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Data, Information, and Knowledge Management Software - "What software should I use?"

  A primer on data, information, and knowledge management software tools

User Insights: How people use data, information, and knowledge management software tools, and why:

INSIGHTS:

"Certain programs have its own strengths, and I tried to take advantage of each program's strengths (such as Mindmanager, Notemap, Infoselect, Zoot, Asksam, etc). For instance, when I do my visual brainstorming, I use Mindmanager, If I need more hierarchical/linear/text outline/brainstorm, I use Notemap or Brainstorm. I use Asksam for e-mail search (fast indexing and import of my Pocomail). I use Writersblock for my first draft of most of my writings. So far, my system has worked pretty well for me....

I do use 1st turborun to locate my documents anywhere in my hard disk (this program is super fast and no indexing is necessary). It doesn't look at the content of the file, but with long file names, I can find my files 99% of the time. If I need to look for something within the document itself, I use Effective File Search (EFS) to do this. This doesn't do indexing, but the speed is reasonable for its occasional use." (Kenneth S. Rhee, Zoot Forum posting, http://groups.yahoo.com, Nov. 6, 2003)

INSIGHTS:

"No one program does the whole job. ... I always use Scopeware/Vision, since for me it's a "google for my own hard disk" and always lets me find what I want. And I always use Zoot, beause I know that all my info is in there someplace. I phase in and out of the others as seems bearable for each project." (James Fallows, Zoot Forum posting, http://groups.yahoo.com, Nov. 6, 2003)

INSIGHTS:

"...the key is utilizing the strengths of each application. Zoot is my primary info storage tank, because it is so easy to put info in and to get it back out again. But, as we all know, it doesn't handle RTF data, so I use another program to store information that needs to be formatted. I haven't decided exactly which program works best for this purpose. I've tried InfoSelect, which falls flat because of its lame formatting options; Whizfolders, which has good formatting options, but is really quirky and cumbersome; and Personal Knowbase, which I actually like for its relative simplicity -- though it too could do with stronger formatting options. The other area in which Zoot is weak is in building hierarcies -- outlines. For this purpose I really like BrainStorm, which has become one of my favorite "thinking" tools. Finally, I use MyBase for capturing full web sites on the fly." (Stephen Zeoli, Zoot Forum posting, http://groups.yahoo.com, Nov. 6, 2003)

"One other thought at the moment: to me, one of the important features of any program is how easy/convenient it is to put information into the program. This is one of the ways that Zoot really shines. ADM is good at it, too." (Stephen Zeoli, Nov. 8, 2003)

INSIGHTS:

"I use Zoot to archive and organize plain text information, Offline Explorer to download multi-page HTML documents (even whole sites), and Personal Brain for collecting, organizing and harvesting "nuggets" that I have marked-up for my own purposes. Personal Brain has been addictive for me since it allows cross-linking information that can produce somewhat "miraculous" insights to previously linked nuggets of information." (Al Cantley, Zoot Forum posting, http://groups.yahoo.com, Nov. 6, 2003)

INSIGHTS:

"Ergonomically I think Action Outliner is one of the best multi-pane outliners; ADM (www.adm21.net) I think is better in many respects. But Action Outliner is recommended by its simplicity (and it prints better than any other outline I've come across).

Unfortunately, neither of these outliners allows hyperlinks between text within an item (highlight, insert hyperlink). Compare them to Treepad (full
of features), Myinfo, Skwyrul (free, nice), Maple, Golden Section Notes. For a good but outdated review of outliners, see http://john.redmood.com/organizers.html (unfortunately it gets Zoot drastically wrong, and of course Zoot's not an outliner).

For single-pane outliners I like:
Ecco
Brainstorm (recently recommended in this forum)
Notemap

But I've moved to mindmapping software for brainstorming: Personal Brain is outstanding, and so is Mindjet's MindManager (I like the ability to really get a big-picture aerial view here). I also like Inspiration. " (Wes A., Zoot Forum posting, http://groups.yahoo.com, Nov. 12, 2003)

INSIGHTS:

"The ease of getting information into the application, however it is done, is critical, of course. But what I was refering to, specifically, is capturing thoughts and text on the fly -- or snagging it, as you aptly put it. Some are far better at doing this than others. Many only work in the most passive way; that is, you need to copy text to the clipboard, switch over to the program, create a new item, then paste the text (often after also going through the process of creating a title and categorizing the item). Not a tragic inconvenience or anything, but certainly not taking advantage of computing power. The better programs provide some mechanism to improve this process, with varying levels of success. Here are some examples:

A. I think Zoot is the best at this. It gives you the little "Z" tatoo (what the programmer calls the Zooter) and a menu of options so that you can choose the method that works for you. So, for instance, if you want to capture all the text on a page, you just click on the "Z," select the Clip To option and select the database in Zoot where you'd like the text to go. The Zooter automatically selects all the text in the open document, copies it to the clipboard, creates an item in the selected Zoot database and pastes the text into that item. Takes a couple of seconds, and you don't even have to leave the original document (whether you're working in Word, a Web page, or whatever). If you only want a section of the text, you highlight that, then follow the same procedure. Easy and fast. And those are only a couple of ways to achieve this with Zoot. There are ways to set it up so you clip to the same database, and open a Zoot item in the process, so you can add key words or categories before saving the item, so you can add a
level of organizing up front if you so choose. You can even set it up so that the items, once hauled into your Zoot database are automatically sent
off to other Zoot databases, so you can ignore that step once you get going. I could continue with the accolades for the Zooter, but you get the point.

