not all of these ideas are worth your time, but some of them are excellent. If you follow these people directly there’s a lot of noise you have to filter and you need a good sensor to recognize the good stuff. A very easy way to solve this is to not follow them directly but only follow the people surrounding them — they will do the filtering for you. If there’s an excellent idea, they will link to it. So in order to keep your sanity, don’t follow loudmouths (follow their more silent friends).

Don't Follow Loudmouths Directly2

This tip works very well for Twitter, but it works for blogs as well. Don’t follow overactive sources, follow the people who follow these sources.

Soulmates

A few years ago I noticed that my RSS feeds started to dry up — especially blogs with opinionated articles. Articles where many people would leave their comments were all of a sudden gone. These discussions had moved to Twitter overnight. That’s the reason why I started tweeting (although I have to admit that I was addicted to it within a week). If you tend to your Twitter stream with care, it can become a very valuable source of good and relevant information. But if you follow the wrong people, or too many people, it will be exactly the opposite. My stream consists of mostly people who generally agree with each other. This means that it usually isn’t filled with tedious discussions about irrelevant details that can easily grow to gargantuan proportions. Now, I don’t say you shouldn’t listen to people you don’t agree with, I just think that Twitter is not the right place to follow these people.

Emotion

Related to this Twitter-management (where I try to avoid heated discussions) is this other excellent filter I use: time. I almost never read articles the moment they are published, I wait a few days, or weeks or even months. If they are still interesting after a period of time, they are worth reading. You’ll see that lots of stuff is outdated even after a few days. Many articles are written in an emotional state, and many responses to these articles are written with even more emotion. These rows can certainly be entertaining, but they are rarely interesting after a week. I use Pinboard3 to create this buffer of unread articles, but there are many other handy tools available like Instapaper4 or Pocket5 (or you could just use your browser’s bookmark functionality).

Being up to date isn’t about knowing the latest trends and keeping track of all the gossip, it’s about knowing the right stuff by reading only the right stuff. But it isn’t just about reading the right stuff, it’s also about remembering it.

Backup Your Knowledge

The good thing about our current era is that we don’t have to learn everything we read by heart: we have computers these days to do the remembering for us. We just have to make sure that our computer can find the stuff we want it to remember. So create a database of the links to interesting articles that you read. I always write a small comment with these links when I save them to Pinboard, this way I can easily find them when I need them. You could buy the archival option from Pinboard, this makes it even easier to find older articles. I also created some IFTTT6 rules to backup these links to Evernote and Dropbox197. I don’t want to depend on one tool8, so I spread my knowledge around.

Use Your Knowledge

A very important part of understanding a new technique or design trick is by playing with it. You could of course immediately start using it in a big-production website (or you could also just first try it out). There are many tools out there that make it easy to test some snippets of code, like the amazing Dabblet9 and the incredible JS Bin10. Playing around with code snippets that you find in articles will greatly improve your understanding of how things work.

Tools

There are many tools you can use for gathering and keeping your knowledge (and I already named quite a few). Here are a few more:

Twitter

I use YoruFukurou11 as my Twitter client. It’s an unobtrusive client with some very handy tools for power-users, like muting certain words. It has some very handy advanced custom filter options as well. Tweetbot12 is a similar tool which works especially well on iOs devices. I fave every tweet that might have an interesting link (yes, that’s why I fave all of your tweets, but I’m not stalking you). All of these faves are automatically stored as unread items in a Pinboard account.

RSS

I read my feeds using the excellent self-hosted feed reader Fever13. It has a feature that detects what articles are hot by checking how many people link to it. It uses the clever principle of Sparks — feeds that link to interesting things, but are not worth following to determine what’s hot. You can save articles for later (and yes, these articles are also saved as unread items in my Pinboard account, as well).

