Best Little-known Technology of the Decade

pen and sword

I appreciate good technology, and when I come across it I make every attempt to incorporate it into my life. I am not lazy (although some might argue with that); I simply want to leverage technology to maximum effect every chance I get. Since that usually makes my life easier, so much the better. One such technology I have used for years and have come to take for granted, and something happened today that drove home just how important it can be. It made me realize that it is sad that this particular tech hasn’t become more widely recognized, as I believe it could be one of the most important developments of the past decade.

Until adopting the blogger lifestyle full time, I was a consultant. Specifically, I was a consulting geophysicist for years, working in a highly technical field that depended very heavily on sophisticated computing technology. I regularly used computing clusters with over 10,000 Intel CPUs, so you get my drift.

This morning I received a call from a former client, who needed some specific technical information about a project I handled back in the day. I have been removed from this work for two years, so needless to say I had no idea how to answer his query. I told him I’d have to research it and get back to him. I suspect he figured it would be a good while, if ever, that he heard back from me with his needed information. He was stunned when I called him five minutes later.

When I was working as a consultant, one of my main tools was OneNote on a Microsoft Windows Tablet PC. I used this to handle all meetings I attended by jotting notes on the slate with the Tablet pen. I would immediately grab the Tablet when I made or received a phone call, as having good project notes was critical to my work. I worked this way for years, and accumulated thousands of pages of ink notes in OneNote. It was the only way I could keep on top of things back then.

After receiving the call this morning I fired up OneNote and entered a search term, “Jericho,” in the search box. This was the project codename my friend was asking me about. In less than 30 seconds, OneNote found exactly what I was looking for.

Notice how the handwritten word “Jericho” is highlighted yellow? That’s how OneNote indicated this matched my search term. Notice how bad that handwriting is? And yet it still knew what I had written. It had returned every single time I wrote the word Jericho in my notes, and this was high up the list as it was one of the first notes chronologically. That was important as my friend also needed to know if I could tell him when this initial project meeting took place. It was right there on the note page.

Think about that for a minute. As you can see, I was able to lay my hands on the actual meeting notes taken over three years ago. Can you go to the drawer or shelf where you keep all of your Moleskine journals or legal pads containing past notes and find anything from three years ago? Much less exactly what you’re looking for in just a minute?

This is empowering technology, and it’s a shame it is not more widely used. Most people I show this capability to are completely blown away that it exists, and yet they knew nothing about it. It is not hard to see how useful this capability can be, to almost everyone. The ability to search anyone’s handwriting, and figure out what they wrote is applicable in a bushel of situations.

My fellow Tablet PC enthusiast friends are smiling now, as they’ve been using this for years. But they are the only ones, and there’s not that many of them. That is simply a shame, given how good this technology is.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Web Tablet Survey: Apple’s iPad Hits the Right Notes

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