Tools to Manage Information On Your Personal Hard Drive

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,

I have been battling the management of information on my personal hard drive on my TiBook. This is one element in my Personal Info Cloud (a self-organized information system that is managed by me and is there to assist me when I need information). I have been finding that my organizational structure is lacking on my hard drive as I have cross-purposes for the information.

An example is I am writing an article and I need to track down a journal article I have downloaded to my hard drive in the past. I store research info on my hard drive in directories by topic areas, such as an IA/UCD directory holding directories on user testing, facets, interaction design, etc. There are times when I am working on an article or essay and have stored helpful resources in a research directory in that project's directory, as I like to have information in close proximity to what I am working on. For each idea I am working on I nearly always have an outline building in OmniOutliner format and at least one graphical representation of the issue at hand, done in OmniGraffle. These two or more data sources are the foundation, along with research that help me further formulate the ideas.

I have gone far beyond what folders can offer, even using soft/symbolic links does not help me greatly. These files need metadata so that they can be better stored for searching, but they also need a project home. The project home should allow for note taking and links to files that are on my hard drive as well as external hyper links.

I have a handful of candidates that have been suggested over this past week from friends at the IA Summit in Austin or once I returned home. I will be downloading and trying them beginning next week (post Christening).

The Candidates

I have already loaded Curio and been trying it for a little more than a week. The tool is not as integrated as I would like. I have not had success dropping PDF or OmniGraffle files into the Idea Space. The external files are held in an organizer, but I can not annotate these files in a more direct manner. The Idea Space is much like a lightweight OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner, which I have and are better tools. I do like the Dossier, which is a questionairre for each project, but I would like to have more than one available for each project as it currently seems is the limit.

James showed me his implementation of iView, which is mostly a digital asset management system. James does most of his thinking in a notebook (possibly a moleskin) and is filled with text and wonderful drawings to capture his ideas. James in turn scans the contents of his notebook into his laptop and uses iView to annotate and view his ideas. The digital assets can be annotated and then sorted and grouped. This seems like it would work for some of my information, but not everything for me. I have not had a scanner for about a year and have not been used to having our new scanner available again so that I could scan in my graph paper notebook.

Jesse brought up VoodooPad as an option. VoodooPad is built on a Wiki technology. I am not a fan of Wiki technology for group project tracking, but for self annotation and having the ability to link to files on my hard drive by drag-and-drop I can see the value. Tanya mentioned she had a similar system using a personal Wiki that worked very well for herself in new environments. VoodooPad may be my next try as I really like having the ability to cross-link ideas.

I have been trying StickyBrain 2 for a few months now, but I have not been fully dedicated to trying it. The initial idea behind StickyBrain works for me, but the interface and the junk preloaded in it have cluttered the interface before I even began. The interface to add info into StickyBrian is very nice as it is in the mouse-related menu (right mouse click for those with such devices). Content in StickyBrain can be categorized, but that can get out of hand. StickyBrain also as a search tool, but unless I have annotated the information correctly, I do not always do so, I can not find it.

Bryan suggested AquaMinds NoteTaker, which I have not seen in action, but the site does offer very good movies that explain how information is entered and how the too can be used. To some degree this is how I use OmniOutliner, but NoteTaker seems to have far more functionality. This will be one I try and compare to OmniOutliner.

Lastly is Tinderbox a note taking tool and idea organizer. Tinderbox's strengths seem to be based on getting this information on to the Web, which is not my initial need. I know a couple people who have been very happy with Tinderbox in the past, but I do not know if they are still using Tinderbox. I looked at this tool when I was thinking about a change from my weblogging tool that I build, but I was not thinking in terms of finding a tool to better organize my digital thoughts and artifacts of thought.


I will be downloading these of the next couple weeks and I will be writing reviews on them as I try them. I have a couple articles and other items due in the next couple weeks so I may be texting by fire and not having too much time to summarize the results of my testing.