NB: Make a Note

There are some people — well, there used to be — who keep their notes in a notebook and keep their notebooks. (Some even pass them on to posterity.) But that was then, and, Moleskine notwithstanding, this is now. Paper may be passé, the urge to note, however, is still with us; and because the brain is no larger than it once was, despite all the pushing this way and that from importunate data, notes must be recorded externally somehow. I use scraps of paper left strategically in key places, post-its glued at eye level, Stickies on my computer screen, emails to myself, voice mails to myself, and at least three computer applications: the ugly face of progress, you might think. What to do?

Well, maybe nothing. If your modus notandi works, why mess with it? Yet I continue to dream of a single perfect system, one that is there at a single key stroke, cleverer than I am at organization, able to be searched by fuzzy or any other kind of logic, and simply omnipresent. Oh yes: and beautiful.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the folks at MIT know about my ways and are already thinking about my requirements. The Haystack Group (as in “a needle in a…”) does “Research on Information Access, Analysis, Management, and Distribution.” And their goal is nothing less than my dream:

…to make it easier for people to collect, organize, find, visualize, and share their information… The data people use in the real world is rarely …well-formed. It is full of exceptions and idiosyncrasies. Our group develops tools for the web and desktop that can flex to hold and present whatever information a user considers important, in whatever way the user considers most effective.

There’s not a lot available from them at the moment. (ListIt is an add-on for Firefox that might have some utility for you; it is, of course, simply a program to test certain aspects of noting.) But the research papers on something called Jourknow are filled with promise. The app under development starts where I am: with “information scraps,” and “associates your notes with contextual information, like where you were and who you were chatting with, helps you organize scattered thoughts like recipes, and forwards your thoughts into the appropriate applications.” Rock on, I say.

In the meanwhile, Evernote must do. We’ve only mentioned this program in passing in a couple of comments, and it deserves a bit of direct attention. It’s a cross platform application that lets you create notes and copy files of any format, going so far as to perform OCR on legible text in images, which opens up a world of note-taking via smart phone cameras. Your data is synced via the Evernote server, so you have access whenever there’s an internet connection; and there’s a client app for Mac and Windows PCs, as well as the iPhone and Windows Mobile phones. You can clip in notes from your browser or email in notes with image or audio files attached. It’s not yet perfect — the “WebClipper” bookmarklet could use some work, integration with other apps like calendars or contact databases would be good, and I’d like to be able to phone in a note directly, the way you could with Jott, for example — but my sense of it is that Evernote has become the notetaker to watch, and so further development is pretty much guaranteed. (And the little elephant-head logo is darned cute.)

What’s your note-taking strategy? Have you found a different application that is doing it for you? Let us know. Send us a note.


  1. Love Evernote – use it as a web-clipper all the time. Wish it was better handling PDFs, but what the hell.
    Am still using OneNote for some things – nice Integration with other MS tools. OneNote was a brilliant, but undermarketed innovation.

    And my daughter (she of Web 2.0) just asked for a Filofax showing that some good ideas will endure. I bought some lovely blank notebooks in Pondicherry and am simply waiting for time to start. Somethings require pen and ink.