Good data managers do three things. They let you bring information into the program easily, from textual sources like e-mail or from Web sites. They let you classify, or “tag,” incoming information, if you already know what you’d like to do with it: for example, you might want to save a certain Web clip for information about next summer’s vacation or for a work project you have under way. Other information you might want to dump into a general storage bin without a specific purpose but on the chance you might want to look at it again. And the programs let you later retrieve the information you’ve stored, whether you’ve classified it or not, by means ranging from simple keyword searches to elaborate ways of detecting relationships among data.
All the programs I’ll mention meet three crucial tests. They allow effortless data collection, tagged and untagged storage, and flexible retrieval options. They differ in where they’ve placed their emphasis, and in whether they’re aimed at users who like structure and outlines or those who prefer looser organizational schemes. Compared with OneNote and even Chandler, they are generally less ambitious in their aims and come from smaller (and sometimes shakier) enterprises. In wine terms, these are mainly garagiste offerings rather than from the main châteaus. But each excels in a certain way, and all are worth at least experimenting with, since they’re available for free trial periods. Unless otherwise noted, each program can be found at a Web site of the same name or via a simple Web search. With a few exceptions, these programs are for PCs only. The two programs for Macs, though, are particularly elegant.
Although not necessarily the most powerful of these programs, EverNote will probably feel the most natural to most users. It’s the one I recommend as a starting point for people first trying this kind of program. EverNote comes from a company in California, most of whose founders were computer experts in the old Soviet Union.
After you install EverNote, it places a stylized “E” logo on your browser’s tool bar. If you click on the E while visiting a Web page, the whole contents of the page go into EverNote’s storage, along with URL information so you can visit the page again. You can also select text or images from the Web page and store those selections with a click of the E—or drag material to the E from Word or most other programs. The basic version, which can do all this, is free. An advanced version, for $34.95, can import handwritten notes from tablet computers and, in many cases, convert them to searchable text.
The program’s most distinctive feature is its “Time Band,” which runs along the right edge of the screen. Each note is assigned a place on the band, based on the instant when it was created. The band serves as an endless reel on which all the notes are stored, from oldest to newest. The concept sounds trivial, but it is surprisingly interesting to use—it reminds you of the huge roll of paper on which Jack Kerouac supposedly wrote On the Road, so he wouldn’t be distracted when coming to the end of a page.