Embrace the Chaos With a Personal Knowledge Manager


Now that I’ve ?made my Move to Mac (s aapl) and got myself up and running with my initial software choices, it’s time to get to the fun part of this transition. I finally get to dig into all of the cool applications that I’ve ?been reading about for years but haven’t ever had the chance to try. My first foray was to look into the area of Personal Knowledge Management or PKM. On the Windows (s msft) side of things I’ve shuffled around quite a bit. Would I find a tool that suited me on my Mac?

I find there are two different schools of thought when it comes to PKM and organizing all of the bits of information that we compile; it seems that the tools are either page-based or note-based. Page-based tools, like ConnectedText or OneNote on Windows, use a page metaphor to store related bits of information. You can often embed notes, images and files but they are all inherently tied to a “master page” that “owns” that data. I like to think that I work this way — with the ability to have discrete and tidy pages for clients and projects, all defined and ready-to-use. When I picture my information, that is how I see it. I looked at a couple of page-based options like this for my Mac; my favorite being VoodooPad by the wonderfully named Flying Meat Inc. If I had ended up choosing a page-based manager, VoodooPad is the “no-brainer” choice.

However, my reality is somewhat different than my vision when it comes to organization. I’ve ?got a snippet with notes from a meeting here, a phone message here, a bunch of URLs, a password for an FTP site, and it’s all been entered on whatever page I happen to be on — all with the intent of moving and organizing later. But they don’t get refiled, moved or organized, which means I cant find them at a later date.

So I decided that It’s time to embrace the chaos, find a tool that works like I do, and not like I think I need to. I decided it was time to look at note-based information managers. This type of app is based upon the ubiquitous capture of anything that you need to store. A block of text, a picture, a receipt, a PDF, a URL, all in a simple note document.  Notes can be tagged, filed, sorted, based upon any number of criteria. Each note is a distinct piece of information and through efficient organization and search, hopefully you can pull them together as needed.

This is a crowded field, so I looked at a number of options before ultimately choosing Yojimbo. I looked at Yojimbo with high hopes based on Will’s great review from back in September. He was spot-on in highlighting the cool usability features that it offers. Even though I found the functionality, look and feel very similar to some of the others I looked at, one of the big selling features was the presence of a screencast video on the website. It wasn’t ?that I didn’t want to take the time to learn all about the products that I was looking at but I found the head start that I got by watching the video left me feeling more comfortable with it than the others. It was one of the first programs that I trialed and I found myself liking it quite a bit.A Yojimbo Tag View

There were, and still are a few things I wish it did better or differently, but I found that all of my notes about the other products I was looking at ended up being being stored in Yojimbo, together with meting notes and other snippets of info. I don’t think it was conscious decision that I had made my choice until my trial had expired and I was faced with exporting my data in to another product. Yojimbo isn’t my perfect PKM; it just outlasted all of the others I looked at and sort of just fell in to place.?

Yojimbo - Print to PDFWith that said, it isn’t that I don’t really like Yojimbo. It has a great mix of simplicity and power and I was able to start amassing information quickly and easily and then build my organization around it. The tagging is brilliant and it is just so easy to get data in to the system. I am also slightly addicted to the “print to Yojimbo” option as a means to get receipts and other info captured nicely in PDF format.

Choosing a Personal Knowledge Manager was among my highest-priority projects as I am collecting so much information since my transition, tips and tricks, utilities, software, training, blogs and other resources, all along with my normal day-to-day work, and ?I didn’t need the headache of information overload on top of everything else. Without my even noticing, Yojimbo stepped in and saved the day.

Yojimbo is a Universal Mac Application requiring Mac OS X 10.5.7 or later. A 30-day free trial is available and if you find it as useful as I did, it will run you $39 to license.

Did I make the right choice? What do you use to keep all of your information organized?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Report: The Real-Time Enterprise



Spotlight is the way I work with my information. Because it is not that much anymore about sortering an categorizing but more about finding. Smart Folders, Smart mailbox, etc. are all things I need.


Couldn’t agree more karl. I’ve tried all (or almost all) of the PKM tools, certainly all the ones listed above, and ultimately decided to chuck them all. Now I use the file system, given a set of protocols for file naming as I’ve written about here…


It’s robust, future proof, oh, and it comes free with the operating system you bought.

