Need help with personal knowledge management!
December 28, 2008 10:04 PM   Subscribe

How are people organizing their information (professional and personal) in this day and age? What kind of system is flexible enough to cope with multiple data types (PDFs, DOCs, short text notes, hyperlinks, ...), efficient during collection (when browsing the Web, when reading documents, ...) and won't get in my way when I try to use it?

(I looked into existing posts - good start, but I'd like suggestions that also incorporate whole files and not just bookmarks and snippets)

I'm trying to find a coherent system using multiple tools - mindmaps, note taking tools, file search tools and others - so that I can be more productive in storing and finding the right information. A personal Memex if you will, similar to Vannevar Bush's original idea but with proper search.

I'm an IT/Network Security Architect/Engineer. I deal with information on a daily basis - from configuration snippets and links to product documentation to written reports and form documents. Sometimes the entire document is relevant and sometimes a simple summary or just a snippet may do.

I've used mind maps (with MindManager) since 2001 and I love the concept and the tool. I've used it to take notes when studying, to create document structure and then exporting to Word, to capture notes in meetings, etc...

I've recently been introduced to Microsoft OneNote. It also seems very, very powerful in organizing information - notebooks, sections, pages, etc... all searchable and nicely integrated into Windows. I've come to rely on OneNote for screen captures, print outputs and the integration of short notes to my PDA.

I find desktop search tools (initially Yahoo's Desktop - an OEM of X1 - and now Google Desktop, with its' capability to search MindMaps...) to be also very, very good at helping find information, especially when it is in a structured document (Word, PDF, ...)

Finally I know there's other tools out there:
- Wikis (web-based and local storage) TiddlyWiki as a good example
- Evernote
- Scrapbook firefox extension (excellent for local storage of pages!)
- Delicious
- Google Notebook
- Stars and tags in Google Reader and other RSS
- others… heck, I've heard of people using iTunes to manage their PDFs!

I read Lifehacker, I do GTD (I use it in a slightly modified fashion) and I live the inbox zero concept. My issue is not so much task management as information management.

So, what kind of systems are people using for managing their information? What's the best way of keeping track of some configuration details for firewalls I work with? How can I easily store (and retrieve) interesting RSS posts? Suggestions for storing (or not) a PDF whitepaper on something?

posted by fsmontenegro to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
Journler, for me. Mac-only, but it might give you an idea of what's possible.
posted by Picklegnome at 10:24 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I got a lot of great advice in response to my similar question here:
posted by kenzi23 at 10:30 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this helps, but I've used almost all of the tools you mention. I've come to terms with nothing being all encompassing, and making do while keeping an eye out for something substantively better.

For a couple years I used Confluence extensively for my personal wiki, but these days, I find more and more of my day-to-day notes goes into Evernote. There are a lot of things I wish were better, but the combination of good indexing, network syncing and decent native clients makes it the first thing I reach for now. I pay for Evernote Premium which supports SSL syncing and arbitrary file-type attachments. The biggest weakness at the moment is lack of good sharing options.

As far as Firefox extensions, I've used Scrapbook for certain tasks, but mostly I use Zotero for web-page saving. The academic citation support actually comes in incredibly handy for remembering when something was saved. You might want to give that a try.

I continue to use Delicious, but honestly it really frustrates me. It was great a few years ago, but it just hasn't evolved. It doesn't save a copy of the bookmark, there's no way to organize collections or add notes, and since it defaults to public, it just makes all kinds of personal bookmarking really inconvenient. If Zotero 2's network syncing works well, I may end up switching completely off Delicious.

For RSS, I make liberal use of Google Reader's starring, although I've admittedly never had much luck later finding stuff.

