How Social Networks Lowered My Inbox

The first thing I did when I got ‘the Internet’ was to claim my own little spot on this virtual world knowing I’d stick around for a while. And I have done so by reading the RFC for e-mail and talking to the ISP and figure out how to set up my first ever electronic mail account.

I’ve never really been able since to have a zero inbox, as they call it with GTD (get things done). But that’s ok. I have learned over the years to deal with e-mail. But with the introduction of newer technologies and web 2.0, social networks have been the reason why my current inbox is as good as empty.

My first mail account isn’t there anymore, I don’t even remember it anymore and have been using my own domain name (since 1998) and Google’s mail (gmail) service (since 2005).

Social networks such as Twitter, social blog sites such as VIRB, Blogger, and huge networks like Facebook. Oh, and not to forget instant message services like Skype, IRC, and what not… They have all contributed to my inbox basically being empty every day. If only it was possible to completely get rid of it, who knows, maybe in the next decade.

What I have learned is to not use pop3, to use encryption, to use imap, and to handle important mails and simply not reply to less significant mails.

imap and syncing allows me to have one account on various systems and devices, such as my iMac as well as my iPad. And that means if you get a new one you get a notification, and if you have replied or marked it as read, archived or flagged it for spam. It’s already ‘like that’ on all the devices. So no more management on that part.

This also means that you have to take security seriously. Set a strong password that is completely unique, and have a solid ‘recovery’ option for the account. As well as 2-step authentication.

Handling mails that are important should be marked important, possibly flagged to remind you they require a follow up. And organize them in labels or categories/groups. This allows you to quickly get an overview, the topic-, or person’s history. And it allows you to pick the important ones out with a glance and spend the time replying to them.

I tend to check out the iPad in the morning and recognize spam that didn’t get caught yet and flag it accordingly. And glance over less important mails so I know if I can reply or not. And then I just archive those. So they don’t even show in the inbox anymore. I leave the more important mails until I had my breakfast and am behind my workstation.

Insignificant emails that are confirmations, follow ups, etc. I never reply to them with ‘thank you for your e-mail, I got it!’, the other person can assume I received it. No need to waste each others time. Other mails such as community digest mails that I like to keep are filtered. They show up in the group or under a label, and marked read. The inbox is skipped. And once in a while I glance over them to see if I missed something important. If not, they’re all deleted.

Anyway! Social networking helped me to stay in touch with people almost ‘live’ and this means that I can simply talk to them on Skype directly, tweet them a question and get a response. Or reply on Facebook chat or a FB message. The long wait of ‘not so much live’ electronic mail has been taken out of the equation.

Social networks are great for a lot of things, and horrible for a lot of other things. But they’re a wonderful tool to stay in touch with people. Something I used to use e-mail for.

A prime example is that instead of sending an e-mail to a group of family members (not knowing who cares about my attempt to communicate with them), I might write a blog and tweet it out. Those who are interested in what I do get an update on their social network. And for those who don’t like to use a computer they won’t read my mail anyway and I can talk to them over the phone when they call.

I think that if you think it through a little about how you want to use e-mail and social networks, you can lower the amount of unread messages in your inbox, and actually still be more social – perhaps because of it.

I Forgot To Blog Today

Oh my, so sorry. The other day I kind of implied I would make up for slacking, but I had a busy day, went to bed, woke up late, and continued my todo list. I run into the item of writing a blog and realized it’s already nearing midnight. Woops. I still have so much to do that has a higher priority so I am afraid this will be another short blog. Tomorrow is planned to do part 2 of 5 of the re-posting of older blog entries. So I will then make it up with adding old entries again which you might not have read yet.

Organizing Important Information

Update: Since 2010 I have moved to 1password, because of continues development, browser integration, and iOS support. Strongly recommended!

Since I’ve moved away from Windows I’ve found myself wanting to be more organized with the way I store important information such as logins to web sites, private web addresses, shell accounts and what not.

In the past I’ve either written it down (with the risk of finding out the o might be an O or a 0, or simply being unable to find the paper, or … finding out that password is now outdated. I’ve also just placed details into plaintext documents. This got spread over the directories on the computer, or even worse, spread over my local area network. A solution had to be found. If not only to get the information organized, but also to improve security.

After trying a few programs that promised a) security and b) autofilling-in forms, and c) have some unique features, I was simply not satisfied with the way they were doing things (or they were too expensive). A simple requirement is a single file encrypted backup, or the ability to create categories for personal, business, shells and web sites, or have unique custom fields so I could have an entry for url or ssh port, aside from just title, login and password. One of my friends Chris (chroder.com) also switched to the Mac and he started to use info.xhead. I gave it a try, despite the lack of motivation at this point. I was pleasantly surprised; it basically has everything I want (without going into detail on this: What I want more is the ability to optionally store a file with an entry).

info_screenshot_13.png

The last few months I’ve been using it and started to get used to it. It is at a point where when I am not on a system where it’s installed that I really miss it and find myself troubled not having my details with me.

I’ve learned to simply take a few seconds and note down the information for a new blog login, a new shell account, a privacy detail from an email, and such, just to find out I have direct access to it from a central point. I also find out I keep the information up to date and that it is not a hassle finding it (in other words, it doesn’t disrupt my workflow).

The program is created by xheadsoftware.com and has a mac-feel to it. It’s easy to use, looks very clean and flexible, and properly integrates with Spotlight. It’s just $15, so certainly affordable to everybody. Once you open the program you can set it up the way you want to. Easy to manage categories, entries and items. I believe it uses 448 bit encryption method to ensure security. You secure the program with a single password. So if someone gets this very important (central point of information) file with your privacy details they will need a password too in order to get to it. Of course, if you forget that one entry password, you’re basically screwed.

A few additional cool features are .Mac support (so you can easily backup to .Mac and restore on another computer. Which I did for my powerbook) and data import. Other features that won me over is a one-click copy of data fields, and the easy instant search. About the import by the way. I’ve exported my FireFox form-data stored details with an add-on and converted this XML data to a CVS file with a spreadsheet program, and then imported it into info.xhead. It’s very cool, so I did not have to type-over those details or re-add all those details. However, it would have been nice if .xml import was supported.

Anyway, no more little files, little post-its, little entries on the whiteboard, outdated details on other systems, and what not. Just a quick little program to help me many times per day to get to my privacy data (that’s now also secure). Using the built-in password generator I have also improved my security since I am using a lot more unique passwords per login, that are very hard to guess, and are pretty damn long.

I don’t know what it is why having a Mac makes you want to be more organized with even the littlest of things like managing privacy details, but eventually it helped me speed up and smooth out my workflow. And that can’t be a bad thing right?

In a few future blog entries I will tell more about how I secure my system, network, and internet things such as email, ssl and FireFox.