Indexing Index Cards
January 23, 2004 4:26 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a Mac program for organizing and storing research index cards. (More inside.)

I write a lot of research papers and use the time-honored index card method, in which I write down information I find along with its bibliographic info on index cards, then later shuffle them around to build a rough outline. But my handwriting is slow and terrible, and I would much rather do all of this on the laptop so I can work faster and without having to spend time deciphering my scrawl.

There seems to be a Windows program that does exactly what I want, as far as I can tell. But I'm a Mac user (OS X at that). I have already tried using StickyBrain, Circus Ponies Notebook, and other similar organization programs. But they are all too clunky for my purposes.

I think what I need is a program specifically intended for this use instead of one that can "organize anything" -- because I keep having to spend time configuring stuff when all I want to do is get those notes down and then shuffle them around.

Basically, I want this:

Index cards that will each contain
1. Source of an item
2. Author of said source
3. Topic of an item
4. Content of an item
5. Color coding indicating whether the card is a direct quotation, a cross reference, or neither (on paper I use colored index cards for this)
6. Space for added comments

1. Cards can be arranged alphabetically (by topic, source, author) or in any other order I choose
2. The ability to visually shuffle the cards around on screen -- perhaps by having them shrink down, Expose-like, to thumbnails that only show the topic, etc., and then they can be rearranged.
3. The ability to print as cards that I can then shuffle around the old-fashioned way or carry around with me. In card size, card format. (2 per page, say.)
4. Cards can be cross-referenced to multiple topics, etc.
5. Full-text searching.
6. Exporting of MLA-format bibliographies from a given card stack. (There are programs that do this but not all the other stuff too.)
7. Exporting of card text (.txt is fine, but other stuff like .html would be a neat bonus)
8. Cards might be able to contain image files or other media. But this is a lower priority for me.

I've Google-searched and found nothing. I even tried creating a program like this in RealBasic but I just don't know enough code to make it work.

So... does anyone know of a program I'm missing? Right now I can take notes on the laptop, but it's way more kludgy than a dedicated index card program would be. I figure there's got to be something like this out there somewhere, even if I have to run Classic to do it. Thanks.
posted by litlnemo to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Well, now I'm a little irritated with myself. When I searched before I found nothing, but just now I managed to find a Classic program, at least, that does some of what I want, though I wouldn't call it ideal. So that might help a bit. I am still looking for an OS X program that does this, though, and haven't yet turned up anything. The main problem is that searches for this seem to turn up pages that list the Windows program I mentioned in my question, even when I try to search for Mac software.
posted by litlnemo at 5:25 AM on January 23, 2004

I can't directly answer this question. Normally I'd look at hyperjeff's application index. It's very nicely organize and has the advantage of being OS X only. Unfortunately I can't reach it from work (he is down occasionally but he always comes back within a day or so)

One thing that I've played with on linux but never on OS X yet is Open Office. It has a rather nice system for building databases so you don't need to learn how to code. You'd just have to figure out what records would be useful and point and click your way to an implementation. Their spreadsheet and/or word processor could then spit out coloured index cards.
posted by substrate at 5:47 AM on January 23, 2004

HyperJeff is up, maybe look at NoteWorthy or ReferenceWorker.

Hope this helps.
posted by substrate at 7:12 AM on January 23, 2004

As far as the MLA-format bibliographies go, I used a program once called Bibliographer X to do that. Not sure how robustly it handles importing/exporting of data from other sources, it's kind of kludgy.

It would be fairly trivial (if you had the time/energy) to write a FileMaker database that would hit all of your feature requests except the manual-shuffling-visual-representations-of-cards-on-screen bit. But FileMaker is a bit expensive if you don't already have it/have access to it.
posted by bcwinters at 7:33 AM on January 23, 2004

It also sounds like something that could be done with a custom Filemaker database, although the visual shuffling-around part might require some ingenuity. [After preview, I see bcwinters says the same.]

Incidentally, where I work we're in the process of scanning and keying 125,000 three-by-five cards. When I get the scanned data, I'm just going to dump it on an SFTP server and rearrange the cards in the directories. Each card will be uniquely numbered, matching an XML record in the keyed data.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:39 AM on January 23, 2004

Have you looked at Zoot? It's been around forever and seems to get raves. It's billed as good for organizing digital info, but I'm sure it can use info you input as well.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:53 AM on January 23, 2004

Whoops, Zoot is Windows-only. Well, maybe that helps somebody else.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:04 AM on January 23, 2004

Again, it wouldn't have the onscreen shuffling (unless you got into some industrial-strength javascript...hmm), but you could also do this using good blogging software, like Movable Type (which I'm most familiar with), Nucleus, Pmachine, etc, and since you're on OSX, you could even run them locally, rather than on a remote webserver. Each card becomes a blog entry, which can have categories, keywords, titles, etc, assigned.

With MT, you'd need to do a little tweaking to deal with some of the specific fields of data you need, but you'd have quite a lot of flexibility in slicing and dicing your cards and presenting the data.
posted by adamrice at 8:14 AM on January 23, 2004

If you're willing to pay some money you might want to take a look at Tinderbox. It's very slick and extremely flexible/customizable. You might have to do a some work at the outset learning it and setting up your categories and whatnot, but once you've done that it is very intuitive and allows many different views of your data. Downside: $145. Ouch. There's a limited demo for download (restricts number of entries).
posted by finn at 1:47 PM on January 23, 2004

Tinderbox. I forgot about that--that deserves a good look.
posted by adamrice at 5:07 PM on January 23, 2004

Response by poster: There is another program very much like Tinderbox that I was experimenting with (darn it, can't remember the name), but I didn't like it for this purpose. That could just be the way my brain works, though. :) The idea is great but somehow I wasn't comfortable with the interface. And Tinderbox is oh so expensive.

Using MT seems odd for this -- I'd love to see an example of something similar. Maybe I'm just having trouble visualizing this non-traditional use for blog software. It would be missing some of the features I want, I imagine. (I am running WordPress blog software now; I wonder if I could do something interesting with that?)

I don't have FileMaker, though several people (not just here) have suggested it for this. Pricy, you say? Darn.

Someone e-mailed me HyperNote which is a HyperCard stack. I haven't tried it yet, but I suppose it might work. Of course, it's ooooooooold. But HyperCard stacks run pretty well under OS X.

The Classic program I mentioned earlier seems to work, now that I've experimented with it, but when I print out the cards it doesn't include the page numbers of the citations even though it has a field for them in the card. Hmph.

Thanks for the links from HyperJeff. I will check them out later tonight. In fact, I wasn't even familiar with HyperJeff, so that's a good resource to know about anyway. :)

Thanks all for the comments so far. I wish I could code so I could complete my RealBasic version.
posted by litlnemo at 6:49 PM on January 23, 2004

Response by poster: Follow up to the suggestions above:

Reference Worker seems to be just a bibliography generation tool, which isn't what I'm looking for (I want that feature as part of the whole, though). NoteWorthy looks like it might work, but I am waiting to be approved to run the beta. I will report back.
posted by litlnemo at 3:58 PM on January 29, 2004

This thread is probably dead now, but how about this: iOrganize ?
posted by finn at 9:37 AM on February 9, 2004

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