A surprisingly frequent occurrence in my day-to-day life goes something like this: I’ll get into IM or IRC conversations with friends when one technical topic or another will come up. Sometimes the conversation just branches from one tangent to another until that happens, other times the friend will ping me to ask a particular question on the topic. Some friends have even come to know this as a notable quality of mine.
The phrase that I’ve used to describe this quality in my head is “breadth-first thinking.” I thought I’d take a blog post to describe it in a bit more depth. You can find some of this information in the 2007 PHP Advent Calendar entry that Ben Ramsey did, but I’ll reiterate some of it here to bring it into context with my personal methods.
Get an account on a social bookmarking service. I personally like Delicious as its Firefox addon makes bookmarking and tagging (which is extremely important for making things easy to find) a Ctl+D and Alt+S away in Firefox. You’re only as likely to use this service as it is easy to use and this is going to comprise a significant part of your personal database.
Find a feed reader you like. I use Google Reader myself as it’s relatively frills-free and allows me to use all the functionality I need from the keyboard. Given only a few minutes, it’s easy to make a pass and mark off items that don’t interest me.
While Alex Payne may be against them, I think everything buckets are still potentially useful tools. Originally I was using Google Notebook, but when that got shut down I had to shop around for an alternative. I had issues with Evernote consistently retaining formatting in information I saved to it. I tried a few others and finally settled on using private posts on Tumblr.
Subscribe to relevant new sites for topics that interest you, but in particular aim for sites that host a variety of information. I find PHP Developer, Planet PHP, and Zend Developer Zone to be excellent on both counts because they often put the spotlight on experiences using PHP and software based on it in conjunction with other technologies. Don’t let it stop there, though. Further explore blogs that they syndicate and subscribe to the ones that carry a lot of subject matter you like.
Finally, participate in social media. If you follow people who share your interests on IRC, Facebook, or Twitter, links to interesting content are unlikely to be in short supply. If you use a Twitter client like