I have been taking notes for a long time and I have used a great many note taking programs over the years (before the age of computers I used 5″ x 7″ cards). I have amassed a large number of notes, some of them static (information), some of them are just stored as a record of past projects (the archive) but many of them constantly being updated. There are two programs I currently use, one of them is called ‘ConnectedText’. The other program I am using is called ‘WhizFolders’. At some point in the future I will only be using one program for note taking but I have yet to decide which one, both of them have different strengths and weaknesses.
Some note taking programs use a hierarchical tree structure for the classification of notes and that approach is useful when the number of notes is relatively small. If you have a hundred data items, it is reasonably easy to organise them into some sort of a branching tree structure, similar to files organized in folders on a hard disk. However when you reach five hundred to one thousand notes, it becomes more difficult to find the item you are looking for as many records will belong to several categories.
You may be able to see all the entries belonging to one particular branch of the tree but you won’t easily be able to see a list of items related to a topic spanning many categories. As the number of notes grows into the thousands (currently I have about five thousand notes) it becomes exponentially harder to isolate a set of notes related by some obscure characteristic. It is also harder to place notes into the tree structure because you have to choose the most important category from among many possible categories. Full-text search helps but it will often produce a set of results that is either much too big or too small. It is particularly difficult to use a text search if you’re looking for a set of related items instead of just one item.
The best solution to this problem is to use ‘tagging’, notes are tagged with a set of keywords describing their salient characteristics. With tagging you don’t have to decide which is the most significant characteristic of a note you can tag it with all of its characteristics and then it will appear wherever it is appropriate for it to appear.
I would like to say that there was a free and open source note taking program which was as good as any of the commercial programs but unfortunately there isn’t. There are many free note taking programs but I have not yet found one which is anywhere near as good as some of the commercial offerings.
Over the next few weeks I intend to put up some reviews of the note taking programs I have tried and give my opinions as to the merits of each one so that people might avoid wasting money on programs which are not up to the task.