I Use Fever to Read My Feeds14

Pinboard

As I mentioned before, by creating some clever filters you can make sure that your list of unread articles is manageable. But reading the articles and actually doing something with that knowledge can be pretty time-consuming. Every now and then I hit one of my two Pinboard bookmarklets that either show me the oldest unread item or a random one. As I said, many articles are outdated after a few days (but still many remain to be read). If an article is small, I read it right away. If it’s very long and very interesting, I either e-mail it to myself or I save it to Instapaper.

I save every article that is worth remembering to a second Pinboard account15 using Delibar16, with a small comment and a few tags attached to it. There are many more ways to better organize these links, but this system works for me (I usually find a link I need within a few seconds).

IFTTT

IFTTT17 is a very handy tool that connects Web services. I use it to store my bookmarks on as many locations as possible. For instance, every article I save to my second Pinboard account is saved to Evernote18 and Dropbox197. This makes it easy to access all these bookmarks from every device I use with specialized tools like nvAlt20.

Talking

This whole article is just about staying up to date by reading articles, but one of the best ways to stay up to date is by talking to people. In real life you can talk to colleagues or attend conferences and workshops, as there are many regular meet-ups of like-minded people all around the world. You can use things like Twitter or IRC to start discussions or ask questions, or post your question on one of the many online fora out there.

Talking About Your Work is a Great Way to Form an Opinion21

Other tools

There are many other tools out there that can help you with staying up to date. Many people use Instapaper, Delicious22 or Pocket to collect links. Others use email to send these links to themselves. Some people use the native bookmarks of their browser and others write their own bookmarking service23.

Sources

Professionally I am specialized in HTML and CSS, and I have an interest in Web Design and some other areas. Since I have expert knowledge of CSS, it doesn’t make much sense for me to follow websites that offer CSS tutorials for beginners. So on this particular subject I follow the real experts and even the people who write the specs: my knowledge about CSS has to be more than up to date. Bas Poppink, a colleague of mine, calls this principle following the sources of your sources until you found the headspring. I call it the Poppink-principle. So if you’ve outgrown tutorials, ask the authors of these tutorials what websites and which people they follow.

What sources are right for you depends on a lot of things, like your experience and your fields of interests. Below you’ll find some of my sources. You might find some interesting stuff in there…

My Sources

My main source of information comes from people who tweet24 something that might interest me. Twitter is also great for discussing articles and opinions, or asking for advice. But there is more…

Feeds

There are some feeds I rely on: the bookmarks saved by Jeremy Keith25, Kazuhito Kidachi26, Peter van der Zee27, and Paul Irish28. They usually add a helpful description to their bookmarks. There are a few people who regularly29 post high quality30 reading lists31: you should definitely follow a few of those too, if not all. The rest of the links are distilled from a somewhat random collection of ancient and newer RSS feeds that definitely need some weeding. Do you really want to know what they are? Here is the OPML file32.

But you’ll probably be better served by the excellent collection of Front-End and Web Standards feeds33 that Paul Irish curates. He also points at these great weekly email newsletters about JavaScript34, Web design35, CSS36 and HTML537. Definitely worth a follow if email is more your thing.

Your Own Sources

Whether you want to be the very best in your profession or someone who is good enough38, staying up to date is essential for every professional. The exact people and feeds to follow depends on your own interests. Just take your time to find and collect them and be sure to critically look at them every now and then. Also, what tools you choose to use in order to stay up to date is totally up to you, as there are many more ways to stay up to date than I described here. I hope that this article somehow helps you in finding the right sources and in creating your own, better, flow of information.

Image source39 of picture used on front page.

