Friday, July 17, 2015

Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 2

Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 1: Learning More About An Emerging Topic.
Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 2: Google Searches & Google Docs.
Connecting Emerging Communities In 2015, Part 3: People In Emerging Communities.

If you’re just starting to get involved with the community around an emerging topic, or if you are extremely interested in that topic, a wise first step is learning more about the emerging topic.

In Wednesday’s post, I suggested you start by learning a bit about four items:

  1. Google searches with “double quotes
  2. Using Google Docs / Drive, Evernote, Simple Note or similar tools
  3. Using copy / paste on your computer
  4. Wikipedia entries

If you aren’t very familiar with the above four items, consider reading Wednesday’s post and becoming more familiar with them.

Today’s post will look more closely at researching an emerging topic with Google, collecting information from online resources, and organizing your new knowledge in Google Docs or other note-taking tools.

Before you read further, keep in mind this caveat: I’m an engineer who likes lots of information. All the suggestions below will help you learn more about the topic of interest to you. Most people won’t follow every suggestion below for becoming more knowledgeable about your subject. If you just want to learn a little more about a topic, start by using a few of the Google search tips below. Choose and use the suggestions that fit your learning style and information appetite.

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, I suggest using the seven steps listed below to learn the basics of an emerging topic.

  1. Search with Google
  2. Keep notes from searches
  3. Organize the notes
  4. Find info about topic background, resources, people, organizations, next steps, events
  5. Read books or research papers
  6. Read topic news
  7. Visit forums and community websites

Google is your friend. Use it a lot and try using it in new ways.

Next-generation robotics
Not all information about an emerging topic will be found by Google, especially if the topic is in cutting-edge new fields. But even for cutting-edge new, Google will help point you to the people and organizations.

I’ll use a real-life emerging topic, “next-generation robotics,” as an example throughout this post because that might help you understand how to apply my suggestions. I chose “next-generation robotics” because that was one of the technologies listed in the Scientific American article “Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2015” and because I was recently asked by someone how they could learn more about robotics.

Research Notes

Before you start searching with Google, decide what tool(s) you want to use for keeping and organizing information that’s interesting or useful to you. I use Google Docs (Gdocs). You might use something else, such as text documents (LibreOffice Writer, MS Word, etc) or spreadsheets (LibreOffice Calc, MS Excel), Evernote, Simplenote, Dropbox or a personal wiki.

Now that you’ve chosen your note-taking and information organizing tool(s), make a list of the information you’ll look for and keep. Some information you come across will just be interesting, other info you’ll want to record in one of your documents so you can find it later. (One of the reasons I like Gdocs is because they’re designed to be highly searchable. Google is the master of search, so it makes sense that their Gdocs search tool is extremely effective.)

Tips For Google Searches & Gdocs

When searching with Google, use an incognito window (incognito in Chrome; it's called Private Window in Firefox) so the search results are less tailored to your past search history. For more details on how to get the least biased search results look at this Google Help webpage or this SEOBlog post.

The first thing I put in a new Gdoc about an emerging topic is links. If I think I might want to go back to a webpage later, I’ll copy / paste the URL for that page in a Links section toward the end of the Gdoc. So I’ll search for “next-generation robotics” (with the double quotes). Using the quotes is likely to give more relevant hits, returning 9,680 search results in this example, whereas not using the quotes gives over 8,000,000 search results.

When searching for an emerging topic, be willing to look at results on more than just the first page of search results. Some of the top hits will be very informative, some will show up high because they’re from an authoritative high-impact site (like the World Economic Forum for the example search), and some will be near the top because the site is a quality aggregator of emerging topic info or is gaming the Google search algorithm. The result in the example search ranks very highly, even though it just points to the World Economic Forum article, so they either effectively game the SEO algorithm or are a high quality aggregator for this topic. After researching your topic for a while, you’ll figure out which reason puts hits toward the top. Check out the websites for each of the top 20 or 30 hits unless they’re obvious duplicates or spam, then scroll through the next 50 hits to see if any of the Google search result excerpts sound interesting.

(Gdoc Tip: Two ways to find info in a long Gdoc are internal bookmarks / links and Ctrl-F. I usually put a few bookmarks [Insert/Bookmark]  in Gdocs, like ‘Links for Interesting Websites’ and put an informal table of contents made with links to the bookmarks [Insert/Link/Bookmark] at the top of the Gdoc to let me quickly go to that part of the document. The other method to quickly find something in a long Gdoc is to do Ctrl-F, then type in what you’re looking for. A drop-down box in the upper right of your screen will let you scroll through the instances of whatever keyword you tried to Find.)

After you start collecting a few links, you should start keeping track of people who are involved with your emerging topic. You’ll probably want to record their name, any contact info you have, a little bit of info about what they do related to the emerging topic, and probably a link or two related to why you saw their name. For “next-generation robotics,” the World Economic Forum article mentioned Justine Cassell, Professor, Human-Computer Interaction, Carnegie Mellon University; Paolo Dario, Director, The BioRobotics Institute, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Pisa; Julia Greer, Professor of Materials Science and Mechanics, California Institute of Technology (Caltech); Jennifer Lewis, Hansjorg Wyss Professor at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; and William “Red” Whittaker, Professor at Carnegie Mellon University. These people likely are highly involved with next-generation robotics, so I’d paste their names and info into the Gdoc and Google them to find out more about what they’re working on.

