Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Index cards (knowledge base) software

I'm thinking of writing something cool and long, like a review. And it would be nice to do it properly, organization-wise. But I'm not actually sure what would "properly" mean here. I guess the general question is: how to maintain your knowledge database; how to keep in order all those various thing you learn from the literature, and how to make it usable when you need to write something about it.

An ideal system would probably have the following features:

  1. It should look somewhat like a bunch of index card, so that you could put ideas, statements, thoughts, quotes and sources there.
  2. But it should be fully computerized, as I don't want to handle any real paper objects.
  3. Ideally - you should be able to keep both your writing (notes, ideas) and your long-term stuff (quotes, sources) in the same system.

    Then also go some technical considerations:
  4. I should be able to make back-ups easily (have control over the data)
  5. It should work offline (as I'm sometimes too distracted when online)
  6. It should be forward-compatible (it would be silly to start creating a knowledge database in an abandoned obsolete software).
  7. You should be able to "publish" your final text in a readable editable form (as a long Word document or something of this kind).
So far I have the following options as potential solutions:
  1. Scrivener. I kind of like what I hear about it, but I'm not sure it would be good as a knowledge database.
  2. Personal wiki (following this great advice). It provides nice functionality (you can really organize everything properly!), but I'm not sure what software to use for it.
  3. One Note. This Microsoft office tool turned to be really fantastic! And also it is de-facto free, as you get it together with the Microsoft Office, with Word and Excel, that you have to have anyway. It actually combines the index cards look with personal wiki functionality. So far that's the potential winner. There are some drawbacks though: you can not export the whole notebook as one long text document; it is not easy to edit texts longer than 1 paragraph; and most importantly: I'm not quite sure it's going to be supported by Microsoft in the future, as it lies in complete obscurity for several years already. It's really good, so why would not they advertise it more? It's kind of unnerving.
  4. Endnote. Doesn't provide index cards functionality (interface). Also a huge drawback with this one is that I down't own a license (it's expensive, and is provided by the university), and thus I can not really invest into it.
  5. Mendeley. Seems to be a nice free alternative, but the "Notes" field is too hard to access, so - no index card functionality again.
  6. Access (personal database). Seems to be a bulky, but viable solution.
  7. Excel. That's what I'm doing so far. It is scalable, portable, higly visual, and generally very nice. The problems are: you need to keep your notes short if you wan't them to be easily exportable; it's hard to organize a 3-layered structure of "Topic / Idea / Sources" that I envision.
So overall I'm still undecided. I would probably go with a simple text-based personal wiki if only I could be sure about forward compatibility and future support. This thing, this database, would essentially become my external brain and external memory. I don't want to lose it 2-3 years from now for some stupid technical reasons.

1 comment:

  1. I would also suggest ConnectedText. It matches your criteria.