Sharpening the Saw: Notes in the Cloud Addendum

A few posts back I discussed using OneNote as a document curation and note-taking tool. The features I described were primarily associated with the work I do for CCi, on the computer. But what note-taking tool do I use when I’m away from my desk – in meetings, or struck suddenly with inspiration?

OneNote does have a mobile application. I’ve tried using it on my iPad, but ran across some difficulties. The program works well when you sync your existing notebooks through Microsoft’s Skydrive*. My challenge: IT won’t let us do that.

So: with OneNote Mobile effectively rendered useless, what other mobile-ready note-taking resources exist?

SpringPad

Back when I was reveling in the novelty of using an iPad, I was reading about apps that were trying to improve on the functionality of the iPad Notepad. The Notepad is a pretty good tool, and I was making decent use of it, but the idea of “notes in the cloud” appealed to me. I elected to attend a conference armed with an app called SpringPad.

Image

SpringPad provides several templates for their cloud-based notes.

SpringPad allows me to create robust notes that can include audio recordings and pictures to enhance my recall. I’m able to organize these notes into separate notebooks. This was my first foray into the cloud, so I was intrigued that all the stuff I captured while out and about would be synced to a SpringPad app in my Google Chrome browser, making it easier to retain and review those thoughts at a later date. Additionally, I would be able to share my notes with anyone who also had SpringPad. And since I was going to a conference that many of my co-workers were interested in, well, that made sense to me. Let them see my notes.

SpringPad uses templates to support your note-taking efforts. In other words, you don’t necessarily start with a blank page and fiddle with it to create what you need. Looking at the image on the right, you can see that it allows you to create a note or paste a link. Below that are options for creating a checklist, a task, or an event. You can create notes for books, music, and movies. Select one of these latter options, and you’ll be linked to databases that connect you to readily-available information about that media. In other words, if I want to record a fascinating insight gleaned from “Road-Tested Activities,” I won’t need to first record title, author, and ISBN – SpringPad will make all those connections for me.

Additionally, SpringPad comes with two features that support ease-of-use on my iPad: a quick shortcut to create a note directly from my desktop (rather than open the software and then select what I’m trying to create), and a Safari web page clipper that sits in my iPad browser’s shortcut bar. This is a handy way to take a snapshot of something that I can’t readily link to. An error message, perhaps. Or an online receipt.

Unfortunately, I haven’t utilized many of the cloud-based and co-authoring features available in SpringPad since the conference. My co-workers weren’t interested in learning another bit of software just so they could read my notes, which tend to be cryptic when they’re not rambling. Plus, I had other note-taking mechanisms in place. SpringPad quickly became an under-utilized app on my iPad.

EverNote

When I started this Sharpening the Saw exercise, I decided I’d check out EverNote. Why? While EverNote and SpringPad do practically the same thing, like, everyone has EverNote. I actually know people who are using it. It’s number 12 on Jane’s list of Top 100 tools..

At its heart, EverNote is that blank notebook on which you can record a great many things and arrange them to remind and prompt you into action. You can include pictures and audio, manually create checklists, etc. Just as in OneNote and SpringPad, you can group your notes into notebooks for easier access to the information you’ve stored.

But EverNote aspires to be more than just digital notepaper. With one account, you get access to a great many tools to support your activities while on-the-go. There’s an EverNote Web Clipper, which allows you to save a web page (from your PC’s browser) into a notebook. There’s EverNote Clearly, which allows you to save blog posts or articles into a notebook for reading later, without all the web distractions. There’s Skitch, which allows you to annotate pictures that you’ve saved in EverNote. EverNote appears to work well with third party vendors; there are a slew of programmers out there creating apps to make your EverNote experience easier. This is important, for it appears that these sorts of note-taking programs are best when you use them for all the stuff you take note of, not just a select group of things. I recall a blog post once suggesting that Evernote works best when you use it, gosh darn it, for everything.

One EverNote tool that I was quite interested in was Penultimate, an app that lets you write with a “pen” on your iPad. It’s a cool feature, once you get the hang of writing on a digital surface. If you’ve ever seen my signature scrawl when I sign for my credit card purchases at the grocery store, you know I need more practice.

Unfortunately, Penultimate ultimately didn’t pan out. My Penultimate notes had to be kept in a separate EverNote notebook, meaning: if I wanted to revisit what I drew, I wouldn’t be able to find them in the binder where I’d kept all my other (typed) notes on the topic.

One neat EverNote feature: audio recording that lets you type your notes while recording the conversation. SpringPad does record audio, but it doesn’t appear to let you type at the same time. This is a feature I wouldn’t readily use, given people’s reticence for being recorded, and state law requiring consent be made before I make any recordings, but it could be handy for future conferences.

What I’m Using

For now, it appears that OneNote will be my document curation tool of choice. Why? It’s integrated with all my work products. EverNote does work with Outlook to allow you to post emails into your notebooks, but that’s it. Although EverNote appears to be ubiquitous on the web, it’s just not as available where I need it to be.

For my mobile devices, I’m leaning towards SpringPad. It allows me to store my notes in the cloud for easy access and transfer to my OneNote notebooks (or wherever I decide they ought to go).
But I mostly use SpringPad to create checklists of action items when I’m in meetings. SpringPad’s checklist and task list templates make this much easier than fiddling around in EverNote. I imagine someone out there has created an easy-to-use app that works with EverNote, but I’m not motivated to search for it. Plus, I like how SpringPad itself integrates with my iPad, rather than rely upon a bunch of third party vendors to get the job done. Mind you, I might have a different opinion were I using an Android tablet.

A bit of advice, whatever you decide: it’s important to keep your notes with one tool. We’re all familiar with the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, but equally important is our tendency not to bother searching for content (unless we really have to) if we’re not exactly sure of where it is in the first place. For nearly a year I hadn’t paid attention to my conference notes because I’d stopped using SpringPad. Now I’ve got some test notes in EverNote that I need to import into either OneNote or SpringPad, lest I forget them.

After my OneNote Sharpening the Saw post, several of you indicated you might try the program. If you have, and have used OneNote Mobile successfully for your on-the-go note-taking efforts, let me know in the comments!

*Skydrive is Microsoft’s version of cloud-based document storage. Like DropBox. Or Google Drive.


(This was a high-level overview of two popular and powerful cloud-based note-taking tools. For a deeper look, check out this article: EverNote vs. SpringPad.)

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