May 12, 2006

Information overload

As you go through life, one thing that you don’t stop accumulating (besides bills :p) is information. Now if you’re one of those people who can keep all that useful (and useless) information in your noggin, the more power to you. Me, I prefer to rely on one of Sherlock Holmes‘ maxims – as Holmes himself says in "A Study in Scarlet": "I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

So what do I do to not fill up my brain attic with useless information? Why, store it all on the computer of course :p The problem with storing information on the computer is that you have to remember where you stored the information in the first place 🙂 The easiest way to solve that problem is to have all your information in one place. So I began using TreePad a long, long time ago. In those days, the app was free and it was fairly straightforward – you saved text in a file which represented various folders and branches of information in a treeview.

For close to ten years, TreePad was all that I used. But during that time, TreePad itself evolved, spawned new versions, added new features and my information capturing needs changed as well. A year or so ago, I looked at what was available for capturing, storing and organizing information and after going through several possible candidates, I selected TreeDBNotes. One of the reasons for my switch was the much better interface on TreeDBNotes, but that wasn’t the only reason :p I believe it was also cheaper, had more in the way of features and it was free to upgrade. I’ve been using TreeDBNotes for a year now and have been perfectly happy with it but a few days ago, I got that old itch to change information managers :p

The reason? The tree paradigm no longer cuts it for me. Sure, I can organize information into different tabs of trees and different branches in each tree but I still have to remember which tab or which branch holds the information I want :p For instance, I have like 4-5 tabs in my TreeDBNotes file – for work, writing, personal information, passwords etc. On the work tab, I have different branches for the different things I work with – mysql, Plesk, cPanel, qMail and so on. But what happens when I have a bit of information that relates to mySQL under Plesk? Do I put it in the Plesk branch or the mySQL branch? Sure, I can put it in one or the other and put a bookmark to it from the other location but that is a lot of work and I still have to remember where to look for the information the next time I need it. Or I have to keep hitting "Search" and hope that I know what to search for :p

So I began thinking of a keyword based information manager. Simply store the information but tag the information with keywords. So, for the above scenario I described, the bit of information would have both the mySQL and Plesk keywords and I’d find it no matter which keyword I used. Simple right? Well, not quite :p The problem is that such information managers don’t appear to be there yet. Or if they are, they are either very expensive and meant for the corporate market or not very user-friendly. About the closest approximation to what I want, that I’ve been able to find, are Personal Knowbase and knowledgeBase. But they each have their own shortcomings. Yes, I’m picky :p So I’m still in search of that perfect information management tool …

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Tags: Books, Software
Posted by Fahim at 8:06 am   Comments (1)