Information scraps


12/16/2008

A new article on Physorg.com, Digging out from piles of sticky notes describes a real problem: how do you manage and track a wide variety of disparate information? The real world isn't limited to to-do lists, phone numbers, and addresses. You may be interested in everything from guitar chords to notes on f-stops and shutter speeds to fantasy football rosters or drafts of ideas to blog.

These researchers point out that lightweight capture is important -- if takes too much time or effort, folks won't bother at all, and the information can get lost (or worse, relegated to a drooping sticky note on the side of your monitor). But the inherent problem, they note, is that we tend to use different applications depending on the sort of data we're working with. So you have a to-do list app for things to do, a calendar app for dates and reminders, and so on.

While they are working on the research and solutions, there's a very simple and effective solution that has worked very well for me: a personal wiki.

Instead of a web-based wiki, using something local. I prefer using a text editor in Wiki mode; Emacs came with a very usable wiki-mode, and you can do the same sort of thing in vi, or TextMate, or any editor that allows you to write sufficiently-rich macros.

Each page is unstructured plain text, so there are no limits to what you can add. By using WikiWords to link pages together, a structure to your notes will emerge that makes sense to you.

To make sure I don't lose notes that are time sensitive, I put special tags in the notes with dates, and a script runs through and builds up a calendar display and/or to-list from all the bits and pieces scattered through the wiki. Everything is stored in plain text, and is under version control (CVS, for historical reasons). It's a little crude, but it's effective.

/\ndy

Thanks to Mark Hutchinson for pointing out the article.



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