Monday, June 21, 2004I am addicted to software, particularly any software used for information management.
I've basically tried them all. I will get especially excited about a specific application, only to run into its limitations shortly thereafter. This is also a cyclical trend; I often revisit applications and start using them again.
The result is that I end up with data in a bunch of different software, which sort of defeats the purpose of information management software in the first place.
My latest find, and one that seems to eliminate a lot of the problems I have with this class of software, is Note Studio.
Note Studio is basically personal wiki software that can run on your PC and/or Palm. Using a wiki for information management is the ultimate freeform approach: there is (usually) no hierarchy, no fields, no database structure. It is basically a personal web of information that you can structure as you please and on the fly. I think of it as a semantic/network approach to organization rather than a structured/hierarchical/table approach. I had dabbled with using a wiki for personal info management before, but had always run into problems. Note Studio eliminates some of the problems.
For one, the wiki phenomenon is mostly used for collaborative web publishing. It's use as personal information management software is secondary (although perhaps increasingly popular). For this reason, most wiki software runs on a web server. In theory, this offers some benefits to information management, but if you are concerned about the "personal" in personal information management, you may be hesitant to publish this kind of data to the web, regardless of what security measures you put in place. Note Studio is one of a handful of wiki apps (Pepys and wikidPad are two others I know of) that run locally on your own machine. For me, the speed and privacy of managing this critical data locally trumps the benefits of web access.
The second problem I had with wiki-as-PIM in the past is the requirement to use CamelCase to link and create new pages in the wiki. This is counter-intuitive to me, and it's too much trouble to try to force monosyllabic topics like "Music" into something like "MuSic" or "MusicStuff." Note Studio solves this problem for me by allowing any normal words or phrases to serve as page names; the linking is accomplished by putting square brackets around the link (e.g., [Music]).
The third problem Note Studio eliminates is that of proprietary formats. Note Studio can export to HTML and XML (and its native format is XML). Storing critical information in non-proprietary formats reduces a lot of headaches when you decide to do something else with the data or move on to the next greatest thing if and when it materializes.
Finally, the synchronization of Note Studio's PC and Palm versions means I can now carry my web of information around with me. This is an important consideration for me, as I refuse to type the same thing twice (and even avoid copy and paste if it's not necessary), and I want an integrated approach to entering data that follows me around.
Not everyone will immediately take to the do-it-yourself approach that wiki-as-PIM entails. The need to use markup to specify formatting may also be off-putting to those used to the RTF editors used in most info managers. I find the lightweight markup to be perfect, however (granted, I've lived in markup for nearly ten years anyway). It keeps the plain text source relatively clean, and is lightweight enough that formatting on the Palm is nearly as easy as on the desktop.
For anyone who follows the Getting Things Done workflow methodology, the approach at http://law4pda.org/chocolateGTD/index.shtml, outlined by a lawyer using Note Studio and GTD, may serve as an introduction on the power of creating your own system over trying to stuff your information into some pre-defined approach. My own system is less complicated than hers, but the beauty of this entire approach is that your system can evolve as your needs evolve.