(jvb)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.flickr.com/photos/22697355@N08/7049792089/sizes/m/in/photostream/
  2. 2 http://www.gregmike.com/blog/2009/9/20/loudmouth-paper-toys-released.html
  3. 3 https://pinboard.in/
  4. 4 https://www.instapaper.com/
  5. 5 http://getpocket.com/
  6. 6 http://ifttt.com/
  7. 7 http://db.tt/ZX285KA
  8. 8 http://adactio.com/journal/1552/
  9. 9 http://dabblet.com/
  10. 10 http://jsbin.com/
  11. 11 https://sites.google.com/site/yorufukurou/home-en
  12. 12 http://tapbots.com/software/tweetbot/
  13. 13 http://feedafever.com/
  14. 14 http://feedafever.com/
  15. 15 https://pinboard.in/u:dailynerd/
  16. 16 http://www.delibarapp.com/
  17. 17 http://ifttt.com/
  18. 18 https://www.evernote.com/
  19. 19 http://db.tt/ZX285KA
  20. 20 http://brettterpstra.com/project/nvalt/
  21. 21 http://www.flickr.com/photos/ktylerconk/3045268759/
  22. 22 https://www.delicious.com/
  23. 23 http://adactio.com/journal/4197/
  24. 24 https://twitter.com/following
  25. 25 http://adactio.com/links/
  26. 26 http://www.delicious.com/kazuhito
  27. 27 http://js.gd/
  28. 28 http://www.delicious.com/paul.irish
  29. 29 https://hacks.mozilla.org/category/mozilla-hacks-weekly/
  30. 30 http://theletter.co.uk/
  31. 31 http://www.brucelawson.co.uk/category/accessibility-web-standards/reading-list/
  32. 32 https://dl.dropbox.com/u/23214/fever-nerd.opml
  33. 33 http://paulirish.com/2011/web-browser-frontend-and-standards-feeds-to-follow/
  34. 34 http://javascriptweekly.com/
  35. 35 http://web-design-weekly.com/
  36. 36 http://css-weekly.com/
  37. 37 http://html5weekly.com/
  38. 38 http://sunpig.com/martin/archives/2005/10/10/netpressure.html
  39. 39 http://www.flickr.com/photos/hertzen/4878410201/in/photostream

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Vasilis van Gemert is the Principal Front-end Developer at Mirabeau in The Netherlands and a board member of Fronteers. His aim is to close the gap between design and (front-end) development. He believes the excess of knowledge he has can be better used by others, by more creative and smarter people. You can follow him on Twitter.

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  1. 1

    Perfect Timing on this article! My feeds were just starting to get dry and I’ve been looking around for some newer information and how to effectively get through it all. Thanks for all of the info on how you do it.

    • 2

      Vasilis van Gemert

      August 10, 2012 9:58 am

      You’re welcome! Be sure to check Paul Irish’ feeds again, he updated his post since I wrote this article.

  2. 3

    Nice conclusion for the sad end of “Smashing Daily”.
    Thanks for your work there.

    • 4

      Vasilis van Gemert

      August 10, 2012 9:59 am

      That’s why I wrote this article, so you can do it yourself. And maybe, someone will start writing the next Dailies (-:

  3. 5

    I’ve found it very difficult to stay up to date on the latest progressive web tech. I have no coworkers who are interested in the subject, have found no forums where such persons who excel in the field and practice can congregate, nor have I found any online resource that really puts a notch in its belt as a reputable, well-formed repository of HTML5 / CSS3 / and other progressive practices.

    My environment is not conducive to learning these things, yet I push myself to do what I can, because I have a genuine interest in the field. It has been very challenging, especially with the myriad of people wanting to introduce “the next big thing” every other week.

    It’s just very slow and difficult to learn when there’s no structured approach. I wish there were 1-to-1 tutors to provide a more solid founding. As it stands now, my coworkers head into HTML5 and mobile projects with no core understanding of the pitfalls and principles needed as a prerequisite. They find piecemeal information online and use that word as law in a blind push to just get the opportunity to say they’re using the tech. Not at all a way to learn, IMO.

    • 6

      Vasilis van Gemert

      August 10, 2012 10:00 am

      This doesn’t really sound like a good environment to be in, sorry to hear that. Maybe some of the sources mentioned in this article can help you on your way to find a better place?

    • 7

      If you don’t have good local user groups where you live, you might be able to start one yourself. You could be surprised about the amount of interest in your area that’s just waiting for someone to take the lead.

