Personal datashed using Twitter, IFTTT, and Gmail filters

January 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

The more I attend inspiring conferences like EduCon, EdCamp, BLC, and the like, the more ideas I have about ways to improve my learning, my teaching, my business, and my life. These ideas strike me at all times: while talking, listening, tweeting, blogging, emailing, running… and I have found that it is difficult to remember, organize, evaluate, and improve upon my ideas after I have time to step away from them. Ultimately, I need to be able to separate the nuggets from the noise. If only I could go to Google and enter s search string like:

site:my_brain ideas

Alas, Google’s search engine is no more successful at searching the stores in my head than my own brain is!

This summer when I was at the BLC11 conference, I was inspired to create a service that would automatically collect and tag my ideas when I have them, and then make them searchable later when I need them.

By allowing such a service to eavesdrop on my digital life, it would follow my tweets, read my emails and blog posts, and like a jeanie in a bottle, I could call upon it any time to record my thoughts and conversations, and regurgitate those valuable nuggets at my request. It would need the ability to tag my nuggets with little intervention from me, and it would need a powerful search engine.

No such service already exists, but if I’m correct, I am not the only person with this need. Brad Ovenell-Carter hoped to use Twitter as a “data shed” in this way, and eventually as a “label maker,” and when I told Andy Marcinek about my plan, he expressed much excitement.

After months of procrastinating, I have realized that, though a single tool does not exist to realize this dream, I can combine several existing services to do much, if not all, of what I desire in this tool.

This is how I built my own datashed, triggered by Twitter and email, routed by ifttt.com, and tagged with gmail’s filters and labels features:

First, using IFTTT.com (“If This Then That”) I create a few triggers:

  1. Forward all of my tweets and RTs to my gmail account
  2. Forward all mentions of me on Twitter to my gmail account
  3. Forward all Twitter direct messages to my gmail account
  4. Any email I sent to trigger@ifttt.com will be forwarded to my gmail account

Now that my tweets, RTs, DMs, and emails are being forwarded to my gmail account I just have to create some tags in gmail. That is, filters that file emails with specified keywords into specific folders (with tags, unlike folders, you can have multiple labels on each email, rather than filing an email into a single folder). These will be specific to your needs, but here are some examples of the tags I created:

  • Apps
  • Books
  • Ideas
  • Blog
  • Conferences
  • EduCon
  • BLC
  • EdCamp
  • Digcit
  • Web sites
  • Readitlater

I also created similar gmail filters to tag emails that posses the above keywords.

Here’s an example of how I’ve been using these triggers: while I was at the EduCon conference, I might have sent out a tweet like this:

@andycinek We should discuss our student-created #digcit blog posts. Loved your ideas #educon

Because IFTTT is following my tweets and direct messages, this tweet triggers an email to my gmail account that quotes the tweet and time stamps it, and the account “action@ifttt.com” delivers the email (alternatively, if I am having an in-person conversation with Andy, I write an email in the same format and send it to action@ifttt.com and it will be processed similarly). When the email is received in my gmail account, my gmail filters take over. First, anything from action@ifttt.com is archived (removed from my inbox) and tagged with the label “DataShed.” Then other filters kick in: I have already setup filters to tag emails that contain the word digcit (digital citizenship), blog, idea, and educon.

When my natural buzz from EduCon dies down in a week or two, I will remember that Andy and I had a good idea, but I may not recall what the idea is, so I will go to my DataShed and search for “@AndyCinek.” Or maybe I will remember that I shared with someone a great idea about how to teach digital citizenship, but I can’t remember who. In that case I can go to my Shed and search my digcit emails from EduCon and I will find the reference to Andy.

The next step might be to go in the other direction to share anything in my DataShed. That is, if I email something to trigger@ifttt.com and tag it with “#dshed”, IFTTT will automatically create a Tweet on my behalf and share it with my followers. But I’m not there yet.

For the past couple days I have been using these triggers successfully, and it has made it SO much easier to find these little lost nuggets from the EduCon conference. We will see if it holds up in a few more week. If you try out this strategy, please leave a message in the comments describing your successes, your questions, and your struggles.

BONUS 1: I created a DynDNS custom URL (datashed.mydomain.com) that takes me straight to my DataShed folder in Gmail.

BONUS 2: There’s an app for that! Since I use the default Mail app on my iPhone and iPad for my regular email, I configured Google’s Gmail app to log into the gmail account I am using for my datashed, so this app provides a searchable, portable repository for my thoughts!

Update – BONUS 3: Per Andy Marcinek’s suggestion, you have an iPhone 4S, you can have Siri trigger additions to your DataShed by voice – just dictate an email or Tweet to her and address it to trigger@ifttt.com!

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