Tooling up

flickr photo by florianric shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I’ve been casting around for a tool to address a shortcoming in my workflow. When following up links to articles/posts/research, I often come across additional interesting nuggets that might be useful later. However in the interests of productivity and to avoid getting side-tracked, I simply want to bookmark them and perhaps record a quick note. ‘Marginal Notes’ serves a different purpose, allowing for more extended reflections and observations, so here is not the place for that.

My first thought then was Diigo, a social bookmarking application which I’ve been using actively for a number of years; it offers tags and lists to organise posts, plus the facility to annotate the pages you bookmark. And yet it didn’t quite cut it, being the place where I store all my links covering an eclectic mix of topics. Google Keep perhaps then? Hmmm. That’s currently addressing my need for a ‘to do’ list, reminding me of the things I’ve seen or thunk which I want to take further.

What I was chasing then was something new, a tool that wasn’t already fulfilling a different need and would therefore need bending to serve this new purpose. If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably already mentally screamed OneNote or Evernote. Well yes, but I have two words – overkill and price. Both are incredibly capable products and would address this need and bring together these aspects of my workflow under a single umbrella BUT …
well it’s the old debate between the affordances of a multi-function device which brings together a host of features in a single platform, but inevitably has to compromise on certain tasks, versus different tools designed specifically for each task. It’s a generalist – specificist argument. I have an mp3 player, digital camera, GPS-enabled fitness device, ebook reader, mobile phone, alarm clock, laptop, tablet and computer. You can see where I’m going with this; so no, OneNote and Evernote weren’t even on the table, even before we came to cost!

Back to the drawing board then, or perhaps even further back? What was it I actually wanted? Well it was about seeing something (online or off) and wanting to quickly (one or two clicks) capture it, (from whichever device I was using) comment on it (possibly then, possibly later), categorise it (for subsequent filtering) … and of course share it. This last bit perhaps didn’t ought to matter, but for me it does. It’s about curation; the act of making sense of the wealth of information we come across, but with the option to make it of potential value to others too. That then ruled out SimpleNote which I like because … it’s simple – you write notes, tag them and publish those you wish to make public. Fine if all you want is the notes, but I specifically wanted a snippet of the original post/article to accompany my reflections.

Just as I’d made my final selection, which I’ll come to shortly, I caught this post from Miguel Guhlin, a well-known learning technologies advocate. He suggests that ‘Mammoth‘ offers an alternative to Evernote and as I value his opinion (I’m sure there’s a social capital or actor-network theory perspective lurking in there somewhere) I checked it out. It is good and does indeed make the job of adding content simple, whether that’s a link, image, video, document or plain note. Just drag and drop. Sharing and publishing are similarly straightforward, though the collaboration function seems to need a little smoothing (Mammoth is currently in beta to be fair). The problem for me is that the content placeholders are ‘boards’ – think Pinterest. This means that you have to have boards set up to add content, or create them as you go and as a result, your content gets distributed across them; that’s not what I was after.

Last man standing was Tumblr. It’s a tool I’ve been aware of for a while, but never found a particular need for. A blogging service, but one which seems to make the process of reblogging as simple as possible. With a couple of clicks, a post which catches my eye can be reposted, tagged and commented on. Posts can be created from a blank canvas, from a video, audio, link or quote. Posts are archived in a visual and systematic way, enabling easy retrieval. It’s available in app format for mobile devices. Tumblr it is then and we’ll see how it goes.

Observation: I mentioned in the opening of the post ‘workflow’ and this prompted me to think about it more carefully. As I explained earlier, I’m predisposed to use a wide range of tools, each fulfilling a particular need. For me this isn’t a problem and bolsters my productivity I’d argue, however I’m currently only using a fraction of the complete toolset I’ll ultimately need.  I’m also well aware that as the research unfolds and things scale up, it will be crucial to know where everything is and be able to seamlessly access information across locations. To that end I need to have planned an efficient workflow, where the various elements work together. With that, I’ll add a Google Keep note to remind me this topic needs discussing in a future post.


2 thoughts on “Tooling up

  1. Hi Ian,
    I am with you on the one-thing-well approach to software, but I do like my multi functional iPhone on the hardware side I am afraid. Reading your post made me realise why, despite a few attempts Evernote and the like have never stuck with me.
    Now you are on Tumblr you might like to follow which posts about tools that do one thing. A lot of server tools and the like but many gems for workflow too.
    My Colleague, Ian Stuart, would feel let down if I didn’t mention that OneNote if free on at least some platforms now.
    On workflow I like pinboard, inoreader and other single purpose things and linking them up with their own tools and IFTTT.


    • Thanks for those pointers John; some new ones for me there. And I’d not thought about linking them through IFTTT, other than for pulling rudimentary data from Twitter. Much to ponder.

      I think the general-specific tool choice dichotomy can only be addressed on a personal level and there is of course no right or wrong answer.

      OneNote definitely has a lot going for it and many who undertake research swear by it. If I was less comfortable switching between platforms, I don’t doubt I’d lean towards it.


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