The most common question I’m asked about the Weekly Thing is how I find the links for each week’s issue. I’ve already shared how I build the Weekly Thing and the task management for each issue. Let’s dive into this part as well!
I find this the hardest question to answer because to me it is the same as asking “How do you learn about new stuff?” or “How do you read the Internet?” This isn’t something that I do for the Weekly Thing but is instead something I’ve always done. The Weekly Thing is a result of this activity. If you read my Weekly Thing introduction from 2017 you can see this. My link archive on Pinboard currently has 14,181 links with the first one dated August 2, 2005, twelve years before the first Weekly Thing! How terrifically nerdy is it that the first link is to the now defunct Make Magazine. 🤓
This article doesn’t cover the writing I do on my blog, or what shows up as my Journal, in the Weekly Thing. That is just my writing on whatever I blog about syndicated into the Weekly Thing.
Collecting and curating links that show up in the Weekly Thing isn’t a technical process like building it and there is no task management. However, there is a process and there are three distinct “actions”. This does not have to be a linear process. I can skip all the steps and jump straight to curating an article.
New links, articles, and information is showing up all the time. It can arrive as an email, a link that a friend shared, or via some feed. It is very rare that I have the time to even give a cursory read of this stuff when it shows up so I tend to collect these links to review later. I’m an avid user of Safari Reading List for this. Adding something to Reading List is usually just a long press and I’m done. At most it requires two taps or clicks. Technically any “read it later” capability, which there are many, would work for this. I’m just using the one that is the fastest and easiest for the platforms I use.
The biggest issue most people have with “read it later” systems is that later never arrives. I had the same issue. This is one area where the process of publishing the Weekly Thing helps me. If I haven’t read it in that week I’m probably never going to read it and it gets deleted. These “read it later” queues can be infinitely long. For me, no link stays here for more than a week. Even if you aren’t publishing your links, I’d encourage the same process. An infinite “read it later” queue can be mentally exhausting.
The most important way that I keep up-to-date and identify links to read is Feedbin. Feedbin is a paid service that I use to subscribe to RSS feeds from various websites. I share my list of RSS subscriptions if you are curious. If a site refuses to share updates via RSS, I’m likely not going to see it. That is fine with me. The majority of sites do this, even though they may not advertise it that much.
Also, not all RSS feeds are a single website. Some aggregation services also create RSS feeds. One of my favorites like this is the Pinboard Popular feed. Since I also use Pinboard to store my bookmarks, I’m part of this feed. This listing of the most frequently bookmarked links is one of the ways that I pull in interesting links from this small community from around the Internet. It also allows me to get a filtered list of other sites. For example, I don’t follow Hacker News but many Pinboard users do. By watching Pinboard Popular, I’m getting the filtered view of Hacker News that just pulls the stuff that has resonated enough I might care to see it.
Lastly, I also subscribe to many newsletters. I share my list of newsletters, but that can be out of date and incomplete. I love the newsletter medium and find it a refreshing and relaxing way to learn and read.
Reading and Filtering
At various times I have gaps of time, or sometimes in the evening I may want to just explore. For me that usually involves looking at my Safari Reading List and grabbing something to check out. Now I have a bit of time and can dig in. This could be 5 minutes, or an hour with the iPad on the couch.
There is nothing fancy here other than reading and learning. If the article isn’t interesting, I delete the link from Reading List and move on. If it is interesting, I mentally note that and leave it to curate. Sometimes I’m not sure, and I’ll just leave it to revisit again.
The last thing after collecting a link and then reading and reviewing it is optionally curating it. For years curating for me just meant adding to Pinboard and then moving on. When I did a link blog I started using the “description” text in Pinboard to be a bit of a blog post. I extended that for the Weekly Thing and realized that I can easily use markdown in that description so I can have links, some formatting, and excerpts.
To curate I take the link from Safari Reading List, usually add a paragraph or two, possibly an excerpt, and add that to the description in Pinboard. I then delete it from Safari Reading List. That link is now in link archive permanently. To me this feels like an ever growing database of knowledge. I’d love to do more with this database and have some ideas on my “Someday, Maybe” list.
Going back to how I build the Weekly Thing I then pull this information via the Pinboard API and it becomes part of each issue. Pinboard allows me to add a tag to a link. If I want the link in the Featured section I add the
_feature tag, and if it goes in the Brief list on the bottom I add
_brief. Why the underscore? I use to tag my links in Pinboard with topics so the underscore was used to indicate these are “special” tags.
That should give you a feel for how I find links to include, and overall covers how I “read the Internet”. I’ve done something very similar to this for nearly two decades now.
You may be curious to see social media not referenced. I don’t get links from social media platforms because I don’t use them. Even when I did, I didn’t use it that way. The algorithms and advertising influence made me skeptical of why I was getting the link in the first place.
Lastly it is worth noting that the publishing deadline of the Weekly Thing can compress the reading and curating. Ideally this is all happening throughout the week and I pull each link through these steps in little bits. It is hopefully “just in time”. But if it is a particularly busy week I may end up on Thursday night with 20 links in my Reading List and nothing curated. That usually means I sit down and spend a couple of hours scanning, reading, and then curating. That is an effort but it is also critical to continuing the process of being a life long learner! 🧠