Learn, Integrate and Automate

Learn, Integrate and Automate

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The Only Employee

It's a slow cycle when you are trying to learn everything you can about the Internet, Search Engines, Social Media and all the rest that just creating a presence online entails.

There is no easy way to do it all at once on the job. The goal would eventually outsource some of these tasks, but if that is not yet affordable, you have to do it yourself.

I am not sure if being an early adopter helps, but it does allow you to guess the future trajectory of the Internet and better place yourself to be in its path. To do this, I have relied on various tools and I will give my new list as it always changes (see "early adopter" above).

Friendfeed - Everything people post, like or comment on.
Twitter - This instant, before blogs and news sites many times.
Feedly - I am still working on an article to do this feed reading system justice.
WebMynd - Search is more than just Google

This is the general process I follow.  Follow and subscribe to anything related to what you do, especially those sites that get the new stuff first. And listen. Eventually you will know everything you can about that topic and then you can start interacting and commenting, maybe even writing about it.

Downloading Employees

I watch for a lot of new tools, software and technology. I also look for techniques that speed processes up. And most of the tools I have found, I would have found no other way. I would never had searched for that specific software, but by listening to like-minded people, I happened to bump into it.

Searching tends to narrow your view in terrain you are unfamiliar with. It is much better to follow the stream of knowledge until you know enough to search.

I focus a lot on software because it speeds up what I do online. I found Jitterbit to move data for me automatically, the software above to keep track of news, LiveWriter to write blog posts among a lot of other things. I have also downloaded crap.

The decision to keep or ditch software has to be made quickly before too much time is invested in learning a new system, especially with software that stores data, whether online or on your desktop. These are hard times and a lot of internet companies that offer free services have no business model.

To put it more simply, what if you wrote 200 blog posts in blogging software that no longer will be updated and there is no easy way to export your posts? That's a lot of lost work. Email software can have similar repercussions.

And I had to put an aside in here. Email brought it up. If you are writing new software and are going to compete with some big names, import and and export your competitors formats if at all possible. It makes the potential lost time nil.

I have used Thunderbird for years because I wasn't sure how to get everything out of it. Then along came Postbox that made searching email more easy. By day two, it was my email software. I had been using Webnotes and Delicious.

Then I discovered Diigo and it's toolbar. It imported my Delicious account and sends everything I bookmark to Delicious so I have a backup, but it as has highlighting and notes.

How Tools Evolve and Why Most People Do A Majority of Things the Hard Way

Back in the day, if you forgot the http:// part of a url, your browser went nowhere. It just took a while for people to ask why and a while for a few of those why's to reach the few developer's that were developing those days. And then there were those that thought it was stupid but said nothing.

And for a more recent example, we will go with Firefox. Until the most recent version, it asked if you wanted to save your passwords for sites before you actually knew if you logged in. I had sites that had two bad sets of logins for every good one. Now it asks after.

There are more people on the internet. There are more people developing. And there are better ways of getting feedback on software. Tools evolve faster.

Most post do not find these tools because they don't know they exist.

Which Software?

When switch board operators were replaced with automated systems, many people complained that computers would take everyone's jobs. If we used switch board operators these days, everyone in the world would be one. Some people just don't like technology. Some think too much software is impersonal. And too much is.

Ebay used to email bills to users and they had to snail mail a check back. There is no way they could do that today.

There are things we like to call part of our job that could be done by monkeys and somehow we hold onto them like they are part of us. Any process or partial process that is monotonous or requires no thought can be done by software or will be soon. Don't hold onto them. Analyze then and recognize the pattern.

  • Why the hell can't I just get a list of all my shouts on Digg emailed to me? That would be quicker.
  • All these Twitter clients are pretty cool, but if one could add all these features, it would kick ass.
  • Why can't I find a listening client that can branch from one keyword to many and track everything from blogs to forums to Twitter, and instant niche based trend tool?
  • Why can’t I connect Filemaker directly to Magento?

And then follow people and subscribe to blogs that relate to what you do and what you like. And your magically run into the tools you are looking for and more. Because as the internet grows, your pet peeves become less unique and chances are someone else is asking the same questions. And eventually a developer will pick up the idea or someone will like the idea so much, they will learn to develop like I did.

And software can become too much. It can waste time. So it is best to analyze your situation first and know what will solve your problem or save you time. Then you will have the chance to be picky when you try new software.

The End Result

I have made money online for 4 years now. Eventually I ran into a plateau and that plateau was time. I quickly had to recognize which tasks could be speeded up or automated. It was either that or hope that slow and steady would hold out. But wasted time is wasted time. I automated things like datafeed updates, affiliate Adwords campaign ROI tracking and the like to save time.

This time gave me enough to learn a bit about blogging. The internet was changing and I had to learn some new ropes. I had to get where I was comfortable with it. But since it was taking all the rest of the time and I wanted to explore social media, I had to let blogging schedule drop off a bit, at least at this blog.

Sometimes there are miscalculations and then drastic time has to be cut from one thing or another just to make money. And sometimes the internet landscape changes and you have to go back and fix something that you had semi-automated.

But the best case scenario is this:

  • Learn to look out for what is coming next, because as technologies come in the front, other ones get pushed out the end. If you are not moving ahead, you are falling behind.
  • The only way to gain more time to learn something that will help you make more money is creating more time, outsourcing that work, becoming more efficient or finding software to do the job.
  • And hopefully in the end that is an upward spiral.
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Stephan Miller

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Kansas City Software Engineer and Author

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