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Make Yourself Smarter: Your Laptop as a Transactive Memory System Tool

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 14 years and 259 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

Ever since I’ve heard the flashy million dollar college term: “transactive memory system”, which I first read in The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell, I’ve been fascinated by the concept. My interpretation of a transactive memory system (TMS) is something that is used to retain larger amounts of information, by using a simple to remember trigger of where the information is stored.
transactive knowledge means knowledge that is somehow available or possible because of transactions that take place between people. Transactive Memory theory examines the process by which individuals determine who knows what and who knows who knows what. – according to Manoj Sati

I think it’s based on HUMANS being the gateway for additional memory, but I think silicon-based intelligance could be used as well. It dawned on me today just how much I use my laptop as this type of extensive memory system, and that I embrace the fact that I know longer need to KNOW everything like a Jeopardy savant, but only that I am able to effeciently harness the wisdom of the internet’s collective intelligence by using an effective understanding of the tools that are available to filter and utilize the best information.

The example used the Tipping Point, was that when someone gets divorced they feel like they’ve lost part of their memory – mainly because they count on their partner to remember certain things that they don’t feel are important for them to remember (because their partner will remember). A recent personal example was when I was discussing national parks with a nice gentleman on my flight to San Jose. I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of Mariposa Park in Yosemite, and it drove me crazy (I had to break out my laptop just to recall the name and let it go).

Another personal example is the TERM – transactive memory – I couldn’t remember it exactly, but I remembered exactly where to find the concept within my blog by remembering what book it was from. I knew at some point I would want to go back and revisit the idea, and today was that day. By using this memory system, I was able to find the term, research it further, and add my thoughts on it.

Managing Information Overload – Harnessing Collective Intelligence

I must confess. I’ve never been an extremely brilliant person like I am sometimes given credit. I would classify myself as a “lazy thinker” – meaning I’m always looking for ways to make things easier, faster, and more efficient. I’ve always tried to find ways to learn QUICKER and easier. I’ve always lived by the motto, “think smarter, not harder”. In this case, I was thinking about the MOUNTAINS of information I try to sift through on a daily basis, and how to get through it all and retain something worthwhile. Several years ago I started obsessively bookmarking for this reason. Now there are much better tools for this with social bookmarking much more prevelant, but I still retain pretty extensive local bookmarks, because it’s one of few things I don’t have a complete abundance mentality about. I definitely share my precious bookmarks, but I think the organization, retention, and thought process that went into them holds pretty strong inherent value.

It tend to get information overload on a near daily basis (I’m kind of like the competitive eater Takeru Kobayashi – who constantly stuffs his stomach to maximum capacity that way – as I am constantly pressing my own limits of information overload and feeling like it will probably start to leak out my ears). While researching this post, I stumbled accross some information on information processing theory, which is pretty interesting. The best piece of information from it was a concept taught to me by my high school psych teacher, Mr. Cataline, – “…the idea that short-term memory could only hold 5-9 chunks of information (seven plus or minus two) where a chunk is any meaningful unit. A chunk could refer to digits, words, chess positions, or people’s faces. The concept of chunking and the limited capacity of short term memory became a basic element of all subsequent theories of memory.”

Psychological principles of memory and cognition are pretty fascinating when applied to search marketing. I am pretty out of my element here for the most part, but I try to spend some time and dive in for research purposes on occassion. The lesson for today, however, is to use the other tools at your disposal to HELP you to remember things, rather than to always worry about remembering them. There are plenty of tools both on your laptop, and online to help you embrace ADD (and even use it to your advantage), by helping you to scan and disseminate information and sort it to places you can easily find it later if you actually may need it.

Examples of How I Use My Laptop or Informational Archives as a Transactional Memory System

  • The books/off topic category – There’s no way I could remember all the quotes from any book I’ve ever read, so I archive the best ones in case I ever want to reference them again. I can’t remember them, but I can remember which books I’ve read, and where to find the quote if I think of a concept that I want to use for an article. I then hit the archives, find the “quote from dog eared pages”, and I can find the exact quote that I’m thinking of.
  • My best posts and SEM tools pages – I generally use one or both of these at least once a day to find something I’m looking for, or provide a point of reference for someone. They have become a jumping off point for personal FAQ’s for me. In fact, I sometimes find myself talking with someone, and ending part of the conversation early because I can’t remember all of the talking points I’d like to touch, and I just tell them to remind me to send them the post I have done on that topic.
  • Anal retentive bookmarks – See the two screenshots below – I use my bookmarks toolbar in firefox mainly for folders so I can have quick access to hundreds of bookmarks. In total, I probably have thousands. Organization is the key – you will notice “ww” and “off” – then dozens of subfolders under those – this is “webmasterworld” and “other forums and blogs” then divided by topic matter. This is extremely helpful in finding good information on a given subject, and doesn’t force me to REMEMBER everything, or learn everything right away – when I think it’s getting important, I can go back and re-read something that I bookmarked and find it easily.

Bookmark Screenshots:
My bookmarks toolbar:
A brief look at my thousands of bookmarks organized by topic

I’m sure there are other examples of how I have used my laptop as a TMS. I started being obsessive about bookmark organization before social bookmarking really hit the big time, so most of my storage is done locally.

What other ways do you use your laptop or websites as a transactive memory tool?

Transactive Memory System Tools

  • Rollyo – Roll your own search using the sites you enjoy most. I wish I could dump more into a single index, but it allows for “chunking” within your favorite group of sites
  • Bloglines – I’ve finally started to organize a little bit, though I’ve got a long ways to go. RSS aggregation has allowed me to disseminate MUCH more information in a given day, has improved my skimming skills, and has also raised the likelihood I’ll waste an entire day reading.

Social Bookmarking Sites

Social networking sites also fall into this category I think – myspace, facebook, linkedin, etc. help to keep track of personal or business relationships through the relationships with others.

Do you have any tools that you use in this category?


More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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  • Dude

    Windows Desktop search — no need to organize/remember anything anymore!

  • Dru

    Excellent post. One thing that is really handy would be making your homepage a very simple html link list of your most visited sites. Like a portal, only it loads up super quick.

  • esoos

    Nice. Ever considered importing those browser bookmarks into a account?

    Could back them up and make a great RSS feed for readers to subscribe to.

  • Nebraska

    Great article. I recently purchased MS OneNote and WOW! What a difference it has been making in my stroage of information. Everything is at my fingertips in a single program that has a decent search program.

  • jay

    I’d love to read more of your stuff, but trying to read white text on a black background just kills my eyes. Is there any way for you to offer that option on your site? A button the user can click so that it’s dark text on a light background?

  • Stuntdubl SEO

    >importing bookmarks

    I might some day – for now, I think there’s some value to using them here and there. I’m still not in the habit of using delicious real often anyhow unfortunately so it might be a bit of a pain to synch them.

    >light text on a dark back
    Hi Jay,

    Thanks for writing. You can actually switch to dark on light background under the “style switcher” drop down on the right hand side of the page.

    We actually had a fairly interesting conversation on search engine watch about the subject as well – you can find the link here:


    All those bookmarks, you should really transform them into a website, because then you can generate revenue from this useful organisation of knowledge. We’re in the process of doing this at Also, there’s a neat feature within Bloglines that allows you to make the blogs you track public by displaying them on a webpage, as shown at