ConnectedText; any case studies?
Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Feb 15, 2012 at 02:27 PM
In my continuing quest to find the perfect information manager, I am once more delving seriously into ConnectedText. This move was prompted by my general dissatisfaction with the solutions I’ve come up with in the past to manage my day notes. I was especially intrigued by CT’s date topic facility. (In short, this is the ability to give a new topic a “date” name, which causes CT to treat that note differently, including giving it a navigational calendar on which each date is a wiki link.) Since I began this experiment early in January, I’ve really “connected” with CT (sorry for the pun, but it is appropriate).
I’ve tried CT several times in the past, but I never got over the mark-up hump. That is, I was never comfortable peppering my text with strange mark-up characters. Why it doesn’t bother me so much now, I can’t say, other than I’ve perhaps developed an appreciation for mark-up language, as programs like Scrivener handle Multi-Markdown.
Regardless, I’m finding CT to be fun and inspiring to use. I’ve been tracking information I always had trouble tending to in the past, mostly through simple prose. And I think that’s why I like CT so much: It is so text-based. I find it much more appealing to just write about what’s happening in CT than I have in Zoot or OneNote or PersonalBrain, three applications I greatly admire and continue to use for other aspects of information management. But my use of CT is growing, and it is possible that it will surplant one or more of these other applications at some point.
Anyway, I’m hoping to start a thread to gather information about how people use CT. So I’ll begin:
For my job I’ve created four projects (CT speak for a file or database). My primary project is my Day Book, in which I create a topic (CT speak for a note) for each work day. In each of these date topics I use a template with the following sections:
- Needs Attention
You can see a sample screen shot here: http://db.tt/BG03v1Ib
In this same project I’ve set up topics for key projects. It has surprised me how quickly I’ve come to find CT useful for this work.
I’ve set up projects for Agents (these are people who I work with in our field, who have been helpful and have information to share), a general Notebook for miscellaneous information (which I may move into my Day Book project and do away with the separate project), and a Catalog to keep my marketing information about our various products.
I’ve just begun learning some of the advanced features of CT, and have hardly used them yet. I do like to use categories for marking topics (categories are essentially keywords).
I would welcome reading about how others are using CT.
Posted by Graham Rhind
Feb 15, 2012 at 04:49 PM
We seem to be following parallel paths as far as ConnectedText is concerned. I gave it a cursory glance a few times, but the idea of learning a mark-up language struck me as ludicrous, something I thought I’d waved goodbye to with software from the 1980s.
But I gritted my teeth and tried CT properly, and once one learns the (pretty simple) markup, one sees how very useful and powerful CT can be.
I have a 2500 page resource, very heavy in text, graphics, maps and tables, in Word (via Writing Oultiner, to allow export to pdf) and in Personal Brain (to allow export to the web). PB was, however, having major problems with the size of each document (slowing to a complete stop in many cases), and the cross-referencing and internal linking possibilities were not very good. So I moved the whole shabang into CT. It took about 4 months because of the need to mark up and tag everything, but the result (finished yesterday) is rich, allows summaries, cross-referencing and links, customised html, and is a great improvement on the PB output. CT allows me to find missing information, bad links and gaps, so that I wasn’t only importing, I was improving. For example, in Personal Brain I had to put postal code formats in each country chapter, then make a new chapter and reproduce that information in summary. In CT I add it (tagged) to each chapter, then with a single command can produce a summary chapter which I know will be updated automatically when I change data in the country chapters. And it had remained fast. I’m curious to hear what my customers say. The whole thing is not for public consumption, I’m afraid, but you can read the blurb/watch the video at http://www.grcdi.nl/book2.htm
So basically I’m producing a wiki - which is what CT is about - but there’s a lot more it can do, to be sure.
