Small pieces, loosely joined: Why everything should be URLs

No, this is not a review of David Weinberger’s great book of the same name (although I recommend it unequivocally). This is a short discussion of what I believe is an emerging trend in work hacking based on the lowly, lowly URL as the irreducible atom of work management.

I will start with my own story, and then someone else’s.

My Small Pieces, Loosely Joined

I use Todoist as my task management solution for a number of compelling reasons (see It isn’t how much time you have, but how you protect it, for a longer explanation)

  1. It plays well with Gmail: because of Chrome extension, I can make a task in one click from an email, with a link pointing back to the email URL.
  2. It’s a very fluid tool, allowing tags, priorities, deadlines, and other metadata to be linked to tasks.
  3. In the near-term, the company is implementing a team task management capability.

One other factor: Each project and subproject in Todoist has its own URL, so in other tools that I use, I can reference Todoist projects and subprojects. (I wish that was true of other elements of Todoist, such as the tasks themselves.)

I also use Pinboard as a part of my work management discipline. It is principally a bookmarking tool, allowing me to save and annotate links to information on the web. It also has a secondary capability, which is the creation, editing, and publishing of text notes. These can be styled using Markdown, and published to the web as independent web pages.

Here’s an example of a Pinboard note being edited. Note the Markdown for headings (‘###’) and horizontal rule (‘—-‘).

Screenshot 2013-11-20 16.59.48


And here’s the rendered web page (note that the ‘edit’ option shows for me, but would not for anyone else). This note is about a talk I will be giving in NYC in Dec.

Screenshot 2013-11-24 06.52.43

And so, when I want to create a task in Todoist to remind me that I have to create the talk’s presentation, I can have it point to the Pinboard note as additional information. (Note that Todoist does support notes inside of tasks, but they a/ can’t be published, and b/ do not have their own URLs.) Here’s that task in a Arup Big Data subproject I created in Todoist:

Screenshot 2013-11-24 06.57.28

If I want to go full circle, I can take the URL of the subproject can post it in the Pinboard note, so I have two-way connection of the note and subproject, but I seldom go that far.

Strangely, Pinboard does not treat its bookmarks in the same way as notes: they can’t be published independently to their own webpages, alas, so I can’t use a similar method to go from capturing a link to something that I need to connect to a task. And notes aren’t associated with bookmarks in any fashion, which is a shame.

Another use case is when I use a Pinboard note to capture notes during calls and demos. I use Dropbox’s screen capture feature, so I can be snapping screen shots and Dropbox places the URL to the file in my clip buffer, so I can then paste the URL in the Pinboard note with a few descriptive words. Then, at the end of the call, I can privately publish the note and create a task to write something about the product I’ve demoed. Later on, I have all the screenshots to hand.

In this fashion, because these unintegrated tools provide the critical work patterns for me to get things done.

Another’s Small Pieces, Loosely Joined

I was reading a post by Jordan Tarasoff of BetSmartMedia, in which he wrote about why they had transitioned from Basecamp to Asana:

4. Internal Linking of Tasks is Clean

Asana gives each new task a unique url, but when linking between tasks it uses anchor text with the name of the task.  Clicking an internal link opens the task without reloading the entire page, which makes everything feel very connected and organized. Basecamp requires users to paste an entire url, which is much less clean and is difficult to understand in the context of a discussion.

This is an example of a tool, Asana, internally using URLs to make cross links from one task to another. But note that the URLs create for each task work externally, as well, so I could copy and past Asana tasks in Pinboard notes, if I wanted to, or alternatively, Pinboard notes links into  Asana tasks.

Below you see a linked to a second task — Write new copy for widget brochure site — in a comment on the first.


But the team at BetSmartMedia were more interested in the performance of linking together small pieces into a richer whole, while still keeping things loosely joined.

The Bottom Line

It’s not possible for every tool to integrate with every other one. So long as users like me want to be able to mix-and-match small-and-simple tools to hack our work, developers should keep in mind that everything that could be linked to should have it’s own URL, at least an anchor. So I hope that Todoist considers matching that Asana feature, and that the folks an Pinboard do the same with bookmarks.