      I completely agree that there’s not a definitive source for keeping up-to-date or learning modern techniques for HTML / CSS / JavaScript. There’s a ton of great learning materials out there (Smashing Magazine being one of the best), but not a good way to process it all. I’m working on a project that hopes to change that …

      • 8

        Oh man. The area I live is actually kind of synonymous with retirement. The people who live in this area fear technology like the plague, lol.

        I am trying to take some paths in forcing myself into a relocation with a very creative company and a significantly more “youthful” and “tech savvy” crowd by moving to the Pacific Northwest. But I had never really thought of creating a user group.

        Hope I can be saved before this place sucks the life outta me. lol.

    • 9

      Not everybody responds well to a structured approach though. The rigidity of such an approach may be detrimental to the learning methods of some people.

  4. 10

    Here’s another one for WordPress: http://wpmail.me/

  5. 11

    Now, I use Windows 8 built-in People application to stay up to day with my twitter account

  6. 12

    kippt should get an honourable mention as an easy way to save bookmarks

  7. 13

    Hey kids, if you want to save time, sign up for Twitter, Pinboard, Instapaper, Pocket, IFTTT, Evernote, Dropbox, Dabblet, JS Bin, YoruFukurou, Tweetbot, Fever, Delibar, nvAlt and Delicious, and learn how to use them, and then don’t read anything without tweeting, pinning, instapapping, pocketing, ifttting, noting, dropping, dabbing, binning, yorufukushiteimasu, fevering, delibarring, nvalting and eating said article! ^ _ ^

  8. 15

    The main problem are the blogger themself, that should imbrace simplicity in their writing, reduce their words to concise post enough so the knowledge is understand and stop there. But most blog post are superfluos long.

  9. 17

    I was highly impressed by the idea; to use people as filters. Thanks Vasilis .. !

  10. 19

    “Backup Your Knowledge” — my favorite part. I feel like that concept could be extended beyond just well commented links, though… perhaps index and backup anything worthy that comes into your brain (thoughts, ideas, discoveries, snippets, etc. like a journal, i guess)?

    About a year ago I began using Evernote extensively to index my thoughts, ideas, discoveries, etc. I recently reviewed them and “re-discovered” a few old ideas that I completely forgot about. They were almost like “new” ideas for me. I can only imagine how many ideas or solutions I’ve had in the past and have now forgotten.

    Eh, maybe it’s just me. :P

    • 20

      Vasilis van Gemert

      August 10, 2012 10:06 am

      A professional journal, yes, that’s a great addition. You could also add highlights from books you read to your personal knowledge database. The thing that’s most important is that your ideas and articles must be easy to find when you need them. But browsing them every now and then is a good idea too.

  11. 21

    Fantastic advice. I’m working to add the habit of reading more and staying up-to-date on the barrage of articles hitting the web is challenging at best. You’ve given me some great food for thought.

  12. 22

    I used to know a REALLY good source for keeping up to date with relevant articles from around the web. It was called the SMASHING NETWORK. I used to visit one website smashingmagazine.com and then I had dozens of relevant articles on everything I was interested in.

  13. 23

    Others mentioned it already: these are too many disconnected places. This doesn’t cut it. While there is a large array of internet services where to put bits and bytes to share with others, there’s no real substitute for a _personal_ knowledge base: a _singular_ collection of stuff that matters to you personally, secured into a database that you control yourself and that you trust as an external store in the Getting Things Done sense, but also trust it to be there 5 years later when you happen to need that information again out of a sudden. My advice: install a wiki for personal use. Even better use your organization’s wiki more regularly.

  14. 24

    Didn’t read the article, but that’s a hilarious picture of duck under “Talking”

  15. 25

    Have you ever tried making a website aggregator? I like the idea and I don’t mind spending a couple of hours setting it up, but not sure if it works at all…

  16. 26

    It’s actually really easy to stay up to date. If it’s not directly relevant for client projects, or will be relevant very soon, I ignore it. You don’t need to know about every new tech or tool. Our industry has matured pretty far already. It’s the same as when a car mechanic doesn’t know everything about every car, but he doesn’t have to, because he knows all the core principles.

