What is your personal knowledge management ecosystem?

Elisabeth here, wondering what your PKM ecosystem consists of.  Someone at THATCamp last week said she hadn’t thought of herself as having a personal knowledge management system, so let me elaborate:

Personal knowledge management is an activity people have been grappling with long before there were technology tools of the type we have today – but now it has a new label and there is more information coming at us as well as more tools.  What did we have 15 years ago – file folders, piles, bulletin boards, sticky notes, index cards, highlighters, dog-earing . . . ?

Typically, we didn’t ask how well those worked together.  Now, some of us are searching for the tool that will do it all for us – here are the functions that need doing on my list (in addition to the doctors’ phone numbers and the shopping list):

  • drop random thoughts in easily
  • store results of article database searches in subject folders
  • extract citation data and reformat it in different styles
  • save things I find on the web, or allow me to re-find them easily
  • help me organize our ideas
  • help me make sense of our ideas
  • store articles I want to read
  • let me make notes on those articles
  • tag articles with different subjects/keywords
  • search the texts of articles I’ve stored
  • let me write more productively than typical word processors
I still yearn for one tool, although years ago, when I took a personal knowledge management workshop with Steve Barth, who was about the only expert at the time, he told me I’d have to  give up that dream.  It took me years to accept that he was right.  Why?  I can find a tool that does one or two of these things the way I like to do them, and that does it really well.  The more functions it adds, the less likely I am to be satisfied by the way it does all of them.  And the less likely it is that it will do them all well.  Bigger programs tend to be clumsier and slower.
So I have not one PKM tool that does everything for me, but a PKM ecosystem. Here are the main software pieces, several of which I have used for years:
  • Evernote, my “junk drawer” :  it’s quick and easy to throw things in here, and I don’t have to think about how I want to classify them, but it’s also easy to re-find them (unlike my physical junk drawer).  This is the first stop for most things, and many will never need another home.  Some get tagged or put in a special notebook within Evernote; I also go through periodically and put some in another container, depending on how I want to use it.  Evernote is available on my Android phone, on and offline, and online on my Android tablet (which runs an ancient version of Android, since the manufacturer went out of business almost as soon as I bought it – hardware components are another post).
  • Zotero, for scholarly sources.  I still use the Firefox version, though I have the freestanding version as well.  One reason I stick with Zotero: it has metadata categories for source types beyond books and articles, such as blog posts, podcasts, interviews, cases, patents, etc.  Also, I like the fact that the main working interface is my machine; I am sometimes in the mountains with wretched internet service, and cloud-based storage would not work for me.  I love the notes features – both child notes (about articles) and free-standing notes, which I often use at the end of the day to note what progress I have made during the day (i.e., finished searching x database with search terms a, b, c, and here are my thoughts about how to start tomorrow)
  • TheBrain, a dynamic information mapper (most people would call it a mind map, but that term has negative associations for me, so I talk about information or idea mappers).   This is where I put things I want to visualize in web form.  It has copious notes fields and can handle many forms of attachments.  It’s the only one of my tools that requires a non-negligible expense, though I don’t consider it expensive.  One thing I love is that it recenters itself around whatever ide
    a I click on, so I am never lost on the fringe of my web.
  • Compendium , when I want to structure complex arguments logically, or track a wide-ranging discussion over time.

These are the main elements in my ecosystem – what are in yours?  How well are they working for you?  Where is your workflow breaking down?  What do you wish worked better?  What would entice you to change?

Note: TheBrain, PersonalBrain and WebBrain are trademarks or registered trademarks of TheBrain Technologies LP. Used with permission.

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