Sunday, 18 March 2012

Be nice, share - content curation on Android

In today's hyper-connected world, sharing information has become a major preoccupation of our working and non-working lives. Using services like Facebook, Twitter and Google+, we can follow the individuals and organisations that interest us in real time. By combining and commenting on the information and ideas that we gather in the course of our online and offline lives, and publishing a digest of this for our own circles of friends, we attract followers with similar interests who in turn link us to valuable new sources of information. Here, I show how I continue to consume and curate social content on the move with an Android phone.

Cuneiform writing. Photo credit: Nic McPhee
For most of human history, speech was the only means we had to share information with one another. The invention of writing multiplied the possibilities - a letter could cross space and time, a notice could be displayed in a public place for many to read, and any piece of text could be copied for wider distribution. Printing vastly reduced the cost of making copies, but access to this technology was limited to a tiny elite. Then came the photocopier, and not long after the personal computer, the office printer and email. Suddenly, ordinary people were able to share information and ideas with large numbers of correspondents anywhere in the world - instantly and at almost no cost.

If email gave us one-to-many sharing, the web gave us one-to-all sharing. Anyone with a website could now make digital content available to anyone with an internet connection. Today, ad-supported personal cloud computing and social media platforms put the power to publish into the hands of almost everyone, together with sophisticated tools to extend and refine our circles of distribution. (We learned the power of targeting selected or self-selected multipliers who could easily relay information to their own circles.) What's more, these extraordinary capabilities are all available using one hand-held device.

In this post I'll describe the way I use my Android phone to collect, store and publish content to Twitter and other social platforms. Wherever possible, I use cross-platform tools - apps and services that enable me to continue my social media life seamlessly between my desktop PCs and my Android phone.

Content collection
To read my RSS feeds, I use Google Reader on the desktop and NewsRob on my Android phone. NewsRob allows for off-line reading of my feeds, and syncs with Google Reader whenever the phone is connected to the internet, ensuring that the lists of unread items are always the same on the desktop and the phoneBoth tools allow me to skim through the titles and snippets of very large numbers of articles. I certainly don’t try to read everything, but I usually clear the backlog once or twice a day, treating immediately or clipping for later treatment everything that catches my eye, and marking the rest as read.

Look, no connection! Reading through my RSS feeds offline with NewsRob.

I also monitor my Twitter stream and lists several times a day and, less frequently, Google+, Reddit and Facebook. Most of the content that I curate comes from these sources, as well as from wider browsing prompted by the articles that I read. (I wrote about web browsing on Android in an earlier post.)

I recently abandoned Tweetdeck for Android in favour of twicca as my preferred mobile Twitter client. Twicca (free on Google Play) has a beautiful interface and a smaller internal memory footprint than Tweetdeck. It also makes extensive use of the Twitter API, enabling you to control all the essential parts of your Twitter account directly from an Android device.
Twicca is a fully-featured Twitter client with a lovely interface and a small footprint in memory.

Whatever I am browsing or reading – a whole article that I may want to share, or just one that contains facts or ideas that I might use later for a tweet or a Google+ post – I clip the page to Read It Later. Read It Later is a simple but powerful cross-platform web clipping manager with a free Android appAnything can be clipped to Read It Later using the Share menu, and can then be accessed at any time either on the phone itself or on the desktop. Whenever it has a data connection, the Android app downloads all clipped pages for offline reading, whether they were clipped on the phone or the desktop.

I use Read It Later to store web content of all kinds for later reading, online or offline.

Now I've squirreled away a horde of interesting items, I can think about how I am going to publish them.

Publish and be damned
I maintain active accounts on Google+, Facebook and Flickr, but I rarely post to these from my phone. All three platforms offer free Android apps, but these are all rather memory-intensive, and I haven't the space for them on my phone. Meanwhile, although their mobile web interfaces are adequate for consuming content, I find them unusable for creating new posts. So most of my content curation activity from the phone is directed at Twitter.

In the context of breaking news or a Twitter conversation, I want to tweet immediately, of course. Twicca offers automated insertion of @ contacts and recent hashtags, as well as link-shortening. Tweeting directly from the phone can sometimes be awkward  - if you realise that you need to check something before sending, for example. The twiccaDraft plug-in lets me save my tweet temporarily, do my fact-checking, and then retrieve and correct the tweet before sending.

Adding a new Twitter post to Buffer.
But most of my curated content goes out as scheduled tweets, using BufferWith Buffer's free Android app installed on my phone, Buffer is added to the Share menu (see later).

Buffer stores all the tweets that I send to it and releases them one at a time to Twitter or Facebook, in publication slots that I have defined. Using Buffer's web interface (not the Android app) you can define any publication schedule you like, including separate schedules for each day of the week, in order to maximise exposure to your followers. Whether on the desktop or the phone, you can go into your Buffer queue at any moment to revise or change the order of unsent tweets, or to edit them.

The Android Share menu
Passing web pages, images and other documents between apps using the share menu soon feels so natural to most Android users that it's easy to forget just how important a feature of the Android operating system it is.

Desktop computing includes no real equivalent of the Android share menu - and nor does the iPhone, as far as I know. On a PC, context menus offer limited options to copy, compress or send a selected file. And browser extensions provide tools for sharing the current web page to various online services (see screenshot).

Browser sharing tools: model for the Android share menu.

But Android's Share menu does something much more powerful than this. From within almost any app, it provides a way to share the selected piece of content (not just a file) not only to online platforms but to a contextually dependent list of services on the web and on the phone itself.

The Android Share menu in native and Andmade versions. A contextual list of web services and apps.

There are many ways to skin a cat. What I've described here is my current curation work flow. But I am always on the look out for improved tools and methods. So don't hesitate to share your own recommendations in the comments.

Next post: High time for a new Android phone

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