Jot This Down: Springpad

Still looking for the perfect note taking tool? Have you tried Springpad (link here)?

Back a few months ago, I featured visual web snipping tool Zootool (link here) here in the Studio. In the comments to that post (since lost during my change over to Disqus), Jeff Janer of Springpad urged me to try their competing product. I immediately looked into it and, while I haven’t made a complete switch, I can see some very compelling reasons why this app has a privileged place in the somewhat overcrowded field of electronic notebooks and organizers.

First of all, Springpad is free. Second of all, it is web-based, but also is accessible from your Apple or Android-powered phone. You can access it from pretty much anywhere. Of course, you can make text notes. But you can also add events (syncs with Google Calendar), photos, voice notes, products by barcode or image, businesses, events, recipes — pretty much anything you can snip, copy, type, say, snap and paste. Of course, it syncs immediately across your devices / platforms. You can even email information to Springpad and the app will stow it away in the proper receptacle for you.

You can set up alerts to be sent to you via email or SMS. Anything you might want to know about can be arranged to alert you, whether it is an event or a price drop on a product you are interested in buying. And for the buying alerts, Springpad is working with some retailers and you might even get a Springpad-only coupon for the desired item.

With the web clipper button in your browser, if you can find it, you can clip it. The tool will suggest different categories or filters, so that the information gets appropriately slotted. But what makes Springpad special here is that the clipper is smart. It uses semantic technology to figure out what you are clipping and, therefore, interested in and makes related suggestions. Same goes for adding content via the mobile apps. Clip a movie and get local movie times. Clip a recipe and get prompted to add a shopping list. If Evernote is a filing cabinet, Springpad is a virtual assistant presenting added info you may not have thought of or were going to do next yourself. And this is where Springpad shines – it does some of the “thinking” for you. Springpad does more than simply hold your vast collection of information only accessible via rudimentary organization or search. Springpad is the perfect tool for people who want to get organized but can’t handle the process or can’t be bothered to set up their own organizational system.

I like the OneNote-like aspect of creating notebooks with tabbed pages. Springpad notebooks also offer templates, or apps as they call them in Springpad-land.  The apps help you actually accomplish goals with the information you save. You can add a wine notebook (sponsored by social wunderkind Gary Vee), a meal planner, a movie tracker, a travel checklist, a blog post planner, even a cleaning supply inventory. Again, Springpad works in conjunction with other “experts”, so, for example, the meal planner template or app results in a recipe list created with the help of Epicurious and Allrecipes.

In many ways, Springpad obviates the need for several separate apps. Springpad can: save notes a la Evernote; save bookmarks a la Delicious; save tasks a la Remember The Milk; and, create grocery checklists a la Grocery IQ. So, put a checkmark in Springpad’s plus column next to its ability to simplify and shorten your retinue of day to day applications necessary for staying on top of your game.

While I am not sure of the particular utility of this feature, you can integrate your Springpad information with your social networks. In other words, if you clipped something particularly interesting to a demographic broader than yourself, you can put your saved info into your Facebook or Twitter stream and “alert the media” so to speak. You also can tap the community built right into Springpad itself – yet another on-line venue to get social over information sharing.

Check out the quick overview of Springpad here, and see if you like its outline:

Springpad has been busy. It recently released an Android app and now, to my great joy, it has released a shiny new iPad app! There are lots of enhancements in the iPad and new iPhone app – hit the jump (link here) to read more on the details.

There is always some bad news, isn’t there? If you use Windows Mobile, Blackberry or Palm’s WebOS, you are out of luck. But with the rapid development Springpad has been pouring into its product over the past several months, I fully anticipate seeing an option on all viable platforms in the near future.

How To Organize Your (New) iLife

Given the vast (and growing) number of iPhone users, there likely is a growing number of iOS4 users. Both iTunes and the iPhone have recently received software updates that enhance the phone’s usability and organization. The principal new addition along these lines is folders for applications.

Previously, if an iPhone user had more than, say, three or four pages of applications, finding them was a multi-step process of searching and swiping. Organizing them was also cumbersome – you either moved them one by one on the phone itself, or used the marginally better tool available in iTunes for switching them around. You still needed to consider where you put them, perhaps grouping like apps on the same page and organizing pages from most to least used or some other convention.

Folders have the power to change this process and, better yet, can collapse 10 + pages of applications down to 1 or 2 pages. But, how do you use this new foldering system to get the most out of the phone?

