What?

One month ago today, I started keeping track of everything I read online. Right now it’s just a reverse cron list with titles, links and the occasional note. There are a little more than 400 things recorded so far, which isn’t a lot, but I think it’s a pretty interesting data set and I’m excited for what can be done with it in the future.

I should clarify: this isn’t everything I’ve read, but it is most things. This is strictly opt-in data collection, so I have to add each item manually. Any article or page with actual content that I read more than half of, I add to the list. Admittedly, I tend to not log things like Hacker News comments, Imgur, programming documentation or ‘31 dog gifs you have to see’.

Why?

For the last eight years, I’ve been using Last.fm to log what music I listen to, and I’ve become pretty attached to that data. It’s a lot of fun to look back each year at what new music I’ve found, or what I was listening to this week three years ago.

I listen to a lot of music, and I also spend a lot of time reading things online. In the far future, I want to be able to look back and see what I was reading during certain times of my life, or when big things happen in the world.

Advertising trackers, Google, my ISP, probably the NSA, all have databases of what I read online - and yet I don’t. This is data about me that I would find personally valuable, that other people have and I don’t. Since they aren’t going to share it, I’m compiling it myself.

Making this data public (even in a controlled, censored format) gives me a feeling of control, and it also forces me to think about what I’m reading. More practically, it also means I have an easy place to look up articles or things I know I’ve read but want to check before referencing in conversation.

How?

This project was actually kick started by reading pinboard.io’s fifth birthday blog post. I wasn’t familiar with Pinboard before, but I realized it had all the functionality to make bookmarking everything I wanted very easy - and it even had unread and note distinctions I knew I would make use of. The Pinboard API has a ‘return all bookmarks’ endpoint too, which really speaks to their dedication to users owning their own data.

Whenever I finish reading something online, I use either the Pinboard Chrome extension or Android app to add it as bookmark. Since this blog is powered by Jekyll, I wrote a little Rake task that pulls down my Pinboard data, and converts it into Jekyll data file:

require 'rubygems'
require 'bundler'
require 'faraday'
require 'json'

task :update_read do
  puts "Starting update_read task"
  conn = Faraday.new("https://api.pinboard.in")
  resp = conn.get("/v1/posts/all", {
    'auth_token' => ENV['PINBOARD_API_KEY'],
    'format' => 'json' 
  })
  json = JSON.parse(resp.body)
  data_dir = "_data"
  FileUtils.mkdir(data_dir) unless Dir.exists?(data_dir)
  File.open("_data/read.json", 'w'){ |file| file.write(JSON.dump(json)) }
  puts "update_read complete!"
end

I have Jekyll page that converts that data file into an HTML page, and VPS has a cron job to run rake update_read and rebuild the site and deploy it once an hour. Paginating the data page would be nice but Jekyll doesn’t seem to support it.

After building this and showing some coworkers, one pointed out that reading.am does this just about the exact same thing - so if you want to try this to, check it out.

For the full source of my approach, see the Github repo for clifff.com.


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