Review of ConnectedText

This note taking program stores its notes in a database, therefore there is no need to save the file, changes are saved in the database automatically when you exit the edit mode.  A separate database is set up for each collection of notes (called a project).  There was no significant slowing of the response times when using a project with over one thousand notes.  This program can open multiple databases simultaneously.

There is a big difference between Connected Text and any of the other programs reviewed here, Connected Text is a wiki program.  To edit a wiki page you have to put the program into ‘edit mode’.  The text you type is in a markup language, when you put the program back into view mode the markup language is interpreted and the results displayed.

This is rather awkward and takes a bit of getting used to but it is much more powerful than any of the other programs reviewed here.  There are many ‘plug ins’ which either come with it or can be freely downloaded including ‘Graph viz’ for drawing directed acyclic graphs and the Python scripting language.  So you can write programs using Python which interact with the data in your wiki and display the results to the page you are viewing, the program is run each time the page is displayed in view mode, in edit mode you get to see and edit the source code for that page.

It is definitely not a WYSIWYG editor.  Edit mode is ugly, and often you have to switch back and forth between view mode and edit mode many times when what you have typed is not rendered as you had intended and you have to go back and correct it.  I suppose it may get better as I gain more experience but for now editing is an iterative process.

This program has so many facilities and different ways of organising your data that it would be difficult to cover them all in a review like this without it getting extremely long, if you are interested then check out the website at www.connectedtext.com/ or download the documentation.

The fact that each page could contain a Python program to render its contents means that its capabilities are unbounded.  For instance there is a python script which I copied from the Connected Text website which analyses the connections within your wiki and then uses the Graph viz plug in to produce a directed graph map of your wiki, this hints at the awesome power of this program.  I have also copied an implementation of much of the functionality of ‘Lotus Agenda‘ (an organiser which I once used back in the days of DOS) written in the ‘ConnectedText’ markup language.

This is a commercial program, available from www.connectedtext.com/ it is currently priced at $39.95 (at 16th April 2013).  There is a free 30 day trial version but in my opinion 30 days is not enough time to be able to come to terms with this very complicated program.  Is it worth the money?  Well it is certainly very powerful and I’m sure it is capable of a lot more than I am currently using it for.  I am not a fan of the Edit mode/View mode split but maybe I will get used to it with time.

The overall score is 40 out of 60.

Verdict               Worth Buying.

1. Connectivity            =    10 out of 10

Basically you can connect anything to anything else.  All the links are embedded in the text of a page just like editing a web page.  The link can be to another note in the wiki or to a note in another wiki or to an external file or to a URL on the internet.  The fact that the links are embedded in the text makes them both visible and editable, nothing is hidden.  In view mode if you click a link to a file then the program will run that file just the same as if you had double clicked on it in file manager.

Creating a link to a page in the same wiki is easy, you just put the name of the target page within square braces like  [[Target Page]], if the target page exists it is linked to, if it does not then the link appears in red when you go back to viewing mode.  But if it does not exist then when you click on that link a new empty page with that name is created and opened in edit mode for you to start writing.  This method of creating links on the fly does not interrupt the process of writing when you want to refer to a page which does not yet exist.

The program has a menu item entitled ‘Copy as link’ which copies a universal link onto the clipboard which can be pasted into another Connected Text wiki or into any other program which supports universal links.  When activated this link will open Connected Text if it is not already running and direct it to open the page which is the target of the link.  So you can link to specific pages within other Connected Text wikis.

Connected text also supports universal links to and from other programs, so I can link to a specific E-mail or contact in my E-mail program from within Connected Text.  Or I can link to a specific page in a Connected Text wiki from within a note in WhizFolders (another note taking program I will be reviewing).

There is also a set of ‘Bookmarks’ just like a web browser, you can bookmark favourite pages within your wiki and jump to them.

2. Classification            =    10 out of 10

Connected Text has very powerful facilities for classifying things.  Pages can have category, attribute and property commands embedded in the markup language.  A page which contains a category command assigns the page to that particular category when the markup language is interpreted (when exiting edit mode).  Properties and attributes are similar to each other and both assign an explicit value to a variable which is associated with that page.  The only difference is that attributes are displayed as part of the page whilst properties are invisible in the text in viewing mode.

