by Alejandro

If only we were able to organize, search and find physical, real books, magazines, newspapers, documents, files, photographs, videos and records in the same, potentially effective way that you can do it with digital mediums today, we would have started the current knowledge and information revolution decades ago.

It’s in organizing, searching and finding where things make a difference in this world of information.  I guess Google’s mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” has a lot to do with what I’m talking about.  One of the most relevant challenges that we have as information age individuals is to be able to organize, search and find the information we need just when we need it, and quickly.  And and I’m not only talking about the Internet’s information, I’m also talking about our own information inside our own personal computers and networks.  Information contained in different formats and with different attributes.

If you still haven’t realized of how ineffective the classic Windows search is to “find” your files in your own computer, you probably haven’t used it much.  Maybe you are one of those quick “file directory explorers” that search and go through several, dozens, hundreds and even thousands of files and directories and folders and more sub-folders without major issues to find what you are looking for.  When it comes to searching and finding in the Internet though, even if you consider yourself a fluent Google user, how many times do you go to the second, or even third page of search results?  Do you think your search has been successful because you found some relevance in the first 10 results?  Sure Google is great for search, but sure there must be a lot of good and relevant information buried under the first few dozen results.  I almost feel like start talking about the deep web, but that’s a subject for another post.

You will only be able to manage your information and the world’s information in your own interest and benefit when you are aware and able to implement different techniques, tools and technologies available to help you reach this objective.  The following, are just a few recommendations to a better search and find experience that I would like to highlight:

When searching locally, with your own files and computer, Google Desktop is hard to beat.  The “suggest as you type” results box couldn’t be more accurate and swift.  It’s trully amazing how fast and effectively finding files in our own computers has become with tools like this.  Google Desktop not only shows results that reflect a match in query of written content on the name of the file, it also searches inside the documents for the search terms requested.  Nothing better than the search magic of Ctrl-Ctrl (easy way to launch Google Desktop).

But let’s cut some slack to the folks of Microsoft.  I’m currently on Windows Vista and must say that the search box located on the top right of the explorer windows works pretty well to search and find the files you are looking for, but only when it comes to matching the file name with the search you ran.  If you are very sure of one or more words contained in the file name, the built-in search box of Vista works fast and well.

Perhaps it’s too late to start renaming our hundreds of files and folders in a search-friendly way, making sure to use the keywords and tags that will help us retrieve the document easily through search tools like the ones mentioned before, but it’s never to late to start doing it.  I’ve been personally taking a tag related approach lately to naming new files and folders, making sure I have the same key tags both in the name of the file and inside the documents (If the contents within are written).  Now, searching with Google Desktop for files that have been created taking into consideration this approach is plain sweet.  It’s my plan to minimize the quantity of folders and sub-folders I create in my own computer, given the fact that playing the rabbit hole method ended up hiding my own things where I could hardly ever find them.

But let’s leave children’s games aside.  I guess we can say that comparing the amount of information inside our own computers and the amount of information inside the Internet is like comparing one panflet with the Library of the US Congress (largest library in the world).  If you want to know the real secret to handling all the information in the Net, it doesn’t exist.  It’s impossible.  So, how can we try to control the information we care about which is in the Internet without having to download and save every relevant web page we find?.  The answer is: bookmarks.  But not through the obsolete “favorites” tool of your browser of choice, through online bookmarking, social bookmarking.  The impact had on web site organization and management through tags, from any computer in the world connected to the Internet, changed the bookmarking game.  The real pleasure of searching and finding easily on your first search the one website you saved even years ago, is indescribable.  No wonder “favorites” are dead now, and never really worked out when containing large numbers of websites.  How easy it has become to manage, search and find thousands of saved websites.  I’m getting to 2,000 bookmarks on my own delicious, and keep adding to it on a daily basis.

But enough of this “going out to search and try to find”.  With RSS, the game has changed again.  True, we will continue to be the ones going to new content somewhere on the web, but with RSS, it can really be the other way around.  With RSS, the Internet comes to you.  There are a number of online and offline solutions that will retrieve RSS feeds, they are called RSS readers, and they come in all sizes and colors, to put it that way.  Netvibes, igoogle or Newsgator just to name a few, are some of the best web based alternatives, but keep an eye on your browser, since most of them come now with a built-in RSS reader.  I personally love the RSS reader built into Opera browser.  But lately, and due to a temporary period of loss of Internet at home (for a couple of weeks), I susbscribed to my favorite RSS feeds from Outlook, which I use while I’m online at my work.  Outlook’s built-in RSS reader seamlessly accumulates RSS feeds during the day while I work and allow me to get home (with or without Internet connection) and be able to consume the feeds.  It has proven to be a very good reader that I plan to continue using as complement to my other RSS readers.

Even if you have never subscribed to an RSS feed to “consume” information, if you own a media device like an i-pod, and listen to podcasts that you have subscribed to through i-tunes, it’s thanks to RSS that you are able to receive each new chapter.

Let’s accept it.  The organize-search-find game has just started, and as information continues being generated and piled inside our hard drives, and inside the Internet’s hard drives, our challenge to “control” this information will continue to grow.  It’s only through these, and other information management technologies and methodologies that we will be able to suceed on this goal of organizing the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful for ourselves and the world.  And we haven’t even gotten into semantic search.  But that, again, is for another post.

What about you?  What organize-search-find methods, tools and/or technologies do you use or recommend?  Tell us through the comments section below.  Thank you for reporting broken links as well.

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