The 20th century
Ever since my school days, I have been taking and keeping notes. For many years, these notes were solely analogue (on paper). Later on, they were supplemented with digital texts on desktop PC’s. After I bought a Psion PDA in the nineties, I started to use the application Notepad Deluxe (now abandonware) to enter, store and search notes. It was a great app, with linking capabilities, almost like a mindmap, but not graphical.
Requirements for a note keeping system
For me, and I believe these things are personal, the ideal platform has to be portable, computer independent but secure, and preferably digital.
Portable, because it is great to be able to make a note when I am away from a computer. At the moment, I use my Treo 680 for this and applications like Notestudio (which the makers to my disappointment have stopped developing). The mobile searching of notes, like with a smartphone, is less important, however this can come in handy sometimes as well.
Computer independent: ever since the coming of Web2.0 applications like Gmail, Google docs and Mindmeister, I have gotten used to the fact that my data is online and can be reached from every connected computer, be it from the PC downstairs or upstairs at home, from my laptop in the train or from a computer of a customer. Once you are used to this, you don’t want to go back. Therefore, for keeping notes, an online wiki or other Web2.0 site would be great.
The matter of confidentiality
I feel there are a couple of disadvantages to keeping all your notes or other data on a Web 2.0 site. One of them (besides backups) is that my notes often contain restricted information about customers computer networks and IT architecture and I do not want to put them in the hands of a possibly insecure provider, even if this site features encryption of the data and the connection. So, the best way to solve this is to keep the customer-related notes in a separate, encrypted store on the hard drive of my laptop. The application that I have used for this for several years now is Treepad, which is also available for Linux and can be run from a USB stick.
What about online file storage, like Mediamax and iBackup, Skydrive of Microsoft or the storage that Google is preparing for its customers? If I put my encrypted Treepad files there, would they be safe? Maybe, but I still do not want to take the risk of trusting a companies IT designs to an outside hosting provider.
The advantages of digital notes
Digital notes can be searched, which is why it is good to keep them all in the same bucket, so that you do not have to search in several locations. Digital notes can also be backed up more easily, since making a digital backup is easier than scanning in handwritten notes. What I also like, is to copy and paste computer commands, difficult strings and other hard to remember stuff right from a website into my notes. If you want to keep those on paper by copying them from the screen by hand, I think this is asking for trouble in the form of writing errors. Can digital notes be portable? Yes, if you can access them with a smartphone.
What digital information not to keep as a note
Contact information, I use Google contacts for this and sync them to my smartphone with Goosync. For calendar info, I use Goosync too. Passwords: for this I use eWallet of Iliumsoft and keep them synced. Mindmaps: I keep these on Mindmeister, when they are not work related and I use Freemind with local files (on harddrive or USB stick) when they contain restricted information. To do’s and project lists: for these I use Life balance on my PDA, but I am looking into applications like Nozbe, because with Life Balance, you are restricted to keeping them synced to a single computer if you want to avoid synchronization errors.
Using my Treo, I have tested the readability of Wikipedia (MediaWiki) on a smartphone browser. To my surprise, the texts can be read very well. That’s why I intend to install MediaWiki on a webserver someday and put all my not-restricted notes there. I will definitely use password protection, because wiki’s are very vulnerable to pollution by spammers.
Accessing your notes during a meeting.
What notes should be readable during meetings? In the teams where I work, it is custom to take your laptop to a meeting. But if there is no place for laptops or it is just not that kind of meeting, what can you do? Mediawiki and Notestudio notes can be read on my Palm during a meeting, but not the confidential notes about customers projects, servers, databases and so on, because I do not want to keep them online and they are on my laptop or encrypted on my USB stick. In that case, I can compile an abstract of relevant notes for the meeting, print it out and shred the paper afterwards.