I know I recorded it somewhere
September 23, 2008 1:23 AM   Subscribe

How do I maintain a successful personal diverse information tracking system? How do you find what you know you kept? I want my information in one place, where I can search it. (This is not about GTD or keeping track of my responsibilities and tasks).

I have a bunch of RSS feeds where I clip occasional articles. I have a bazillion internet favourites/bookmarks. I make notes out of library books. I have lecture notes from the last three years.

The topics might include gardening in my region, career information, design tutorials, philosophy, books I want to read, people's birthday gift ideas, music lists with the right beat for exercise, ideas for clothing when I'm working full-time again, including style and colours, budgeting and frugality, project ideas that are not ready for a to do list. And more.

I reckon, at the moment, with the different systems I have now, I can find about 10% of anything I've captured, and I can't easily search it. How do I know, for example, if that great tutorial I remember seeing was in a metafilter thread, or on an RSS feed, or in a library book?

It's like this but more varied. The way I ended up solving this was having a directory folder for Design Ideas, and sub-directories including typography, illustration, etc. This means that every image I capture has to be electronic, which I can mostly do with a scan or a camera, if I didn't find it on the net, but it's not going to work for books etc, and it's not particularly searchable.

If you've tried and failed, please tell me. Maybe I can let this idea go.
posted by b33j to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What about something like Zotero? It'll only work if you use one computer to do all your collecting though.

Works really well with online sources and for books you could always link to Google Books or Amazon in order to keep track of where you got that particular item.

I doubt it is ideal but maybe a start?
posted by Fence at 2:25 AM on September 23, 2008

I figure there are two ways you might want to find something: by topic/keyword, or by looking at it. Browsing by 'looking' is probably easiest physically - do you get that many electronic images? If electronic images don't make up a huge proportion of 'things to look at', then it might be worth printing them out and keeping it a physical collection.

I would have a sorted physical filing system, and I would have a freeform (ie: tagged, not folders) text collection stored electronically. Ideally, each physical item would have an entry in the electronic system - something like 'blue bathroom tiles ceramics diy | Cabinet 2 Drawer 3'. I would look at EndNote or Onenote or something along those lines to store the electronic info - create a reference to everything you want to remember, with searchable notes and keywords. And then it doesn't matter if the stuff you have is spread out over a filing cabinet, metafilter and the web - all your references are in the same place, so that's where you search.
posted by jacalata at 3:01 AM on September 23, 2008

How many items are we talking, do you think? At what rate are you adding? What proportion are physical?
posted by Leon at 3:32 AM on September 23, 2008

Response by poster: Say 3-6 items per day, 4 -7 days per week? Non-electronic, say, 25%. Mostly not images - usually text of some kind, but not always.
posted by b33j at 3:39 AM on September 23, 2008

Best answer: There are a number of information capture applications. Lifehacker talks about Evernote, and you can look in the comments for alternatives. I haven't used it, but I've heard good things about it, so this isn't a personal testimonial.
posted by chengjih at 3:46 AM on September 23, 2008

I've been using Google Notebooks for this.

You can set up different notebooks for different topics and then clip and add things to your heart's desire. Plus, it's accessible everywhere.
posted by reenum at 3:59 AM on September 23, 2008

Best answer: I'd certainly recommend that you look at Zotero, which, although Fence says will work on only one computer, will soon allow you to back up your data and sync it across multiple computers (the 'sync' feature is in beta-testing just now). Alternatively, it sounds as if Google desktop (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Desktop) might meet your needs.
posted by davemack at 4:06 AM on September 23, 2008

Definitely give Evernote a try. The starter account with a pretty generous amount of bandwidth is completely free, it's accessible from any computer (even an iPhone if you have one or are thinking of getting one), it even does OCR scanning of text to make that document or magazine clipping you scanned in indexed by the search results (and I'd say this works quite well in my experience).

I like OneNote for a desktop app, but I think if you're gonna do something like this it needs to be more portable. Try Evernote.
posted by genial at 4:06 AM on September 23, 2008

An information storage strategy would incorporate several factors. Storage and organization is one (are two?). In addition to the items mentioned above, Zoot and MyNotesKeeper are worth looking into. There are other programs which will allow you to organize collected items using a tree-based organization system.

And don't forget the power of plain-old text files.

The other key point is retrieval. In addition to finding stuff using the chosen organization system, you will want a tool that will index everything on the hard drive and make it instantly accessible. Google Desktop, mentioned by davemack, and X1 are very powerful. I like X1 due to its preview pane.
posted by yclipse at 4:37 AM on September 23, 2008

I don't think there is one system to rule them all at this point. For me, it's a combination of Delicious + Google Docs + Evernote + Tracks + Google Reader + my blog. But the problem I run into is most every social web app will let you "star" or "favorite" items. A completely consistent person would resist that temptation and use only one app for bookmarking.

So far, I like Evernote for screenshots and taking notes while reading (assuming I have WiFi handy while I'm reading, which is often the case). I prefer Google Docs for writing longer things. Google Reader's "shared item" feature is a pretty handy, too.
posted by wheat at 6:42 AM on September 23, 2008

Another vote for Evernote. I use it daily and find it ridiculously easy to operate. I always tag my note with words that I would use to go back and search. I never do any of the extra features that include tags and whatnot. I simply put the tags as part of the text of the note. Searching is a breeze.

My only complaint with Evernote is that I would like it to better incorporate "to-do" functionality. It has a bit but doesn't work for my purposes.
posted by MrToad at 6:59 AM on September 23, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. Looks like Zotero & Evernote are closest to what I'm looking for.
posted by b33j at 3:44 PM on September 23, 2008

I'll 2nd wheat's approach (more or less). My system involves Delicious, Google Notebook, and Google Docs and I'm very happy with it. I often bookmark and categorize individual GDocs with Delicious or make clippings of excerpts from GDocs in GNotebook, so there's some overlap that speeds up finding what I want even more.

If I had to pick one to keep it would be Delicious. The trick is good tagging. Once you have a good system in place, though, it's invaluable. I do use Google Reader but if there's something I want to hang on to I open it and bookmark it in Delicious.

I keep track of similar info as you (and then some) and I figure I can probably find 95-99% of what I've captured within a few minutes at most.
posted by jluce50 at 7:09 AM on September 25, 2008

Mail everything to yourself via Gmail, and it will always be available to you. Add attachments, images, clips, bookmarks, and tag stuff with whatever keywords is going to help you remember it.

Then, mail it to your gmail account -- if you're really ambitious, you can set up auto Archive for these emails based on your tags, so they skip the Inbox, but are always available to you (as long as you have access to Gmail).
posted by noahv at 9:18 AM on September 25, 2008

Another vote for Evernote. It has a ridiculously strong search, you can clip images, or just text and tag it all. I still haven't mastered all the features, but I'm learning more everyday!
posted by serah81 at 2:27 PM on September 25, 2008

I use emacs with org-mode to do exactly this. It has a steep learning curve, and if you don't know emacs already, then it has an immensely steep learning curve, but it's a great solution for storing your data.
posted by wukkuan at 6:52 PM on September 25, 2008

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