Searchable online personal database?
August 9, 2014 11:05 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for a universally accessible and searchable way to keep notes, photos and other documents together. Essentially I am looking for a personal wiki, but one which behaves more like a note taking program and document archive than content management system. The closest I have come so far is saving drafts in gmail. This seems fraught and rather clumsy. Anyone know of a better system?

This needs to be accessible from mobile and PC. Hosted is fine, I can set this up myself but I can't program it from scratch and I don't have time to muck around to get it working much. Adding documents/photos needs to be quick and easy. I don't care what it looks like.

An example:
I'm studying building design. Often I will go on a tour, talk to an architect or just be wandering around the street and I will want to note down a couple of interesting things or take a photo. I may not then need the information for a long time, but I'd like it to turn up if I search for a key word contained in the text.
posted by deadwax to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think this is what Evernote does.
posted by mollymayhem at 11:06 PM on August 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

Zotero is another.
posted by rhizome at 11:23 PM on August 9, 2014

This is what Evernote is for, and the bonus is that any images you put in it (from your camera or from files) is also text-searchable.

I have my entire life in it, including hundreds of recipes, and I'm on the free version and barely touching my data allowance.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:46 PM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding Thirding Evernote; the free version should be fine for your needs. Setup an account, and create a folder for your architectural interests or whatever. Install the browser addon on your regular computer, and get the app on your phone. Done.
From there, it's just a click or two to save a webpage (the actual page, or just a link, your choice) The Android widget also has a 'Record Audio' button (so you could record your chat with the architect).
posted by quinndexter at 11:58 PM on August 9, 2014

Evernote does look interesting. Are there any concerns with extracting your own data from Evernote for use in other programs, otherwise manipulating it or for providing a bit of security should Evernote go belly up?
posted by deadwax at 12:07 AM on August 10, 2014

You might also take a look at OneNote which is what I use for such things. If you take a picture with text in it, you can even tell it to make the text searchable or extract the text entirely.
posted by Aleyn at 12:18 AM on August 10, 2014

Wikipedia has entries "personal wiki" and "comparison of notetaking software".
posted by XMLicious at 12:57 AM on August 10, 2014

Sorry if this is a stupid suggestion, but did you think about Google Drive / Documents? If you're already saving in GMail, it doesn't seem like you're afraid of the monolith, and it is quite convenient...
posted by whatzit at 2:12 AM on August 10, 2014

Evernote can be set to store everything locally as well on your computer. It's a bunch of folders with weird names. The attachment files you bring in like PDFs and JPGs are stored as a copy within those folders, and the notes you enter as marked-up text that you can within the Evernote app export as XML or HTML files.

I have some data that I must must have even if my Evernote gets corrupted like board meeting documents. I import them to Evernote to file them, but then zip a copy of the vital files and dump them in a separate folder that I back-up elsewhere.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:54 AM on August 10, 2014

If you already use gmail / drive then perhaps google keep is a useful extra tool? It's very much like Evernote. Mobile apps/widgets etc. Everything gets automatically stored in drive.
posted by Joeruckus at 4:31 AM on August 10, 2014

Evernote does look interesting. Are there any concerns with extracting your own data from Evernote for use in other programs, otherwise manipulating it or for providing a bit of security should Evernote go belly up?

In all seriousness, I find the simplicity and lack of formatting options in Evernote to be really limiting at times - but that does makes its notes dead-simple to shift out into other formats, email around, etc, etc.
posted by Tomorrowful at 4:56 AM on August 10, 2014

One more suggestion for Evernote; it's the first thing I thought of when I read the question. Backing up by exporting to XML or HTML is simple. And, it's probably the most-well-established cloud note company out there, which hopefully assuages some of your longevity concern: it's been around since 2008, which is forever in internet years.
posted by The Michael The at 6:06 AM on August 10, 2014

Even though Evernote has been around forever in Internet years, and by all accounts is a solid service and solid company, I'd still be nervous counting on the free version of anything that important to me. Use the paid service so you have access to support should something go wrong, and so that you are helping a company that provides such a valuable service to you.
posted by COD at 6:26 AM on August 10, 2014

Yeah, this is what Evernote is for.
posted by dmd at 6:44 AM on August 10, 2014

Another vote for Evernote and its kin; I believe Evernote is the most universally-compatible of them.
posted by stormyteal at 6:50 AM on August 10, 2014

One more vote for Evernote. Been using it for 10 years and I just keep putting more and more into it. I use it for personal, work, recipes, everything. I upgrade to Premium occasionally when I am putting a lot of stuff into it (documents, pdfs, etc.) but I use it on a free basis most of the time.
posted by kdern at 10:12 AM on August 10, 2014

Can I ask a question about Evernote: on your phone or ipad, can you make a new note or edit an existing note if you don't have internet access right then? Will it just store somewhere on the phone and then sync later? Or do you have to have access before you can make a note?
posted by CathyG at 1:04 PM on August 10, 2014

I just put my phone in airplane mode to try it. It lets me make notes with no problem (there's a little indicator in the corner that it hasn't yet been synced). I cannot read existing notes without upgrading to premium, which I actually have been meaning to do.

That makes me wonder about storage, though. I wouldn't want everything stored on my phone because it's a lot of crap.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:26 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can answer that because my kid deleted my app and I had to reinstall it. Afaik Evernote stores the text parts locally which is less than 140mb on my phone and I'm a heavy Evernote user, but almost all attachments get downloaded from the cloud only when I access them from the phone. It's a surprisingly small footprint, annoying if you're offline and need an attachment but that's a compromise.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:01 PM on August 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I cannot read existing notes without upgrading to premium, which I actually have been meaning to do.

Are you sure about that, Lyn Never? I use free Evernote and have no problem accessing my notes from the app while in airplane mode, assuming they were synced before disconnecting. Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you're saying. Anyway, yet another vote for Evernote.
posted by Snerd at 3:07 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I went back into Airplane mode and I can read the text note I made in Airplane mode earlier, but anything else I click on it gives me a big icon of an airplane and says "You are not connected to the internet. Upgrade to Premium to access your notes fast whenever you need them, even without a network connection."

I have not looked to see if there's any settings I can change on my phone or account to do anything different.

I tried a couple of recipes I know I have opened on my phone specifically in the past couple of months but I get the same message.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:25 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

On further review, it looks like the only Evernote entries I can retrieve while offline are simple text notes (which 90% of mine are). Like viggorlijah said, and this Evernote forum post agrees, full access is limited to paid accounts. Sorry about the erroneous derail.
posted by Snerd at 5:15 PM on August 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Evernote is proving interesting and I'll see if I can persist with it, but the arbitrary limit of organisation imposed by stacks, notebooks and then notes is really doing my head in. Folders, subfolders and tags would be simpler and way more versatile.
posted by deadwax at 8:45 PM on August 25, 2014

Just use one giant notebook (which makes the web clipper essentially two-click to use) and tags. It's probably been 2 years since I've really used more than 2 notebooks, and that's just because I share my Recipe notebook with a couple of people and would prefer not to also share my writing notes, photos of work paperwork, etc with them.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:58 AM on August 26, 2014

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