After 2500 pages I still hadn’t reached the point of wanting (metaphorically) to throw CT out of the window, which says something about its flexibility - I did come across issues, but was able to side-step them. CT does have some issues, though. For me:
1) The import from rtf/html needs a great deal of work, because only the most basic of formatting is maintained. It can take hours to format a table in CT.
2) Metadata can only be edited to a limited degree, and as Eduardo (the developer) deftly sidesteps all requests for this, I’m guessing it won’t be implemented in the short term.
3) The markup lacks an escape mark to indicate that what follows should be taken as is. Thus, if you want to mark up any text containing double brackets, pipes and so on, such as regular expressions, chances are you’ll hit a snag.
4) I discovered on page 2499 that attributes have a limited allowable length :-( It’s quite long, but not long enough for what I needed ...
Eduardo has, though, in general, proved to be responsive, so I think I could have a lot more use for CT in the future.
Posted by Stephen Zeoli
Feb 15, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Thanks for the details, Graham. What an ambitious project. Congratulations on getting it finished… it looks great. It’s interesting how different our uses are for the same software.
Posted by Chris Murtland
Feb 15, 2012 at 07:34 PM
I’m also becoming a big fan of ConnectedText. I could probably go on and on about it, but here are a few highlights:
* markup - Markup actually makes more sense to me than things like toolbar buttons. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been working with markup languages for almost 20 years. In any case, once you learn the markup, you can type freely and apply basic formatting without interrupting your typing. Tables can be tricky, but then I only use them sparingly.
* focus - I find the general experience of working with one conceptual topic at a time conducive to focus. While the topic page can “expand” outward via links, and the topic itself can be a concept of varying granularity, information I’m not directly concerned with fades into the background. This experience is the opposite of what I usually have with other approaches like tree-based info managers, where seeing the tree crammed with thousands of items tends to distract and stress me out.
* loose and structured at the same time - I like that I don’t really have to make any up-front decisions about my information. I can really just think and write naturally within CT and either apply zero structure (a note that isn’t even linked to from anything else) all the way up to very database-like structures with nested categories, properties, attributes, summaries, inline queries, etc. Over time, some areas gain more structure and I organically learn about the structure I need based on what I am trying to do with my info, at which point templates come into play.
* multiple views and organizational approaches - Obviously, linking is a big part of a personal wiki, and that’s certainly a primary means for applying order onto information in CT, but I like that there are other ways to organize and view info, with the navigator (mindmap-like), outliner, categories, automatic “meta” pages, etc. Also, I find that the GoTo feature (which is a quick, incremental filter of all topic names) is a great way to rapidly jump around to different topics when I’m working. I do more considered thinking and browsing by following links.
* scripting/plugins/etc. - I haven’t had the need to get into scripting CT yet, but as a programmer, I’m happy about the promise of being able to do so. If there is something CT doesn’t do with its considerable array of built-in functionality, there is probably a way to achieve it by writing your own helper programs.
So, I find it to be a very natural, writing-based way of working that’s flexible enough to grow organically without me having to spend a lot of time trying to wrestle my info into someone else’s preconception of how things should be organized. There are some specific tasks that other info managers do much better, but I’m enjoying the overall approach and the general “feel” of using CT.
Posted by Chris Murtland
Feb 15, 2012 at 09:54 PM
Also, it’s probably worth noting that my usage of CT is mainly for directly entering information into it. I do use it to clip some info from the web, but as Graham notes, the look of imported/clipped material is probably CT’s weakest point; if you need or want to maintain the same formatting or layout, you are probably going to be disappointed at the amount of work involved.
I actually prefer the resulting look of most articles/nuggets of info clipped from the web into CT (it automatically creates a table of contents for the article based on headings, for example), but anything other than pages that are mostly text causes a bit of a mess.
So, I’m mainly using CT as a personal, mostly plain text info repository rather than a presentation tool. CT’s html export seems pretty good (and I use it to export my entire wiki to a personal site for access from my phone), but I doubt I would want to try to format a large number of imported documents in any significant way with CT.