B. InfoSelect provides a more primitive way to achieve this. It shows a little lightning bolt in the system tray. Highlight the text you want to copy into InfoSelect, then click the lightning bolt and a new item is created in IS with the selected text. However, I've found that the item is created in IS at the spot next to the previously selected IS item. So, you end up with items that probably are not where you want them to be in IS, which then requires manually dragging and dropping them to the headings where you want to store them -- and since IS uses a hierarchical structure, it is important to put them in the appropriate places.

C. BrainStorm has something called "Magic Paste." When Magic Paste is turned on, everytime you copy text to the clipboard, a new item is created in BS (sometimes more than one item, as it will create a new item for each paragraph of text). This works fine when you know you're going to be
clipping information and do it methodically, but if you are just randomly coming across information you want to save, it isn't so convenient, as you'll want to turn off Magic Paste when you don't specifically want it, as it will save items even while you're just doing casual cut and paste editing of your writing.

D. While my experience with ADM [Advanced Data Management] is somewhat limited, its capture-on-the-fly facility seems pretty good, with its folder icon sitting calmly in the corner of your screen waiting for you to drag things into it. Seems to work well for all sorts of data. In this way, it seems to work similarly to another product called Black Hole Organizer (www.lincolnbeach.com), which uses a little "black hole" icon as its datacollecting metaphore, and was using this long before ADM was developed. There's a program called My Notes Center, which features a floating text capture window that stays active while you're in other programs, and which provides a similar facility to ADM and Black Hole Organizer.

After spending several years trying most of the options, I've found that the programs can be categorized as follows, based upon my process of working through a project:

I. Thinking Tools: programs that organize my thinking. The one I use most for this is BrainStorm. Others that would fit this category would be The
Brain
, Inspiration, MindMapper, MindGenius, B-Liner, among many. Using BrainStorm, I create lists of steps or topics, which I can then organize
easily to build a process for completing the project. Once this step is complete, I will usually only return to BrainStorm to reference the steps, but not actually to do the "work" of completing the steps.

II. Data Organizing Tools: programs that capture and store information necessary to complete the project. Every project requires organizing information that relates specifically to that project: contacts, expenses, timelines with milestones, relevant data, and ideas. This the stage in which
I use Zoot and Personal Knowbase. Zoot works well at storing various types of data -- milestones, for instance, which can be easily updated using
Zoot's column functions in the grid. Personal Knowbase (PK) works well for me if I'm working on a specific writing project, in which I'll create a separate database for that topic. The editor is pretty functional, which means I can comfortably do a lot of the writing in PK -- in fact, I'm writing this in PK. It is fairly easy to transfer information from Zoot to PK, so that if I've been haphazardly collecting related information in Zoot, I can dump it into the appropriate PK database, where I can begin molding it.

However, there are times when I've had to deal with massive quantities of information. I used to create publications for a college -- including the
college catalog, which required organizing all the many permutations of the curricula for the various academic programs. As this job really lended
itself to a hierarchical structure, I used TreePad to store that information. This also had the advantage of offering a free version, so I could share the information easily with colleagues across campus.

Other programs that would work well for this stage of a project would include most any of the tree-style (hierarchical) database programs like
InfoSelect, MyBase, MyInfo, Jot, etc....

III. Specific Applications: this third stage software is not really part of your discussion, but I'll mention it just to complete the picture. It's the program in which I will actually compose or otherwise complete the project (i.e. if it is a writing project, composing the various drafts in Word or NoteMap; if a publication, laying it out PageMaker; etc...)." (Stephen Zeoli, Nov. 23, 2003)

INSIGHTS:

"I too have grappled with the question of which information manager(s) to use, and have finally settled on using three different tools: MyBase, InfoSelect, and Treepad. The information organizer that I use day-in and day-out is InfoSelect, and I do love it, despite its many shortcomings. I practically live in InfoSelect." (Matthew Deaner, Dec. 16, 2003)

INSIGHTS:

"...[re: Brainstorm] It is purely text-based (should be comfortable for Zooters) and does not have any of the graphical tools of a mindmapper, but it is a very quick and easy tool for splashing down thoughts, then organizing them. It has a feature called "namesaking", which is similar to cloning, and allows you to have the same item listed under several different topics.

Once you've done your brainstorming and organizing in BrainStorm, your model (that's what the developers call a BrainStorm file) can easily be dropped into a mindmapper for visual representation... it works great with the Open Source program Freemind. "(Stephen Zeoli, Zoot Forum, April 13, 2005)

INSIGHTS:

"...[re: mind mapping software] If you use a tree structure there has to be some starting point but there are several options that are not the traditional hierarchical structure. If you do not want a "tree" of any kind then you will have to go to a program like Axon ... or Conception ..." (Randy Risener, Zoot Forum, April 12, 2005).




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is a continual work in progress. Please e-mail with your thoughts so we can help others find the tools they need to be productive knowledge workers. Your name will be included in the Credits for any contribution you can make. Latest update: April 2005. This document or any information on it may be copied freely. As a courtesy, please reference this site as your source for anything you copy from here. Thank you.