Assigning categories, properties and attributes is only half the story.  Once you have a set of pages classified like this you can write queries to select the pages you want to see.  Each category has an automatically generated virtual page which contains links to all the pages in that category.  The categories are hierarchical so a category can be a subcategory of another category.

A page can contain a query which selects pages with certain categories properties or attributes, when this query is run it will generate a list of links to pages which fulfill the selection criteria.  If selecting on a property or attribute any page which assigns anything to that property or attribute is considered to ‘have’ that property or attribute.  However queries can also select pages which have a property or attribute equal to (or less than, greater than or not equal to) a specific value.  Also the result can be sorted according to the values in a property or attribute.

For instance you might have a set of pages with the category ‘Task’ with an attribute ‘Priority’ and a date associated with each page.  You could then have a page containing a query to display tasks which would display a list of all pages in the category ‘Task’, this list could be sorted by priority or date.  The page would be automatically updated each time the page is rendered.

3. Text layout and formatting    =    5 out of 10

The appearance of the page will be very different in viewing and edit modes.  The overall formatting of the page can be altered by using cascading style sheets (.CSS files) just like a web page but the CSS formatting can be overridden in the markup language.

Formatting a page in Connected Text is similar to formatting a web page in HTML.  Simple formatting is not difficult but looks very plain.  You can get the results as good as you want but getting it to look just the way you want can take much more work than with an interactive editor.

Connected Text does do tables and the results can be very good but they are not interactive.  In many ways the tables created are more powerful than in other programs but they are not intuitive.  A table is built using the markup language to specify where the cell boundaries are, the width of the columns, how the table will appear.  Everything which is not a command is treated as the table contents.  This sort of layout lends itself to being automatically generated by a Python program.

Pictures and graphics can be displayed on a page and there is a great deal of flexibility as to how it is displayed.  In edit mode all you see is a link to a file in the markup language and various parameters which control where and how it is displayed, but when you go back to view mode the picture appears.

4. A sense of time            =    6 out of 10

You can add a date and a time to a page title in a specific format, that page will then appear in the calendar.  The calendar can be used to select pages associated with a specific date.  There are no reminders unless you write a query to get a list of pages associated with the date you are interested in.

It is possible to do an agenda or a to do list or a diary within Connected Text but the facilities are not built in, you have to make them yourself, this is not as difficult as it might seem and there is an adequate amount of documentation on the Connected Text website and in other articles and blogs around the internet to enable you to do this.

5. Ease of use            =    4 out of 10

This program is not as easy to use as many of the other note taking programs reviewed here, edit mode is just like editing a web page, what you see is not what you get.  This may be acceptable for editing a web page but for a note taking program it definitely detracts from the interactiveness and immediacy it would be nice to see in a program like this.

On the other hand this program is far more powerful than any of the other programs reviewed here, but with that power comes a steep learning curve.

6. Visual Appeal            =    5 out of 10

Editing mode is very ugly and it is not always obvious what the page will look like until you go back to viewing mode.  Viewing mode results can be very good but this usually takes more work to achieve, just like editing a web page.

ConnectedText view mode

ConnectedText view mode

The display is uncluttered by unnecessary buttons and toolbars.  There are many different windows which can be called upon to display various aspects of the information in your wiki, these windows can be uncoupled and moved around the screen or onto a second screen if you have one.

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4 thoughts on “Review of ConnectedText

  1. Reblogged this on Dr Andus's toolbox and commented:
    Here is a fair and thorough review of ConnectedText. Personally I’m not as bothered by the look of the edit mode. In fact I’ve changed its background colour to make it easier on the eye and also selected “syntax highlighting” and “folding” in Options, which enhances the writing experience. Having said that, a “distraction-free” writing mode (a la FocusWriter) would be nice.

  2. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for all the knowledge management software reviews.

    I understand that UltraRecall won top place from your reviews and that ConnectedText was more powerful but too technical.

    Have your opinions changed since?

    • Your comment set me thinking, so I put my thoughts into a post, look at ‘Long Term Usage Review of Note Taking Programs’ to see my reply. Having used the programs for some time now my ratings of them might be slightly different to the reviews, especially with the note taking programs where I kept finding better programs than the ones I had already given a high rating to.

      Oh well …

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