Organizing papers and presentations is still on my TODO list. Zotero has support for PDFs, but I haven't used that much since ideally I'd like to have it available in multiple locations... I've started attaching them in Evernote, but if anyone else has a system they like better, I'm all ears.
posted by lhl at 10:54 PM on December 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Evernote, which I use on my iPhone, on two Macs at home, and at work through the web interface. I'm also a Premium subscriber, and the file attachment feature that lhl mentions is very useful. I'm also a heavy user of the 'email to Evernote' option as a way to quickly get content into the system. On the Mac, the Evernote client adds an option to the print dialog that allows you to create a PDF and import it into Evernote in one step.

It took me a while to start trusting the system -- i.e., not keeping the same or similar content in another system -- but now that I've really started to make use of Evernote's features I'm very happy with it.
posted by impluvium at 2:00 AM on December 29, 2008

I've been down this road and I've tried a million things but I always end up back where I started. My current system is portable, accessible from virtually anywhere, has a simple easy to learn interface, and never needs batteries. I use a notebook. I also have downgraded form pen to pencil because I like the cut and paste feature.
posted by Area Control at 8:10 AM on December 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I switched from Tiddlywiki to Evernote. Evernote is much faster and makes it easier to include screen shots and random documents, plus it's accessible from my Mac, PC, and iPhone.

I store my domain names and site configurations in Evernote, so I think your firewall notes should work fine there. Interesting PDFs that I might need in my business go into Evernote or into my tidy folder system on the Mac. I've increasingly been using Spotlight notes to help me find PDFs; I don't know if there's an equivalent on Windows.

For RSS feeds, I've been happy with NetNewsWire. I use the Mac desktop version and the iPhone app. It's easy to save an item in the NetNewsWire clippings file, but I'm more likely to copy & paste relevant snippets into Evernote. For example, if one blogger says something that could inspire my own blog post, I put a snippet and link to their post in Evernote with the tag "blogideas." When it's time to write a post, I look at everything tagged "blogideas" and get inspired.

I don't use bookmarks anymore except for sites I access regularly, and those are synced with Foxmarks. For most other sites, I stick a quick description and link in Evernote.
posted by PatoPata at 8:40 AM on December 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Evernote.

I've tried to store all information on the cloud (e.g. via Google Doc), but turned to be not that fast and convenient. I've also tried to store information locally (via personal wiki, or structured folders, or knowledge management software), but the portability turned to be a big problem.

Now Evernote provides the ultimate solution. I setup it both in my laptop at work (XP) and my mac at home, also in my portable disk. Then the information are accessible everywhere easily. Even I'm with a totally stranger's computer, the web version still works. Even I don't have a computer, the mobile version still works on the phone.

Evernote gives the perfect concept of sync everywhere. I do love it and feel thankful for its provider.
posted by yezimary at 11:03 PM on December 29, 2008

The security environment of my job prevents me from letting proprietary information outside of our network. Can Evernote be used entirely locally? Meaning no data gets sent to outside servers?
posted by jpdoane at 10:24 AM on December 30, 2008

I'm going to put in another plea for you to consider Zotero, as it fits most of your requirements. I'm testing the 1.5 Sync preview version, and it seems pretty stable. It allows you to use NetDav to synchronise on the server of your choice (as well as Zotero's server). It also allows you to do 'standalone' notes, which means you could implement your own version of GTD on it.
posted by davemack at 4:24 PM on December 30, 2008

@jpdoane. Of course, you can use Evernote as a local app.
posted by yezimary at 6:47 AM on January 4, 2009

My addition might be a littel late - but I figured you might still be searching for the perfect solution.

I've discovered DevonThink Professional for exactly this purpose - I've been searching a long time and it is hands-down the best solution if you really want to get into the game.

This article sums it up pretty nicely.
posted by mathiu at 6:24 AM on March 27, 2009

Regarding Evernote: I used it and really like it for its simplicity and ease of synchronization - but I'm having a hard time handing over my "life" to, well an inherently insecure solution (no SSL on unpaid accounts/a startup/ultimately: the Internet...)
posted by mathiu at 6:30 AM on March 27, 2009

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