by Alexis Rohlfing, Head Editor, INALJ New Hampshire
A Quest: One Productivity App to Rule them All
There must be something in the air in June and July that attacks the productivity apps that I love. Many people scrambled to find a new feed reader last year when Google Reader shuttered, myself among them. I had a similar feeling recently when I logged into Springpad only to find it will shut down in late June. So often as users, we go through a search process, trying out dozens of apps before we find the one that fits our needs. The transient nature of the digital world makes it hard to plan on something being available forever, yet I found I had treated my app that way, loading it full of personal and professional information; shopping lists, blog post ideas, and professional goals all in their own neat notebooks.
In my mad scramble to find a new home for my data, I came across several alternatives which I’ll share with you today. My main criteria were that I needed a platform that was available by web and by mobile (though a desktop interface wouldn’t be amiss to complete the package), I needed something that had sharing capabilities for any collaborative projects or ideas I might have, I wanted to have control over privacy so that I could draw clear delineations between public, collaborative, and private, and I wanted something that had firm backing and didn’t appear to be going anywhere.
Springpad was also different than most of the other apps/sites out there, in that there was a visual component in the organization. Rather than a list of notebook titles, the notebooks had visual representation with pictures of some of the content inside. When working with text, this was neither here nor there, but for the visual projects it was nice—the interface within the notebook was similar to Pinterest, allowing you to see at a glance what was listed and what you had saved.
No app is perfect, but these are the ones I found worth exploring. Only time will tell which work best, but here are a few to get you started:
• The big one: Evernote. Most people are familiar with Evernote as one of the largest apps/ websites in the digital notebook space. Evernote has some nice add ons, like Evernote Food, that I like. There’s a fairly robust tagging feature, a nice spread of formatting options for each note that you create, the ability to import from the web, and a desktop application. I’m not a huge fan of the layout, and I’ve had the app on both mobile and desktop go finicky on me (which prompted my initial switch to Springpad). It is also go for on the go note taking and brainstorming because you can work on your notes/draft across a variety of platforms and come out with a fairly complete document. My biggest beef is the checklist making option. If you are a list person (and I am) the checklist function is not the best one I’ve come across. You have to hit the list button for each line item. If you’re not a list person, this won’t bother you, but if you find yourself making to do lists, goal lists, etc. you may want to explore another option as the list feature is time consuming. I’ve also had some trouble with sharing/collaboration and having the work saved. (Web, iOS, Android, Desktop)
• OneNote: This is Microsoft’s version of Evernote and its bundled with the Microsoft Office suite. If you have the suite on your machine, it’s possible you already have this installed but haven’t used it. It has a clean interface, and it does have a mobile presence—the mobile app is free even if you don’t have the full program on your computer. I used this program for a project I worked on for my alma mater—prepping the catalog for digital conversion as well as drafting library policy. I found the software easy to use on my main machine and the online version easy to use on site. The printed format was also nice. Sadly, I upgraded my personal machine and lost the code for the office suite, so I no longer have the full application. The mobile alone is not quite robust enough for full document creation, but would serve for in depth/on the go note taking (Web, iOS, Android, Desktop)
• Simplenote: This is backed by Automattic, the same folks who bring you WordPress, so little concern on that front. The interface is very simple and clean and there aren’t a lot of frills. The downside to that is there is no way to format your text—no bullet points, check boxes, for text formatting. This is a good app for simple note taking, but it’s not enough for lists, collaboration, or note taking that is in-depth (like you would have at a lecture or conference). It does allow for tagging and sharing, and it has a web and mobile presence. I like it as a secondary app because I don’t get distracted by features, I simply record information. (Web, iOS, Desktop for Mac).
• Hackpad: Hackpad is probably the closest you can get to Springpad other than Evernote. Hackpad has some of the more visual elements that Evernote lacks, though it does not have as many formatting options within the pad itself. It also allows for direct embedding from some sources (such as Youtube). Hackpad started independent, but it now owned by Dropbox, which provides the back up. One of the suggested uses is collaborative note taking at conferences (for those are their way to Las Vegas). The main issue with Hackpad is that it’s still a relative newcomer and certain features are underdevelopment—mobile apps and the ability to sync and edit within Dropbox on desktop or mobile being two of the big ones. Still, there’s a lot to like, including unlimited public workspace with privacy controls and the ability to set up a private workspace for your group (though that is for a fee). (Web, mobile web).
Some omissions have been made, as with any list. The main one is Google Keep. It certainly has organizational features that would make it eligible for the list, but my largest concern was whether it would suffer the same fate as Google Reader. Another tact you can take is to look at family organizational apps. There will be certain features built in that are more suited to personal life, however the calendar feature and to do list features are the strongest parts of these apps, and because they are meant to track multiple people, you can generally color code various tasks for appointments—simply name the categories according to what you need to track. These apps will be less focused on the ability to take notes or save articles.