Brain Tickler Tools for Story Ideas – Part 2


Last week, I took a look at what I called “Brain Tickler Tools” – Notefish and Instapaper – tools that went beyond bookmarking but actually helped me create some kind of writer’s tickler file where I could return anytime and browse over content to get ideas for articles and blog posts. I promised to check out a few more recommended by the WWD community.

Evernote clip viewI have to say that my experience with two other apps – Evernote (still in limited beta) and Google Notebook – was quite different from the first two I tried. They didn’t work as well for me. Hey, I’ve got to be honest here but also should clarify my criteria for what “works well for me” means.

  1. This is just my opinion.
  2. I need things to be very intuitive.
  3. Because I don’t read instructions.
  4. Because my brain would explode if I did and starts to smoke when I try.

So in the name of saving my brain, I jump right into using an application and then see how often I use it. Does it become second nature to me? Or am I constantly having to think about using it and how to use it properly?

Here’s how the last week has gone using Evernote and Google Notebooks.

I found that every time I opened my browser each morning and then tried to save a clip to Evernote, it asked me to log in. Yes, I checked “Remember Me.” Yes, I used the password storage feature in Firefox. This was a momentary blip as I saved clips.

Evernote notecard viewWhat I do like about Evernote is that it uses a bookmarklet to facilitate clipping articles and blog posts to my account. Having a button at the top of my browser is just perfect – it is right there, where I can see it, access it and use it.

I can either highlight a portion of an article or post or clip and save the whole page. The options to do one or another is nice. Then I can either “Go to Notecards” or go back to the page I was viewing.

What I really like about Evernote is how they use a screen grab to show what I’ve clipped. I don’t know if it is a gender thing, but I’m really visual and I always use the Icon view in Mac and really prefer seeing a graphic or icon rather than text link.

Evernote’s marketing blurbs claim they can help you create notes, to-dos, brainstorms and reminders. You can also:

“…snap photos of anything from whiteboards to wine labels then email or sync them; clip web pages and have them stored and accessible in their entirety, even offline; write handwritten notes using digital ink or take snapshots of regular ink notes; record audio clips and memos to listen to later; Email or MMS notes from your cell phone to your personalized Evernote address.”

All I can say to all of those features is…say what?!? I am focused entirely on one capability – clipping web pages and storing them to access them later. That is my tickler file. I’m overwhelmed, even a little intimidated, by all the other features. But hey, that’s just me.

Google Notebook

Google Notebook app viewWhile I can espouse my newfound love of Google Docs, I’m just not getting Google Notebook in the same way. The first thing that makes is harder for me to use is that the “button” you click to save a clip is on the bottom right hand corner of my browser. That position just isn’t intuitive for me.

Also, since I’m on a Mac with my menu of application icons across the bottom of my screen, anything I have to click at the bottom of my browser means I may accidentally click on Twhirl or Skype or another application in the menu. Kind of annoying.

Google Notebook clip viewAt first, I was also confused about creating “notebooks” in Google Notebook – for some reason it seemed easier in Evernote. And while I love the plain vanilla text of Instapaper, for some reason seeing just text links in Google Notebook is a bit of a letdown after the elegant screen grabs of Evernote.

Big confession: While I was testing out Evernote and Google Notebook, I saved all the same clips to Instapaper every time.

Sometimes, the most basic apps work better for me than all the fancy, schmancy whiz bang apps out there. What about you?



I’m with you, Aliza, on all counts. My brain doesn’t smoke, it freezes – but the result is the same!

I write for a food site, and have just started two blogs, so I’m in desperate need of a storage system for story and post ideas.

Thanks for doing the legwork on this.

Scott Blitstein

For general tidbits of interest I might want to look at later, Instapaper is brilliant.

For research it fails me because it doesn’t lead me anywhere. I can’t consolidate like items or add notes. I have been using Backpack for this sort of thing for about a year now with great success though.

The Publish to Backpack Firefox add-on lets me add clips from the web easily and the page format of Backpack lets me consolidate items by topic.

Evernote has me intrigued though…



You’ve failed to mention the most power feature of Evernote: text recognition.

I too much prefer an icon view to pages that I’ve clipped. Evernote will actually allow you to search for words in images that you clip.

Often I will scan in single documents and then take a screen grab with Evernote. I like that I don’t have to run any software to OCR the documents; the text recognition occurs when you sync up with the Evernote servers.

Aliza Sherman

Rob – thanks for the tips! I’ve come to realize that when in doubt or when totally confused, just put my Web app dilemma out there and the cyber-cosmos will provide.

Next on the agenda to try: TiddlyWiki. More on that soon.


Rob has scored a point for reading the manual, although I have to admit that my approach to apps is pretty much the same as yours. I don’t usually bother to read up on one unless I’m already pretty sure I’m going to be using it often. My solution is to be a slow adopter, waiting for guys like you to forge the path, while I stroll slowly along behind.


Evernote has a Firefox extension that saves your clippings to the desktop version of the app, which doesn’t require you to log in every time.

Also, for Google Notebook, you can right-click on the text and there will be a menu option to clip it. That should take care of your major complaints for both apps…

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