Dan Newcome on technology

I'm bringing cyber back

Personal note taking and information management

with 7 comments

I have been meaning to write a series of posts related to how we use personal information and notes in our daily lives. I have been living and breathing this topic over the last few years, culminating in the development of Ubernote. I don’t even know where to begin with this expansive topic, so I thought that I’d just start writing blog posts, and start to crystallize things along the way. My interest in digital note taking is also being rekindled by having finally gotten a smart phone this year, and by the prospect of a new class of tablet devices that may be on the horizon.

I should preface the following by noting that I’ve always kept notebooks. From the time I was a little kid tinkering with electronics and drawing goofy pictures, I kept a series of notebooks (many of which have regrettably been lost or destroyed and may be a subconscious driver for keeping data in the digital domain). Information means different things to different people, and so it follows that they way that information is recorded, organized, and tracked varies just as widely as people do.

My story of electronic note taking goes something like this: somewhere in high school I got an old laptop from a relative that was really only powerful enough to run old DOS programs. I used the DOS edit command to write notes on this computer. Some examples of things that I would have written here were set lists for the cover band that I was playing in as well as drafts for papers that I wrote in high school. The most critical habit being formed here was a set of text files that I started keeping with todo lists and things that I wanted to buy or keep track of. The format of the text files was basically a tab-indented outline, similar to what the old Mac outliners of the day might have looked like if you were to print the outline to plain text. I don’t recall having used Lotus Agenda at this time, but it would have been something that I wasn’t ready for yet.

In college, I relied on folded-up pieces of paper or small notebooks. This was mostly out of necessity, as I didn’t have a cell phone or laptop. I needed to have ready access to most things, and carrying a floppy around wasn’t going to cut it. I don’t think that USB drives really existed yet at this time. Basically college was the dark ages for me in terms of PIM tools. After graduation I began using a tool called KeyNote (no, not the Mac program of the same name).

Around the same time, I got a Sony Clie. I vaguely recall using several programs such as List Pro and Shadowplan. I’ll have to go back through my notes around this time to figure out exactly what my criteria were for choosing a notes solution, but I think that I was looking for some power-user features. The PDA didn’t quite live up to my expectations in terms of convenience. I was impressed with the handwriting recognition of the Clie, but it was the syncing problem that annoyed me the most. I didn’t want to have to keep syncing the device in order to have the latest versions of my notes. I should point out that the desktop-based solutions had this issue too, since I would need to sync between my different computers at work and home also.

I changed jobs and found myself using Microsoft OneNote since my new employer had a license for Microsoft Office products. I used OneNote for about a year during my time there, and I have quite a number of complaints about it, which I will have to get into later in another post. Somewhere in the time just before I left the company, an intern showed me Evernote. I immediately started using it at home and I ended up dumping my older notes into it pretty much right away. I didn’t start using it yet at work, because my boss had an unreasonable obsession with banning any non-Microsoft tools, so I was afraid to be seen using it at the office.

The shortcomings of Evernote form the basis of my current obsession with note taking software today, which I’ll get into in a future post. Stay tuned, notes junkies.


Written by newcome

January 1, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. Hi – are you still committed to ubernote? Premium user here.

    I think the users notice that nothing seems to be updated; the community link does not work; and feedback or emails are not responded to. If you want to continue to grow, you need to hide your casual involvement better and remind users that you’re still committed to the project even if you don’t have time to add new features. It’s also important to communicate that the users won’t be left hanging if you guys ever did decide to shutdown or even if you died in a sudden accident.

    An example of a similar situation is buxfer.com. Unlike your site, this site had an active getsatisfaction forum, where people constantly expressed concern that the site could be shut down (I think the same concern is implicit in the ubernote community). I eventually switched from buxfer.com to mint.com, as did many other users – even though the application worked just fine.

    Months later, the founder of buxfer came back and told everyone that the site would not be shutdown, but the damage has already been done. However, I may return to it if it shows some stability….


    April 13, 2012 at 7:03 am

  2. Hi Ben, we’re committed to keeping the service running – it’s something that I personally depend on day-to-day. If the day comes where we are forced to shut it down, we’ll give everyone plenty of time to save all of their data locally.

    Thanks for your comments about the way the site appears. I can see how lack of updates is concerning. It does take work just keeping the lights on, but perhaps just a little more could go a long way toward making things look more lived-in.

    Thanks for supporting us


    April 13, 2012 at 8:33 pm

  3. Dan,

    Have you used the mobile version much? It seems really quite crippled. And unfortunately if I try to use my tablet when accessing the desktop version, I can’t really edit and copy and paste doesn’t work. It’s really pretty frustrating.

    You guys have had stuff up about “Premium coming soon” for over a year now… at this point I’m going to seriously explore Evernote and Springpad. These ones are also easier to switch to and from each other since they have import tools.

    Thanks for the app, and I do think there’s room for ubernote if you continue to spend a bit of time keeping it updated…


    June 14, 2012 at 7:26 am

  4. Hi Dan, looks like ubernote is down. Hope things are OK; I really think you should stick with it. Think Digg versus Reddit…


    January 21, 2013 at 9:34 pm

  5. Hi Dan,

    I’m moving on from ubernote.com and into a combination of nixnote (which I can use locally without administrative privileges and therefore at work) and evernote. I would like there to be a strong competitor to evernote, which there isn’t at the moment. Hope you guys stick around and rise to the challenge. I’m considering whether to delete my data or leave it there just in case, but I imagine I’ll delete it to be on the safe side.

    Looks like you’re doing a lot of interesting stuff and I’ll probably keep an eye on your blog, as I’m interested in programming as well even though I’ve got no talent for it.


    June 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm

  6. Hi Ben, thanks for the words of encouragement over the years. I have lots more ideas, but this has proven to be a very competitive space. I’ll check out nixnote too, so thanks for mentioning it.


    June 20, 2013 at 10:23 pm

  7. Looks like ubernote is going pretty slow at the moment. I don’t think this is a very competitive space – I think that you guys gave up early and haven’t innovated. Besides Evernote and OneNote, Ubernote is the only rich text editor which I am aware of. And rich text editing is a big deal. While some people like SimpleNote and plain-text plus markdown, in the long-run that’s just not nearly as efficient for keeping notes.

    I’m not sure if you’re the type of person who handles critical feedback well, but if you’re interested I can give you some suggestions. Most of them you could probably figure out. I don’t think I’ve ever had one of my feedback emails (send under another email address) responded to, although I haven’t bothered sending in a long, long time. I think I sent in an email about the latest overhaul. I don’t understand why folders was so important. I guess these map to notebooks on Evernote, but I still haven’t figured out why these are so helpful. I would like an archive where I can stuff away outdated notes, which also removes unused tags, but neither evernote or ubernote supports that.

    Anyway, I would encourage you to look at nixnote closely, especially if you want a local program. It’s open-source and as a java and qt program it runs on both windows and linux just fine. It syncs seamlessly with evernote and you might be able to tweak it to sync with ubernote. Another nice thing is that it shows you the source (neither evernote or ubernote do that), which is something I’ve often wanted when frowning at weird formatting in ubernote notes.

    My transition to evernote will take some copying and pasting, but it should be pretty easy. For whatever reason they use tags for each statement where you use tags, so if I just copy it in I get double spaces, so I’m replacing all those tags with tags and then it’s pretty seamless as long as I initially paste it into evernote for them to do a little extra cleaning rather than into nixnote. I may try using a script on the backup file as I’m trying to practice those skills.


    June 20, 2013 at 11:16 pm

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