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, and tagged with gmail’s filters and labels features:

First, using (“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 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 “” 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 and it will be processed similarly). When the email is received in my gmail account, my gmail filters take over. First, anything from 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 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 ( 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!


Tweet and ye shall receive, part two

November 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Twitter conversation with Cybraryman1

Twitter conversation with Cybraryman1

I had another opportunity this evening to help out another educator with a subject that, in all honesty, I am not as expert in as I would like.

My quest: The school counselor at one of my school/clients is organizing a Health and Wellness Week, and she wanted my input on the technology aspect of the program.

My first suggestion was to steer the conversations during Wellness Week toward breaking down the wall between behavior online and behavior in person. How we behave is how we behave, regardless of whether the medium is the hallway, the chatroom, or the cell phone.

I then suggested we consult my PLN (Personal Learning Network) on Twitter by posing the following Tweet:

@cybraryman1 I’m looking 4 resources 4 a HS counselor. Do u know of any resources that address the intersection of health & tech? #psychat

“@CybraryMan1,” or Jerry Blumengarten, is (as he describes himself on Twitter) an “educator and writer trying to catalog the Internet for students, educators, and parents.” His web site, certainly lives up to his goal.

Jerry replied within moments with the following tweet:

@MyTakeOnIt My Tech Integration for Physical Education & Health #psychat

Our conversation continued:

@cybraryman1 Thank you, as always! Counselor specifically needs info that focuses on health hazards, addictive use of tech, etc… #psychat

@MyTakeOnIt Students worldwide share mobile addiction

@MyTakeOnIt My Cyber Bullying page: Digital Footprints:

In retrospect, I realize I probably should have used the Twitter hash #digcit (short for “digital citizenship” – a weekly chat where educators discuss these very topics). Regardless, in under 15 minutes I was able to send the counselor an email with the following list of links and resources, including a great PSA (embedded below):

CybraryMan’s page of Psych links:

CybraryMan’s page on Tech Integration for Physical Education & Health (the entire page is PhysEd, but this link takes you straight to “LESSONS and Technology Integration”)

“Students worldwide share mobile addiction” from “Digital Life on Today”

CybraryMan’s page on Cyber Safety and Cyber Bullying:

CybraryMan’s page on “Digital Footprints”

Michelle Luhtala’s ( @mluhtala on Twitter) page on Digital Citizenship:

Tweet and ye shall receive

October 19, 2011 § 4 Comments

I’m working with a program in Boston called The SteppingStone Foundation on a new endeavor called College Success Academy. One of the program directors sent out an email to all TSF/CSA teachers, requesting the following:
Do you have any favorite academic game websites? We’re hoping to put together a list of such sites for use in study hall when [students] are finished with homework.  Please send me the names of any FREE websites that are fun, academically enriching, and aimed at 5th-8th graders.
So I sent out the following tweet (Incidentally, the Program Director is not familiar with using Twitter):
@dancallahan Need “favorite academic game websites” for 5th-8th gr. Preferably an existing list. Any help? #edchat #5thchat #6thchat
Did my tweeps stand up and deliver? They certainly did! In under and hour, I have more resources and site than I can possibly go through by the time this program ends.
Thank you especially to @dancallahan, as well as @saraallen91, @mrsd5107, and @ginkiy for their recommendations.
Here’s what I sent back to the program director:

Dan also recommended, along with several others [@ginkiy] on Twitter, the following sites:

  • and, and there’s also
  • Coincidentally, Dan stumbled on this list of top 10 sites for educational games while we were flinging tweets back and fourth.
  • Someone I don’t know personally, @mrsd5107, tweeted this list of 5th grade sites that might be helpful:  I wish I could say that I have vetted it, but I have not. In general, I find that the best lists of apps/links are sorted by categories and how you might use the tools, and this is organized that way – that’s a plus, so I’m impressed. It’s an extensive list, and I know a lot of the sites, but not all of them.
  • Here’s a list of math game sites (from @saraallen91):  I found it harder to browse than the one on “TeachersClass” but still worth perusing.
That’s a start – and it barely scratches the surface. Unfortunately, I’ve probably now given you a list of hundreds of sites, and it may be overwhelming. If so, start with Dan’s suggestions. He’s never let me down.
That’s MyTakeOnIt anyway.

My personal learning network (PLN) and how to build your own

April 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Ok, I admit it: I’m addicted. My PLN is driving my recent self-guided professional development. It’s not just that, though. I’m evangelizing! I’m spreading the Word and the Word is… Well… Many. Many, many words. Read on if you’re interested.

What’s a PLN (Personal Learning Network, aka Online Learning Network)?

It’s a self-created, online, self-directed system for professional development and professional networking. (Or at least thats how I’m using my PLN. For now. It doesn’t have to be professional).

You already know how to answer a simple question using the Tubes, right? Have a question: Google for the answer.

But what if you don’t have a simple question but a line of inquiry? What if the answer isn’t straight forward? Instead of asking a question and searching for the answer, you can have the information from any topic come to you, and you can read that info any time, any where.

Take for example professional development (that’s the goal of my PLN). I am endlessly interested in Academic Technology and Educational Reform. I can’t type that into Google and expect to get back a step-by-step plan for changing the world of education.

Traditionally I would go to grad school (and probably still will) and spend a few years and a few thousand dollars on my education (see this post on “Higher Education, is it Worth it?”). Or on a smaller scale I might attend a conference in my field (will definitely still do that!). But how do I decide exactly what to study? What do I do between conferences to keep myself up on these ever-changing fields of Academic Technology and Educational Reform?

Like I said, I can start with nothing. Or rather, one thing: a single person whose ideas interest me, whose thoughts provoke me, and whose opinions I value. Maybe a speaker I heard at a conference or a visionary from my field. The best place to start is on Twitter (you don’t even need an account). Find that person on Twitter, and pay attention to what they are tweeting about.

Simple enough, right? Well that’s a good start, anyway. But here’s where it begins to get interesting: With Twitter, you can see who your person is interested in by seeing who they are “following” on Twitter. If someone they are following is interesting to you, follow that person too. And then see who they are following, and so on. Follow enough people that your Twitter timeline (Twitter’s inbox) is filling up but not filling too quickly.

But that’s just a start. Inevitably, people will start tweeting interesting blog entries. Find a blog that’s interesting, add it to your “blogroll” (list of blogs that you follow or read on a regular basis). You now have plenty of reading material to get you started, but here’s where you can go from passive learning (reading) to active learning: start contributing.

Start posting your own thoughts on Twitter, or tweeting about blog entries that speak to you. Share your experience with others. Post comments on blogs, and even start keeping a blog yourself. It doesn’t have to be formal – this is for you – but commit to it.

Sure, there’s a lot of noise on twitter, but you need to ignore what you can, and eat up the stuff you like. Before long you’ll get the hang of it and have the start of your very own Personal Learning Network! Once you do, it’s like attending a tiny little conference every day, tailored to whatever topic you choose.

For specific instructions on how to use Twitter, start your own blog, or other topics I mentioned in this blog entry, Google for it, comment on my blog, or send me a message in twitter @mytakeonit and I’ll write a follow-up.

Also check out this blog post from

But that’s just my take on it. The facts presented in my blog may not be accurate, and the opinions belong to those who state them. Don’t believe something I say? Look it up. Don’t like something I say, let’s talk about it. Leave me a comment.

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