Folders are created when you enter editing mode on the phone by tapping and holding any app icon, then dragging one app on top of another. Once you do this, a folder is born and the phone even suggests a label based on the App store category of the first two apps you have grouped. If you want to change the label, simply tap on it and an edit box comes up. To access apps within folders, tap the folder and a strip of apps within the folder overlays the screen. You can fit 12 applications within a single folder. Before folders, the iPhone could fit 180 apps – 16 on each of 11 pages plus 4 in the dock. With the new foldering system, you can load 2,160 apps, if you fill each folder with 12 applications and load the dock with 4 folders. You can load more than that – they just won’t be visible on the page and will only be accessible via Spotlight search. And, if an app within a folder has an updated status (the tiny red circles with numbers), then the folder shows that status, adding together the notifications from all apps within the folder. You can delete a folder by removing all apps from the folder. You also can use the new, folder-friendly iTunes to create, edit and move folders. Simply drag apps onto other apps in iTunes and a folder will be created. Select a bunch of apps together and drag them all onto a folder at once.

So, how do you organize your new, extended-to-more-than-the-power-of-Ten App life? Well, you can apply a process similar to the pre-iO4 phone and simply stack like apps into folders, per the instructions above. Don’t be fooled – it’s still tedious. It took me the better part of an hour to get the hang of it, add, edit, move and shuffle apps and files. There are ways, however, to improve the process, particularly if you have tons of apps.

iTunes offers limited ability to categorize applications. When your device is connected, click on the Apps label in the left column of iTunes. You will see all your apps in there. Along the top is a tab labeled “Genre.” Click on that tab and your apps are instantly reorganized by type using App Store labels, such as reference, productivity, travel, lifestyle, etc. You also can see how many apps you have in each category. To view your apps via filters, use the “sort by” button underneath the “Sync Apps” box. This allows you to filter by name, category, date and size. You can use these filters to get a sense of what apps may be redundant or which may be outdated.

The rest? Well, that is up to you. Because I am a bit of an app collector (and reviewer), I tend to have the maximum number of both apps and folders. My system may not be right for the next guy. My convention is to put a few (not even a full screen) of key apps on the front page – right now, I have Calendar, Settings, Camera, Photos, App Store, Dragon Dictation, my grocery list manager and Messages on the home screen, along with the default dock icons (I haven’t yet modified them, but for sure the iPod icon is getting moved). All my folders live on pages 2 and 3 and all the remaining apps are organized by folder. My folder categories are News, Social, Photography, Navigation, Notes & Files, Music, Games, Weather, Search, Video, Work & Docs, Blogging, Utilities, Art, Finance, Shopping, Messaging, Travel & Food, Books, Contacts and Reference.

I am sure I will refine the system as I go, but this is a decent start. If you haven’t yet begun the process, consider using the “Genre” feature in iTunes to get an overall picture of your app life. Then, let your OCD tendencies run wild!

Clearing Your Virtual Magazine Bin

In my humble opinion, the single best source of information both on and off the Web is a healthy collection of news and blog feeds automatically pouring into Google Reader. But, much like my tangible desktop, briefcase and magazine bin, my virtual periodical inbox is stuffed full to bursting. It can’t be helped: I see an interesting post or feed and I MUST subscribe. My pack rat mentality flows over into virtual space. Dozens of feeds and thousands of posts later, I lose complete site of the bottom of the pile.

So I welcomed this morning a post from Lifehacker (link here) with tips on how to tame the tangle mass that is my Google Reader inbox. Some tips I knew, but others were fresh and I immediately applied them. For example, use the “Trends” button underneath “Your Stuff” in the left hand column to quickly view the least updated, most obscure or least attended-to feeds and lose them like a bad habit. Lifehacker also suggests creating a folder system that encourages you to spend more time on the stuff you want: consider folders called “favorites” containing all your must-read subscriptions, then tier the remaining content in order of importance or subject matter. I employ a subject-based foldering system, but I do tier my Reader follows into “Top Peeps” and all the rest.

Another great tip for the higher order geek is using Yahoo! Pipes (link here) to further customize your feeds with built-in filtering. Another, somewhat simpler, option is FeedRinse (link here), which strains by author, tags, and keywords. Lifehacker reminds that WordPress feeds also offer tagging – in other words, if you are reading a WP blog within a particular category, simply add /feed/ to the end of the URL and you can secure a feed of only that category.

The Lifehacker article finally spurred me to start the long overdue Spring feed cleaning that I had contemplated for some time. It didn’t hurt my momentum when I learned this morning that the Reeder app on my iPhone stops updating when there are 5,000 unread items. Oops.