Embrace the Chaos With a Personal Knowledge Manager

Now that I’ve made my Move to Mac 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 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

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