In addition to making a list of people involved in an emerging topic, you should start a list of prioritized target contacts you’d like to connect with, along with a note to remind yourself why you want to connect with that person.

(Gdoc Tip: Copy / paste is a wonderful thing, but when you copy from different webpages and paste into a Gdoc, you will end up with a mishmash of fonts you may not like. What I usually do is highlight the info of interest to me on a webpage and copy it (Ctrl-C) then go to my Gdoc and, instead of a standard paste (Ctrl-V), I do a ‘special paste’ (Ctrl-Shift-V) which will remove graphics and most content formatting and convert the copied content into the existing font being used in your Gdoc. That makes the Gdoc easier for me to use; it also makes the file size smaller than if you use the standard Ctrl-V.)

Now that you’ve started lists of links and people of interest to you, consider developing a ‘custom Wikipedia entry’ for the emerging topic in your Gdoc. Search in Wikipedia for your topic -- if you find an entry, copy it (highlight, Ctrl-C) then paste it in your Gdoc (Ctrl-Shift-V). Delete any info from your copy of the Wikipedia entry that’s not of interest to you, and add important info relevant to your specific interests in the emerging topic. Limit your custom Wikipedia entry to one or two pages of 11 pt font so it’s easy to read through quickly.

Powered exoskeleton
There is no Wikipedia entry for “next-generation robotics,” so I went to the entry for ‘robotics’ and did a Ctrl-F for ‘generation.’ The Wiki entry didn’t have the term “next-generation robotics,” but it did have a section discussing generations of robots. In that section, there was a link for ‘areas of robotics’ which took me to the entry for ‘Outline of Robotics,’ which had a link to ‘list of emerging robotics technologies.’ Reading through those three Wiki entries would help someone decide (1) if they’re interested in the topic of “next-generation robotics” which covers the “new age of robotics [that] takes these machines away from the big manufacturing assembly lines, and into a wide variety of tasks.” (2) if their interests encompass the whole category of robotics, or (3) if they’re really most interested in a narrow segment of next-gen robotics such as powered exoskeletons or swarm robotics.

After reading through Wikipedia entries relevant to your interest, you should either copy / paste one of them into your Gdoc and customize it to your interests or write the first draft of a Wikipedia-style topic entry for your specific topic of interest. As you learn more about the topic, you can refine that custom Wiki entry to reflect new information or new directions in which your interests lead you.

You’ve got a good start on developing a background document for your emerging topic with relevant links, people, and a custom Wiki entry. The next thing to start putting in your Gdoc is webpage excerpts that are particularly interesting to you. Those excerpts might be about a university or industry research project, a breakthrough for your emerging topic, a new startup company, or an event related to the topic.


Make a section in your Gdoc to keep a list of organizations relevant to your emerging topic. That includes universities, labs or government agencies doing research on the topic, startup companies who are early movers in the field and established companies who are involved with the topic. Also start looking for industry trade associations and professional membership organizations involved with your field of interest. For next-generation robotics, a good organization website to start with might be this Georgia Tech one or

Next Steps

It’s usually a good idea to have a section near the top of your document for prioritized next steps. As you research the topic, information you find will make you think, “I should do a search for this keyword,” “I should look at this website later,” or “I should contact this university faculty member.”

Events For Emerging Topic

While you’re learning about your topic of interest, you’ll probably find meetings, conferences or other events related to the topic. Copy / paste info about that topic in an Events section, along with a link to the webpage that mentions the event. If you want to find out who’s active in a new field, Google the recent or upcoming events in that field to see who the speakers are, or who has submitted papers or proposals.

Books & Research Papers

For emerging topics, you’re likely to find useful information in books and research papers. For some of your Google searches, include the term thesis, theses, research, or university research. Also search using Google Scholar and Google Books.

Google News and Alerts

For the most recent developments in the field of interest, do some searches with Google News. If you want to keep track of a specific topic or keyword, consider setting up Google Alerts. This webpage gives tips on customizing Google Alerts. If you’re signed into your Google account and you’re not using an incognito window, you can set up a personalized Google News section that will show you items relevant to your emerging topic.

Some emerging topics may not have news or new online content posted frequently, so you should also start making a list of high quality websites with frequent news about your topic. appears to gather quite a bit of relevant robotics news.

Forums & Community Websites

Search for online discussion forums, community websites, Google Groups and mailing lists. Some topics will have very active communities, while very-early stage topics might not have the critical mass yet to support a community dedicated to your topic of interest.

Following a few of the above suggestions to learn more about an emerging topic will keep you busy for several hours. Doing all the research recommended above will keep you busy for weeks, but you’ll soon know more about the subject than most people, maybe more than some people involved in that field.

For today’s post, I used “next-generation robotics” to illustrate examples of how to learn more about an emerging topic. In Sunday’s post, I’ll use civic hacking examples to make it more relevant to civic hackers. I’ll also introduce a few ideas on how to connect with people active in an area of interest to you.


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