Blog Post

I'm Moving from Backpack to Springpad — Here's Why

springpad logoI first wrote about the Springpad notebook organizer almost a year ago now and was immediately impressed by the offering. Since then, as improvements have come across my desk I’ve always revisited it and found it to be a capable part of any organizational arsenal.

And yet, I still haven’t been using it in my daily work. You see, a couple of years ago I found Backpack from 37signals and was smitten with it. I created Backpack pages for everything: tracking client information, article ideas, concerts I’ve attended, purchasing, research and more. If I started something new, it got a Backpack page.

However, as much as I loved Backpack, there were some gaps. I found the calendar lacking, instead using the Google Calendar. Reminders and To-Do items were much better handled by Toodledo, and the sheer volume of information I was managing with it often got unwieldy.

So when I had a look at the new iteration of Springpad that was released earlier last week, I finally took the plunge. Goodbye, Backpack … Hello, Springpad.

At first glance, the two products might seem very similar, but there is a fundamental difference between them. In Backpack I can create pages that are essentially containers for the items that I am trying to organize. On these pages I can add notes, lists, files, photos etc. I can move items around these pages, even drag and drop them between pages. But the various items I’ve created have no properties or tracking abilities of their own. Each item gathers its context only from the page on which it exists. It’s all about the pages. In a literal analogy, a page is a drawer and the items on it are all of the things you dump in there.

In Springpad anything I can create exists independently of pages. I can add anything to “My Stuff,” which is what it calls the bucket that all items exist in. These can be a note, a list, a task, a contact or business, an event, a restaurant — anything. When I find something I like or want to save, I just add it to “My Stuff.” What’s cool is that each of these items has its own properties, and can be customized further. I can add tags, notes and links to each item. Have a picture you want to add to a note? No problem. Want to add a file to a list? You can do that. So before I even start to organize these items (put them in their drawers), they already have all of the building blocks required to be useful on their own.

This is where apps and groups come in. In Springpad, these are the drawers. Custom groups can be created to associate items together, and various apps exist to help utilize and further organize your stuff. There are apps for GTD, budgeting, task management, date planning, and more. These apps help provide an additional layer of context for the items I’ve gathered, and each item can be assigned to as many groups or apps as I need.

springpad notebook

For example, say I find an interesting web service that I think might be worthy of an article for WWD, and perhaps might also be useful for a few of my clients. In Backpack, I would note this web service on a single specific page, and there it would remain until I happened upon it again. But with Springpad, I can quickly capture the information from the web site using the “Spring It!” bookmarklet and place it in my unfiled bucket. This item might contain a snippet of text from the web site, a URL, and some notes for me to remember when I review it later. I tag the item appropriately with “WWD” and some client names. I add it to a “web apps” group and also to the specific client notebooks apps I have set up. The same piece of data is applied to multiple areas. This is like keeping the same screwdriver in both the tool drawer in the basement and and in the junk drawer in the kitchen. I can find it in either place, because it really should exist in both places.

springpad filterNot only can each item appear in multiple groups or apps, but individual items can also be pulled together from these groups and apps and viewed in aggregate fashion. For example, for each of my current projects, I create an app (the “notebook” works extremely well for this) and then I add events and task items related to that project right to that area. With multiple projects running concurrently it might be difficult to keep track of all of these things, but Springpad will then aggregate these items to my calendar and master task list automatically. This allows me to view my work in overview, or drill down to a project level. I can store my data more contextually, without giving up the ability to pull everything together, or fear losing track of something on an infrequently accessed page.

While there are many apps available in Springpad,  I find myself using the “notebook” app for just about everything. It’s customizable, I can add tabs to help further organize it, and I can add any type of content I want to it. Some of the apps do allow for different presentation styles and I use a couple of them for specific purposes but generally the notebooks work well for just about anything. There are plans to introduce the ability for users to create and distribute their own apps in the future.

While I’ve focused mostly on the functionality that I use for business and other work endeavors, Springpad is equally adept at organizing other areas of life as well. It is getting tremendously popular in the food community as recipe sharing and acquisition is remarkably easy, and a recent partnership with Gary Vaynerchuk is introducing his Wine Library TV content to the system as well. Integration with Yelp allows me to easily add and track my favorite restaurants and the grouping and public sharing capabilities let me put together cool things like this quickie guide to some of my favorite places to eat and things to do in New York City to send to friends who are visiting there.

I’ve been working on migrating my content over to Springpad for a few days now and am still discovering new and interesting ways to put things together. I am finding a few things I miss from Backpack — like dividers and the ability to copy pages — but the benefits really outweigh these minor annoyances.

Registration and use of Springpad is free and works well in all the major current browsers. A mobile app is also available.

I’ve made the switch to Springpad — have you?

