Automate collecting wonderful things

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One unique and special treat in working as Boing Boing's web developer has been to see how truly prolific writers do their work. Not only are they all hugely practiced at writing, but they've each developed a process and a format for creating or curating content that enables them to write more and quickly. I've spent the last couple years trying to cheat a bit at collecting large volumes of curated content by putting as much of the work as possible onto computers.

My main experiment with rapid blogging is the animated GIF section of my media blog. I love animated GIFs, and I'd picked up a habit of saving my favorites to a folder on my desktop. A year and a half ago I moved that folder to my Dropbox's Public folder, which syncs all the files out to the cloud and lets anyone view them in their browser. Then I set up an IFTTT action to slurp new files into the blog. And then I forgot about it and went about my business.

With basically no added effort I've posted over three thousand GIFs to my blog. It averages six new posts a day, sometimes I'll post thirty at a time when I find a bunch of good ones. IFTTT can connect to lots of other services, so I've set it to push out GIFs to my Tumblr as well. It's a great treat to scroll back through hundreds of fun images I've saved, and I often find myself pleasantly surprised by what I've posted.

This method of curating things gives some neat advantages over other sharing services. When you set up the rules for posting and IFTTT or another automated system does the legwork, you create limitations to what you can post in the process. It forces an editorial voice: now I know I'm going to only post GIFs by saving them to that folder, so all I have to worry about is whether they fit the collective whole. Applying this process to other content types proves to be very successful: a friend and I have collected nearly an album a day on our shared music blog for nine months through some really simple custom scripts to ease the process. I never run short of excellent tunes now that we've collected it so quickly.

Building large collections of content, even if it's focused at dumb GIFs or indie music albums, is easier than ever. Spend some time thinking about the parts of the process you can automate for your collections and start enjoying them more.


  1. The automation of image posts to Tumblr from Dropbox files is a nifty feature, but I’d be concerned about maintaining the proper attributions for .gif creators. It’s generally considered bad Tumblr etiquette to repost material instead of reblogging it, but I’d be willing to take that karmic hit as long as proper credit was given. Is there a way to make IFTT include metadata in the new image post?

    1. I usually find the GIFs in other locations that don’t have sources. I imagine you could set up an IFTTT trigger to manage a faster reblog, but until people start using file-based metadata any other method may be impossible.

  2. Is there more info posted somewhere about your process for the shared music blog? I’d be interested in learning more. I took a look at the site but didn’t see any info there. Thanks!

    1. This is mostly custom code based off of WordPress’s PressThis button and doesn’t quite behave the same way as the GIF blog. We’re working on building a plugin for our own use to get it down to a one-click process. Email me at dean at boing if you’re looking for more info.

  3. Now if there were some way to automate the tedious process of reading through a huge pile of automatically generated “content” ….

    1. The idea here is to assist curation, not to scrape and generate the content itself. That’s a whole separate problem I’ve been trying to tackle quietly. I’d like all my sources for GIFs to be merged together and easily pushed out to the blog, but that’s a mighty big task with so much content.

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