Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A statement of purpose

I’m not happy.

Today there are hundreds of options for taking notes and saving bookmarks and otherwise stashing away snippets of knowledge for storage on our computers and on the Web. Many of these options are mature applications that offer loads of impressive features required by today’s discriminating knowledge workers (KWs). Indeed, as a lawyer and healthcare compliance analyst, I am a devoted user of several popular notetaking and bookmarking—or notemarking—platforms.

The problem is that none of them are quite capable of doing everything I might want/need them to do. To get all the help I need, I’ve got to use several different applications:

  • OneNote. Yes, OneNote is a desktop app that’s now included with Microsoft Office 2007. But for sheer notemarking muscle and versatility, there’s not much that comes close. Its Achilles heel is the lack of Web integration. Sure you can sync your OneNote notebooks across computers, but it’s not easy (I use Microsoft’s Mesh). Also, its search function is abysmal and it lacks the tagging capabilities that come standard in modern notemarking apps. Nevertheless, due to the relative security of the desktop, this is what I use at work.
  • Google Notebook / Google Bookmarks. Google’s ad hoc suite lacks much of the elegance seen in prominent competitors like Evernote and Zoho Notebook (a web-based OneNote look-alike). But together these services come closest to the platonic ideal of an integrated notemarking application. If I bookmark something in Google Bookmarks, it shows up in Google Notebook. And I can use Google Notebook as a web-based, albeit feature-poor substitute for OneNote. That’s notetaking and bookmarking in one! Sharing is easy; searching is fast and satisfying. Unfortunately, the clumsy integration between the two services is its downfall. There’s no denying that a dedicated notetaking service is better for notetaking, and a dedicated bookmarking service is better for bookmarks. I use them both occasionally, because I’m an admitted Google fanboy.
  • Del.icio.us. This is my chief bookmarking application. It’s one of the first I tried, and thanks to the powerful Delicious Bookmarks add-on (now compatible with Firefox 3), it’s remained my favorite application. Yes, Diigo is a popular alternative that has some compelling social features and a nifty annotation engine. But the Diigo plug-in isn’t compatible with Firefox, and its Windows-compatible toolbar isn’t as fast or as powerful as the Delicious Firefox add-on. One frequent criticism of Del.icio.us is that it doesn’t store copies of site pages or even thumbnails (like Ma.gnolia). Meh, for that I use…
  • Scrapbook. A simple but powerful Firefox add-on. Can store a bookmark or an entire Web site in a familiar, searchable hierarchy of folders. You can save any page exactly as it appears. And once it’s saved, small set of powerful editing and annotation features are at your disposal. This would be a GREAT all-in-one solution, but it lacks a web-based component that could enable syncing or sharing. Export/import is available, but that just doesn’t cut it.
  • Shareaholic. Another Firefox add-on. This useful plug-in incorporates bookmarklets from several social/sharing sites around the Web into one convenient interface that doesn’t take up a lot of real-estate. I use it to post links to my Tumblr blog, FriendFeed, Del.icio.us, Twitter, and Facebook. When I’m ready to share a Web site with pals, I want it be a fast, hassle-free process. Shareaholic fits the bill.
  • Remember the Milk. A to-do list is just a specialized noteboook, right? For those people dedicated to paper and pen, it all ends up in the same Moleskine. The same is often true of Web-based notebooks. But as much as I’d like to use an integrated app, I use Remember the Milk as my to-do list. It’s got more features than any Web-based to-do list I’ve seen, and it can go offline, too (thanks to Google’s Gears). The killer feature is RTM’s integration with G-mail via this Firefox add-on. RTM also plays nice with Google Calendar. At work, I use the inferior combination offered in Outlook. *sigh*
  • Plaxo. I use Plaxo to sync my contacts and calendar with all my computers and my phone (via Exchange). It also works with Google Calendar. Essential.

That’s a lot of information and functionality all scattered around Babylon-style, and I’d like to see more of it gathered in one place. My perfect notemarking application would be an integrated solution that I could access both online and off. It would have both fast searching and tagging capabilities. It would include some social / sharing features, but with privacy controls that were powerful enough to make it useful at work. It would include some near-frictionless method of adding notes & bookmarks from the Web browser like Delicious Bookmarks or the widely praised Tumblr Bookmark.

Finally, and most importantly, I want to be able to access everything regardless of where I am or what software I have installed on my computer. All that information has to by synced-up and ready to exploit.

Is that too much to ask? Maybe. But that’s what this blog is all about.

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