I’ll agree: Passive Tracking > Active Tracking

It’s always nice if you can provide real-time active tracking and posting on your own website, but is it really necessary? Is it always worthwhile? What value does it provide to you? to others?

The other day I read Eddie Hinkle’s article Passive Tracking > Active Tracking in which he details how he either actively or passively tracks on his own website things he’s listening to or watching. I thought I’d take a moment to scribble out some of my thoughts and process for how and why I do what I’m doing on my own site.

I too track a lot of things relatively passively. Most of it I do for my own “diary” or commonplace book. Typically I’ll start out using silo services that have either RSS feeds or that work with services like IFTTT.com or Zapier. If those don’t exist, I’ll just use the ubiquitous “share” functionality of nearly all web pages and mobile platforms to share the content or page via email which I can use to post to my website as well. The primary minimal data points I’m looking for are the title of the specific thing I’m capturing (the movie, tv show/episode title, book title, article title, podcast title) and the date/time stamp at which the activity was done.

I’ll use these to take input data and transfer it to my own website, typically in draft form. In many cases, these methods collect all the data I want and put it into a format for immediate sharing. Other times I’ll clean up some bits of the data (almost always context related, so things like images, summaries, the source of the data, etc.) a bit before sharing. Then I optionally decide to post it either publicly or privately on my site.

Some of the sources I use for pulling in data (especially for context) to my website include:
 Watches: IMDb.com, Letterboxd, TheTVDB.com, themoviedb.org, direct websites for shows/movies themselves
 Listens: typically using share functionality via email from my podcatcher; Spotify, Last.fm,
 Reads: reading.am, Pocket, Hypothes.is, GoodReads, 
 Bookmarks: diigo, Hypothes.is, Twitter, Pocket

Often, going the route of least resistance for doing this sort of tracking is a useful thing to find out if doing so is ultimately useful or valuable to you. If it’s not, then building some massive edifice and code base for doing so may be additional sunk cost to find out that you don’t find it valuable or fulfilling somehow. This is primary value of the idea “manual until it hurts.”

I will note that though I do have the ability to do quick posting to my site using bookmarklets in conjunction with the Post Kinds Plugin for WordPress, more often than not, I find that interrupting my personal life and those around me to post this way seems a bit rude. For things like listen posts, logging them actively could a be a life threatening endeavor because I most often listen while driving. Thus I prefer to take a moment or two to more subtly mark what I want to post and then handle the rest at a more quiet and convenient time. I’ll use down time while passively watching television or listening to music to do this sort of clean up. Often, particularly for bookmarks and annotations, this also forces me to have a second bite at the proverbial apple to either follow up on the bookmarked idea or think about and reflect on the thing I’ve saved. In some sense this follow up is way more valuable to me than having actively posted it and then simply moving on. It also becomes a way for what might otherwise be considered “digital exhaust” to give me some additional value.

Eventually having better active ways to track and post these things in real time would be nice, but the marginal additional value just hasn’t seemed to be there for me. If it were, there are also larger hurdles of doing these posts quickly and in a way that pulls in the context portions I’d like to present. Adding context also generally means having solid pre-existing data bases of information from which to poll from, and often these can be difficult to come by or require API access to something. As a result services like Swarm and OwnYourSwarm are useful as they can not only speed up the process of logging data, but they are underpinned with relatively solid databases. As an example, I frequently can’t use IMDB.com to log in television shows like Meet the Press or Face the Nation because entries and data for those particular episodes often don’t exist even when I’m watching them several hours after they’ve aired. And even in these cases the websites for these shows often don’t yet have photos, synopses, video, or transcripts posted when I’m watching them. Thus posting for these in real-time the way I’d like becomes a much more difficult nightmare and requires a lot more manual effort.

Update:

As a follow up to Eddie’s post (which doesn’t yet show the Webmention), I’ll also point out that Jonathan has an excellent description and some code for what he’s doing on his site as well.

4 thoughts on “I’ll agree: Passive Tracking > Active Tracking”

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  • Kimberly Hirsh
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