My field notes

I spend quite a lot of time reading and linking disparate ideas together in the general course of my work, often when I’m trying to put something together — a blog post, a presentation, or an email about something I’m working on. Not all of the material is available on the Internet, so I have to manually input or scan quotes. I do my best to go to the best source for whatever I’m working on, not just the easiest one to get digitally. In the course of putting my “optimizing for developer happiness” keynote at Railsconf, for example, I:

I’m always looking for new ways to share the information I pull together, and I’ve tried all sorts of approaches over the years: Moleskine notebooks, Devonthink (one of Steven Johnson’s favorites), Evernote, assiduous note-taking on a Kindle (if you do the same, be sure to read this from Fred), and pinboard, just to name a few. Most of that ends up in my own private archives, and even when you share something via a service like pinboard, you’re assuming there’s a URL to link to (which there wasn’t in the case of Drucker’s Concept of the Corporation, which blew my mind in how prescient it was.)

I use Twitter a lot, but don’t find it very useful as a place to keep snippets while I’m working on something. On my blog, I’m a little old-fashioned and mostly like to write fully-formed pieces when I do write, so it’s more of a place for introducing relatively complete ideas. I felt like I could use something in the middle to keep the dribs and drabs along the way and get some (hopefully) interesting things on the Internet in the process, so I’m giving Tumblr a try.

I’m calling my tumblog my “field notes.” If you look at the wikipedia page for “fieldnotes” (one word), you’ll see one definition of the term:

Emerson (1995) defines fieldnotes in ethnography (a term referring generally to descriptive writing in anthropology, and also to subfield of sociology) as ‘accounts describing experiences and observations the researcher has made while participating in an intense and involved manner’.

That describes the spirit pretty well. So, we’ll see how this goes (some music might also slip in there now and then). Follow me if you’re interested. (here’s an RSS feed)

4 thoughts on “My field notes

  1. I used to use Tumblr a lot more before Google+ came along – it’s a better user experience for ‘clipping’ notes from other sites (and pics / videos), and you have more control over whether you publish your thoughts to the world, or just keep it to yourself.

  2. Mor – will check that out.

    Hugo – note that I’m using Tumblr but serving it on my own hostname. I’m a little paranoid that if something happened to Tumblr, I would lose my content. I always try to keep my primary work on my own domain so I can future-proof it.

  3. I really like Tumblr for this purpose, though the one thing it doesn’t do a great job of is associating past notes together. One of the ideas Steven talks about in his last book is the value of re-reading and connecting old ideas. I still don’t have a great way to do this in tumblr, but it’s the closest thing I guess. I wrote a post on my ideal imaginary tool last year, and actually just ran into someone who says they are building something like it. We’ll see. See also

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