24 Responses to “I'm Moving from Backpack to Springpad — Here's Why”

  1. I just stumbled across this article. I love Evernote but I use Bookpedia, Papers, Times and Bodega as well to keep track of all of my things. Springpad sounds great if it will allow me to consolidate a few of these apps, BUT what about a desktop app? I’m a student and I’m always on the go here and there, I can’t rely on always having an internet connection which makes a web app a little harder for me. It would be great if Springpad had desktop app syncing w/ an online account like Evernote does.

  2. I love Evernote and have over 3500 notes in Evernote. I love that I can find anything pretty fast on my Macbook, iTouch or Android phone. I’ll try Springpad, but not sure if I need another tool And where I would fit it in my workflow. I also have Bento on my Mac and Relationship app.

  3. Thank you for the article. I tried Springpad and I consider it a pretty good replacement for Google Notebook. For task and calendar features, I still cling on Toodledo and Google Calendar, because I find them much easier to access and manipulate from mobile phones.

    • Thanks Steve, I too still haven’t completely moved away from Toodledo or Google Calendar for the bulk of my task management and scheduling, but I do like how I can integrate some items in to Springpad as well.

      It is possible to have your Springpad calendar displayed on your Google Calendar and the mobile app for Springpad is coming along nicely.


  4. I use Backpack with “Snip this” bookmarklet and I like is simplicity and the textile editor, I don’t like his calendar and I would see the possibility to tags the note not only the pages. I will try Springpad, it’s more complex and complete. The killer feature for both could be the possibility to download in local all the stuff you have insert. Thanks for your post.

    • There used to be a great Firefox extension for grabbing data from the web in to Backpack but it hasn’t been updated in ages.

      Textile is great when I can remember the syntax. The editor in springpad is useful and hasn’t given me too much trouble though. I don’t do a lot of formatting so it’s not something I put too much weight on.

      Offline access isn’t a must have feature as I’m generally connected, but having the ability to work locally, like with Google Gears support would be a nice feature.

      There is something to be said for the simple structure of Backpack, it worked for me for many years – but I like how Springpad is working for me so far.


  5. I’m a heavy backpack user, but going to give it a try. Look’s interesting, but has that slightly sluggish web2.0 performance that is a drawback for my experience. Backpack has it a bit too, but this is slower yet.

  6. Love to hear thoughts on Springpad v Evernote too. I have an Evernote account, just created one on Springpad… but if Scott has thoughts on this I’d be interested.

    • I’ve always had trouble articulating why Evernote didn’t click for me, and it actually comes up a lot. I first looked at it years ago before the web version and the paper tape motif didn’t seem appropriate for my needs at the time. I revisited it again last year and again I just didn’t feel comfortable with it.

      Sometimes an app or service hits a spark and you can immediately see how it fits. That never happened with Evernote, it just never inspired me to actually put it to use.

      I’m not dismissing Evernote, I know folks who swear by it and I love how they have adapted it to fit their work styles. I love how easy it is to get data in to it, and the offline access is really a desirable feature.

      My recommendation would be to take some time both and see how they work for you. You’ll find the one that best fits your organizational style.


      • I think that’s exactly right — some apps just fit your working style, where some don’t. For some people, Backpack might work better than Springpad, and for others Evernote is the right choice (that said, Evernote certainly seems to be getting a lot of traction recently)

      • Just wanted to say that we’re Evernote fans too; and while there’s certainly overlap between us – especially with regard to collecting and referencing data – there are also significant differences:

        1. We structure the data users collect, thereby giving the user control of the content and enabling it to be personalized, shared and used. Here’s an example of a “sprung” recipe:

        2. We make it easy for you to search and “spring” your friends’ stuff for trusted recommendations. Note that I sprung this restaurant from Gary Vaynerchuk:

        3. And, we provide apps for you to use (and re-use) your content. For example, the wine notebook:

        Jeff Janer, Springpad co-founder

  7. Hey Scott, great article. I played with Backpack but it wasn’t productive for me to actually use. You can add anything to “Pages” but after worrying about logging in, navigating to the proper page and doing the few steps to stick your notes and things, was cumbersome.

    I decided to go with Evernote and I love it. The desktop app works great and web interface is just as good. The web clipper and Drag & Drop is crucial. Then add in the fast search ability, great mobile apps, email dropbox and everything else that Evernote offers, and you have one killer app. Evernote’s integration with everything (Reqall, Jott, Shoeboxed, ScanSnap, etc) is off the charts. Not to mention the price point is amazing.

    You can use Notebooks or Tags vs “pages”.

    Why did you choose Springpad over Evernote?

  8. Jessica O.

    Your description of Springpad is eerily reminiscent of a short-lived PC app long ago called Lotus Agenda – that never made it to Windows, alas. Free-form data, tagging, multiple views. But Springpad is much better. Thanks for sharing, I am looking forward to trying it out since Backpack never cut it for me.