The mess with notes

I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog that I am in search for the perfect note taking application. I’ve tried everything and anything and I’m still not satisfied. Some of the things that I tried to work with include: pen and paper, Google Notebook, knotes, TomBoy, Basket, text files, and GMail. Each of these has its pros and cons.

Pen and paper is by far the easiest to use. No learning curve, great flexibility (text, pictures, charts, mind maps, etc), color support, mobile, etc. Google Notebook and Basket provide for nice organization of notes into books and chapters.  knotes and TomBoy are one key press away, integrated with the desktop, faster than any online application, and look cool like the yellow sticky notes.  GMail helps to keep everything together, in one place, and has great search, and is easy as easy to use as email can be.  Text files have the greatest flexibility as they can be processed by all those command line tools…

And still, I’m not happy.

After thinking more about it, I guess the issue is not in the applications, but in myself.  I am trying to centralize as much stuff as possible, keep it all in one location, and that create plenty o’mess.  No matter how good the search is or how nicely the application organizes notes, after using it for just a few days I end up with many lose ends, which I have no way to control.

It reminds me of an argument album people often have with tag people.  When organizing images, some people love hierarchies, which are easy to do with albums (and sub-albums, and so forth).  Others hate hierarchy and just tag the heck out of their pictures.  You can have as many tags attached to the picture as you want and that makes it easier to find.  To some.  Flickr made something equally good for both groups, and for the smaller third group which doesn’t even know what it wants.  You can tag, you can put pictures in sets (albums), you can organize sets into collections (albums of albums).  Each picture can have plenty tags, can belong to many sets, and each set can belong to many collections.  And there is a search on top of that (tags, titles, descriptions).  And there is archive browsing by date.  And there are favorites, RSS feeds, and more.   It’s difficult to imagine an organization of images which cannot be supported by Flickr.

But images are a well defined format.  And it helps a lot that hardware and software that create or modify images usually provide plenty of meta data – date and time, equipment type, versions, sizes, thumbnails, settings, locations, etc.

Notes are not as well defined.  Sometimes notes are short pieces of texts.  Sometimes images. Sometime  images with text.  Sometimes links.  Sometimes videos or sounds.  The length can vary a lot – from  a couple of words to a few pages.  Sometimes they need titles, sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes I write notes myself, while other times I quote somebody. Yet at some others I quote somebody with my notes.  Most of the times notes are too short for me to spend a lot of time creating meta data (keywords, dates, etc).

That makes notes a difficult problem to solve.  Separation seems like a good idea. But it easily gets out of control too.  When I keep bookmarks in one place, favorite images in another, favorite quotes in another, it takes me a lot of time to find things.  And then I get into conflicts as to where to file the note – if it’s a quote with a link, for example, should it go into quotes or links?

One thing I am still trying out is keeping notes in separate places and aggregating them all into a single location.  For now I have two applications that somewhat help me handle this task – WordPress running my blog, and Google Reader.  Again, both have pros and cons, an the whole approach is shaky.  But I’m trying…

Am I the only one who has this problem?

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