Boris Mann

Open Source. Community. Decentralized Web. Building dev tools at Fission. Cooks & eats.


Harvesting knowledge

We are always learning. Whether we search for the answer to a question we have or an error we’re having in a piece of code, that practice of what to search for and sifting through the results is learning. Some of the time the answer might be obvious, we solve our current problem and move on. Other times, we have to look in 2 or three different places, synthesize the answer, and apply it. What are you doing to capture that type of learning? How do you share it with others, including your future self?

The above is the outline for the talk I gave as part of the Lighthouse Labs Speaker Series on August 14, 2004.

While the context of my talk was about building a personal information and knowledge practice, I firmly believe in the same concepts for building knowledge within a company. I saw this article today by Tomasz Tunguz on The Most Important Investment a Startup Can Make talking about this company level investment in education:

As a startup grows and scales, it’s easy to forget about deepening employee education. But the enrichment both in knowledge and network building is invaluable. Furthermore, it’s a terrific investment in the business’ competitive advantage, its people.

Thanks to the Lighthouse Labs crew for having me, and to Hans Peter Meyer for live tweeting some of the things I said.

Below is the outline that I spoke from, which won’t necessarily make a ton of sense without me speaking to it, but it gives me something to link to.

Ancient History

  • 2002, started blogging
  • 2004, I moved back to Vancouver
    • Flickr launched!
  • 2005, Northern Voice Blogging Conference - first conference to use tags / have an official tag
  • Launched Bryght, first commercial Drupal company, on 80 leased servers, running Xen VMs
    • Amazon AWS cloud launched in 2006

More history

  • Skype launched August 2003
  • Most people still using AOL, MSN Messenger (until 2005 —> Windows Live Messenger)
  • CVS was being replaced by SVN
    • 2010 - moves from CVS —> git
  • Twitter & Jaiku launched in 2006
  • 2007 when Chris Messina first proposed the hashtag
  • IRC will never die! (except, Slack is built on top of it and is awesome)

10,000 hours

  • Malcolm Gladwell reference
  • What does it mean to be an expert at “the web”?
  • What does “web literacy” mean?
  • You all are learning code literacy. Maybe programming is a new type of literacy?
    • FTP, servers, HTML, CSS, DNS, SSH, version control, command line, etc. etc. etc.

How are you capturing knowledge?

  • Notes: for yourself, privately, as reminders, to get it stuck in your brain
  • Reflection: reviewing notes, acting on them, thinking about what you’ve learned on a daily, weekly basis
  • Self-study: what sources of information are you looking at to get better at what you’re currently interested in?
  • Sharing: fully capture that knowledge by teaching it to others - share it!
  • Delicious is ancient history. Mag.nol.ia was in part built locally here in Vancouver, and lost everyone’s bookmarks.
  • Evernote - has a web clipper, great for
  • Postachio <— this is an investment, but it is also awesome. You hook it up to your Evernote account and can then publish a blog directly from Evernote.
  • Tumblr - not just for cat blogs, has a great bookmarklet for capturing links
  • Pinboard - Maciej runs this “Social bookmarking for Introverts” service. He is an excellent writer and you should read this thing he wrote about the Internet. It’s inspiring and worrying.
  • It’s easy to get started - just link blog instead of bookmarking
  • You’re doing it for future self, not for an audience
  • You have all this stuff on a website that you can get to from any computer
  • Other people can leave comments and tell you you’re wrong
  • You can use Google to search your past brain

I wrote about how I use Postachio for link blogging.


  • What do you care about right now?
  • How many things would you tag with “Ruby” or “Rails”, how many would you tag with “Git”, how many would you tag with “product”, or “startup”?
  • You can then point to a list of articles about “Ruby” or “product”. Here’s an example of all of my collected “product consulting” articles
  • You can look back and see what you’re tagging stuff with. What are you interested in over time? How does those interests change.

We had a good discussion with people who said - “tags are BS!”. Someone else pointed out that adding tags was like extra “votes” for those topics / terms with the text.

I really really wish I had my own text / knowledge / search clustering algorithm that I could run on my own content!

Boris’ Current Tags

  • Product, Product Consulting, Future of Work
  • Tools
  • Full Stack, angel investing, AngelList, syndicates, foundry, venture studio, convertible debt, equity, bootstrapping
  • Vancouver, Canada, weareyvr, ecosystem
  • Ruby, OS X, Heroku, S3, Jekyll, Harp, brew, git
  • Past: Drupal, PHP, SVN, personal publishing, Barcamp, Northern Voice, Bootup Labs (etc. etc. etc.)


  • Don’t stress about topics
  • Get it out of your brain
  • If someone asks you something twice, write it up and send out links
  • Other good topics: How Tos, Reviews, Rants/Flame Bait
    • If you’re going to go to the trouble to figure something out, compare different solutions, or have a strong opinion about something - share it!


Here’s the Storify of tweets from the event: