(Confession: I used Wordstar back in the days when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.)
Eventually my hard disk became a battle zone. Documents with incompatible structures and warring formats littered the charred landscape. Often I couldn’t even open the older files.
To writers and idea entrepreneurs, this is perilous. Buried in all that digital detritus are veins of pure gold: Unpublished drafts. Still-relevant research. Glittering anecdotes. Sparkling quotes. Material that could be recycled, re-used, and re-sold.
At some point we face the task of poking through our electronic trash to extract the gems. But the effort is doomed unless we move them into a trusted system where nothing ever gets lost again.
The perils of “big bucket” apps
In my search for solutions, I first turned to apps that are specifically designed to house huge collections of notes. I call them “big bucket” apps because in many cases you can throw just about anything in them — photos, PDFs, web pages, and anything else in digital form.
Among these apps are:
Apps like these are intoxicating. I’ve spent entire days playing with them — importing my data, tinkering with features, and marveling at gorgeous interfaces.
In the end, I abandoned them all.
Why? Because of their inherent shortcomings:
- Uncertainty. At any time, developers can lose interest or companies can go out out of business. Result: your app gets abandoned.
- Inflexibility. No matter what the developers claim, you eventually outgrow the features and file limits that the apps impose.
- Imprisonment. You get locked in to a proprietary data base. If you ever decide to export your notes to another app or different file format — well, good luck. You might face hours of mind-numbing copy-and-paste operations.
In short, using big bucket apps means that your life’s work is stuck in someone else’s app, subject to their preferences and schedule.
Seven goals of personal information management
When it comes to managing my ideas, what I want is a set of tools that is:
- Agnostic — usable on any platform and not tied to a specific app
- Future-proof — usable for the long-term with whatever platforms and operating systems emerge in the future
- Portable — allowing me to easily export and import notes
- Lightweight — storing notes in smaller, more efficient files
- Flexible — accepting files that range in size from a few words to a book-length manuscript
- Accessible — allowing me to open, edit, and save files with any computer or mobile device
- Free or inexpensive — based on apps that I already own, such as those that were shipped with my computer, or apps that don’t cost much
My solution is a system of plain-text files stored in the “cloud.” I’ll write more about this in my next post. For now, check out Organize Your Ideas With Plain Text Files.
Note: This post was inspired by a long, nerdy, and delicious article from Douglas Barone.