Dan Perlman

I used to use Yojimbo, but since Evernote was introduced the syncing features, phone/ipad app and web accessibility seem to far outweigh any unique features of Yojimbo. It was a great movie, though.

Scott Blitstein

Thanks Dan – I found Yojimbo to just be so darned addictive that the syncing I thought I would need became less of a necessity. Haven’t seen the movie but it comes up when I search for tips / tricks.



Have you tried Notebooks? I heard about it on the MacCast and am trying it – you get a 30 day free trial! I like it so far but am only a couple pf days into it!

Scott Blitstein

I looked at NoteBook from Circus Ponies but the interface was a bit too literal for me. I liked how it handled outlining but that wasn’t really a critical feature for me – I was looking for storage of stuff more than planning tools.



Evernote is my preferred PKM.

Having a native Mac, iPad and iPhone client along with web access (and even a Windows client) is great.

Scott Blitstein

The data ubiquity wasn’t that big of an issue for me really. I’m tied to my laptop in most cases and have access to it remotely otherwise. I’m not an iAnything user so that wasn’t a consideration.

Everyone raves about Evernote but it’s just never been right for me.

Thanks – sb


I’ve become a big fan of Bento, which I only discovered recently — unfortunately. You can use it as a CRM, project management tool, note taker, and much more. It can replace several other programs, in fact. Highly recommend you give it a try!

Scott Blitstein

I looked briefly at Bento but what made it a compelling choice for you – the all in one feature set – was actually what made it not right for me. I am pretty settled on a lot of stuff in my arsenal and it wasn’t a good fit for me as a replacement for everything.

Again – I think worth a look, just not right for me.


Scott Blitstein

I looked at DevonThink and I got a bit paralyzed by the feature set – and the differing version available. Did I need this or that, and the add-on etc. I wasn’t sure how I was going to use it and in the interim Yojimbo just sort of settled nicely.

I think in a lot of ways they are similar – in fact most of the programs I looked at in this group had very similar look feel and basic functionality.

I think it’s well worth a look if others are in the market though.



With these types of applications there is a lot of personal preference involved matching the app and its features and presentation to how we work.

In the past I’ve used Windows applications such as Info Select, NoteZilla, and OneNote to address my needs, but have found that the best current solution for me is Evernote. One of the serious limitations for most desktop apps is data portability. With many of them you can now run the app as a portable app on a USB stick, but you still have to have that stick along with you. With Evernote I can use a desktop app or a mobile app, or just a browser, and still have access to my information from anywhere. Its not the best presentation of data, and lacks a number of more refined features that some of these other apps have, but for the fundamentals of recording information and having it readily accessible, it is hard to beat.

Additionally, with Evernote, I can get the data into it via twitter or email, so I can capture data from almost anywhere. Its ubiquitous nature of providing apps and api’s is another point in its favor.

For someone who is limited to working on one machine, some of these other apps are great, but if you have any need for portability, I think they become quite limited.

Scott Blitstein

I’ve never been able to get comfortable with Evernote – I know folks love it but we’ve just never connected.

Honestly, I think the fact that it was connected to an online account that made me dismiss it again so quickly as I did look to see if a Mac version would be different. Seeing quotas and things for data that I didn’t necessarily want or need to be so ubiquitous was a bit annoying.

Thanks for the comments,

Atle Iversen

Hi Scott, as someone “more than average” interested in personal knowledge management (PKM), I found your review very interesting.

My company has a PKM tool for Windows (PpcSoft iKnow), so it won’t be interesting to you, but I would love to get some more details about the things you wish the various tools did better/differently.

We are trying to create the easiest and most efficient tool possible, and all input is useful – you have obviously tried a lot of different tools and has therefore very valuable knowledge that could help us improve our product !

My 2 cents on personal knowledge management, filtering and information overload

Scott Blitstein

I think the personal nature of organizational styles is the critical piece. Even just my realization of the more scattered nature of my collection process makes certain tools and particular features more important to me than to others who work differently.

I’d be happy to chat or share notes with you. I do still have my old Windows machine so can take a look. Autolinking looks like a killer feature.


Atle Iversen

Thank you – I tried to contact you using your contact form on Sensory Dispensary, but that didn’t seem to work (in Firefox, at least), so I’ve sent you an email
(I apologize if you get both).

Just as every person has its strength and weaknesses, so does every tool – the challenge is to match them so we get the right tool for the right person :-)

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