One place to put all your stuff in

06Jul09
Google Notebook
Image by vincenthorn via Flickr

Hello again to my regular and irregular readers. Well I was partly busy and partly the right mood, mindset or time needed never happened on the weekends, the only time when I had free time to choose between rest and recreation. Time wasn’t that optimally scheduled to be honest, but this is the first attempt to make a move towards better usaqe of the time and to fit in fun stuff like blogging, without making it a burden over a chaotic schedule.

I wanna give the 60-tab a session browsing habit a rest and hopefully write a blog article for the non-techies (as they claim themselves proudly) without getting into any technical details or click heres and click theres. You can hope hence, this won’t go on for too long…just hope. Well even if I tried to pretend I could write off a full article on a totally non-tech topic, its gonna be a really difficult task, a task that I cannot avoid researching the net for…which I am too lazy to do right now. I’ve been on the net for almost the whole of sunday and I hope to put some of my ideas from it into this article.

Technology is part of my life, a mandatory part of the 45 hrs every week. So it naturally becomes the main tool at my disposal to help keep track of stuff that matter to me and organize that so I need to hold up less and less dumb storage in my brain. You know the kind of relief you have when you speak out your mind, share a secret or have that password on the post-it stuck under your drawer. Yeah! that’s what am talkin about. On a more serious note, the tools that I’m giving an overview about in this post are a sort of super-services that help you gather up and organize info in whatever form (digital of course) you have got them in the first place and keep them together. I call them super-service as they are able to satisfy a lot of individual date gathering needs that other smaller services are dedicated to take care of. There are pros and cons between specific and monolithic services, but that’s a debate for another time.

These services that help you lighten the weight of dead-weight information on your over-taxed brains are called online notebooks. Your notes are stored online but depending on the service you choose to use, you could add in notes from your browser, from a desktop app, from your phones, from email and so on. Each of the services have their specialities and their niche advantages for appealing to different types of users. A tool fit for a student, would not be fit for a manager, whose preferred tool might not fit someone who is a blogger, whose preferred tool might not be fit for someone running the household. However often some tools’ features and likewise some needs of the different categories of users do overlap.

Online notebooks started with the idea of clipping out reference text along with the links that you wanted to bookmark. It often made a bookmark that much more useful. You could not only tag the bookmarks like other bookmark services already did, but also clip out a section of the text that you felt was most important in the page. You’d always have the text, images you copied over to your notebook, even if the original page was pulled down. Now if you could paste in text and images from other sites, you should be able to write your own stuff, right? So next came online notebooks with rich text (bold italic, font colors n all that bling bling) editor and image uploaders. Then perhaps video and then document uploads. All this while the user is still required to be on the web page, inside the web browser. But that ain’t how your ideas flow, that’s not the best way to get your ideas and notes captured in the freshest of their form. A lot of emphasis is put on anywhere access in recent online notebook services, where you should be able to get your thoughts out onto your notebook no matter where you are. Windows, Windows Mobile, Android Mobile, iPhone, Mac OS X, Firefox extensions, Twitter, Facebook, Phone, Email, and so on. The number of access points out of those depend on your choice of service.

Most of these services have the concept of hierarchical filing of your bits and clips of info in pages of a notebook. Some notebooks have a clean sheet to work on in any part of the page while others may have a more rigid hierarchical level called Sections. Most of these tools are designed for you to dump info off your brain and take time later to organize. I haven’t come across a service that would allow you to sort out your notes or clippings based on some filters on the text. However let’s say even if you use these services for one-time uses like project management or event management or maybe just a blog article which needs a substantial amount of research, you’d be more than fine with these services.

As with all web services where you can put in content, online notebooks have a one-up over conventional notebooks/scrapbooks, when you consider the collaboration possibilities. Some services would only allow you to publish whole notebooks or your choice of pages, while some others would let you control if its just the link to google, you want to share with your parasitic partner to find stuff he needs for himself. Some would allow active collaboration, turning your notebook sheets into virtual whiteboards or just passive collaboration, where you share out items for people to take note of the info in their own notebooks but not make change to your notebook. Some services might have applications for social networking sites, so you could share your notes of research (on the ‘whatever it is that you non-techies find bizarre, amazing or both’) with your network. Even though a lot of clones, a lot of half-hearted attempts and a few extremely outstanding products have come out of this idea of gathering ideas and clippings off your brain and the web respectively, I believe there is still a lot of potential for these tools to improve in a manner that they help organise information better (they heavily focus on the gathering part. Tagging doesn’t help if your service doesn’t even have a search box.

Before I finish off the post, let me give you some idea about how you might put these super-services to use : –

  • If you wanna prepare a shopping list, why not keep a list of pics of all empty bottles, containers etc. you still could add the text for the items that you won’t have an empty container to take the pic of. and if you can access your notebook via your cellphone while shopping then there’s no need to generate a shopping list at all.
  • Let’s say if I as a blogger was writing a full-blown “Best Online Notebook Shootout” article, I could use my online notebook to organize clips of sources of information and my thoughts about them in one unified interface.
  • If you were finding it hard to jot down each and every note in class, something which keeps you behind others in terms of performance, the least you could do is take a snap of the whiteboard (before your prof wipes it out) or your ‘online-notebook-unaware’ classmate’s notes and upload it into your notebook (You might consider sharing back those notes, else you’d really look cheap…and lazy 😛 ). It might look like you’re having the easy way out, but even if you were writing your own notes, online notebook services helps you file all those notes into one single place. You even get to index the text in your notes in some cases.
  • If you were doing a project, in your early days of college, you could choose to go solo, and record your stuff in a logbook, but when it comes to group projects, the online collaboration and sharing features of online notebooks come in real handy wherein any and every member can simultaneously participate in identifying tasks, deliverables, deadlines, completion %age and so on.
  • I’d use it sometimes to just keep a list of no-priority reminders, collect funny email forwards, clip out interesting info, write down bits of info that I may need later.

Think you want to venture out there on wild wild web and try on one of these services to see what fits you best. Take 3banana, Zoho Notebook or Google Notebook for a spin. All of them work with your Google login. Oh wait! Google Notebook would work if you had created it before this year. They stopped new signups, even when they are like far far behind the competition. If you’ve never had a Google Notebook setup in your account, try out Evernote. I’d leave it to you to figure out the URL’s as well as which service appeals to you for what reasons. Have a nice day.

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