    There’s this thing called the Innovation Adaption Lifecycle (google it). Basically, I ignore almost everything that’s in the innovator phase, and lots of stuff that’s in the early adopter phase, unless it’s super interesting and likely to be a game-changer. Even then, I don’t really get in depth into it, and only really focus on the stuff in the early majority phase, because that’s what’s been filtered by others and what is mature enough for client projects.

    For example, a couple of years ago, Smashing Magazine posted a bunch of articles on HTML5 and CSS3 in a short frame of time, because they desperately needed new content. I didn’t read any of them, because most browsers at the time didn’t support the new features. Now I’m using HTML5 and CSS3 in my projects, and I’m still slightly ahead of the curve.

    • 27

      +1 Keeping up to date isn’t as urgent an activity as most people would believe. Understanding first principles and spending time in relative solitude away from the social media game and coming up with original ideas relevant to the problem at hand can be much more productive.

  17. 28

    Wonderful article. One recommendation I’d like to make is an app called Flipboard. It’s an aggregator for Facebook, twitter that reformats the content inavery friendly magazine layout. I found it easy to swipe and scan through stuff with this app.
    Not sure if there’s a desktop equivalent.

    Rich

  18. 29

    What a STELLAR post! It reads like a more advanced version of my own tech thoughts! LOL! You just hit on practically every subject I love and believe in–CSS, bookmarking, RSS feeds (filtering)…! I think maybe the only thing I could add would be facebook and twitter listing. I was nodding my head when I read how you follow the sources–I always do this everywhere I can, especially pinterest. You gotta cut through the crap in life, you know? This is definitely a bookmark read and an article I will be picking apart for awhile (esp your feed sources). If you know of any good jQuery sources, I’d be obliged. Been studying videos. Thanks for contributing your knowledge!

  19. 30

    Great tool for keeping content stored for later is http://www.Bo.lt

    It’s like bookmarking, but it copies the page and stores it in the cloud for you and you can access it even if it’s taken of it’s original website. It’s also a bit like Pinterest. But better probably..

  20. 31

    Edwin Yip | dev of LIVEditor

    August 12, 2012 8:00 pm

    How about the “Google and learn when needed” approach?

    Information overload is a common trouble nowadays, especially in our industry, we should reduce that.

  21. 32

    Great article. I’ve been tweaking my own information sources for years and have arrived a very similar approach to managing my information firehose. I particularly like the advice to follow the people that follow the noisy, idea generators. Couple that with the ability to just “mark all as read” and move on without the guilt of not reading every tweet, and you can maintain your sanity.

    Another bit of advice: produce more than you consume. You learn more by doing than by reading, so make sure that your own projects are directing the information you seek rather than being in a constant state of information consumption.

  22. 33

    Thanks a lot for the article. :)

  23. 34

    Thank you, might took times to organise this up to date essentials, but I believe it will worth it.

  24. 35

    I love this article. Filtering is the most important part, notably filtering out all the overhyped nonsense. The more experience I acquire the more I realize a) how little I know and b) how little I really need to know. By this last point, I mean filtering through all the crap that Tech Crunch and all other journals tell you that “you need to know.” I like to let chatter accumulate and if I see two or three articles about “the importance of such-and-such update” then i’ll check into what people are talking about. Information overload is everywhere. unplug once in a while and come back to realize what’s really important (i.e. such a small percentage).

  25. 36

    I highly recommend you take a look on Feedly (http://feedly.com/)
    Feedly transforms your favorite websites into a fun, magazine-like start page.
    Integrates with Google Reader, Google+, Twitter and Facebook.
    Available as extension for Chrome, Firefox, Safari + iOS and Android app.
    Feedly will be updated at 10 sept with next iteration usability improvements.

    It is must-have :-)

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