I 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.
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.
Not 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.
I’ve made the switch to Springpad — have you?