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The Net Takeaway: Online Notepads


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Online Notepads · 04/14/2007 06:09 PM, Reference Tech

I used to use for many, many years… til they recently made a change to the allowable size of the note, and truncated all my notes (they are limited to 65k, with NO WARNING if your note is too long. It just truncates. Nice.). While the fact that I’ve lost tons of things I wanted to store still irks me (you should have seen the nasty post this one started out as), I’ve decided to get over it by looking elsewhere.

What kinds of lists are we talking about? Say, “Stuff to buy” which are things that if they go on sale, I would order… or “Songs to get” which are songs I hear on online stations that I should buy or otherwise acquire at some point. Simple, right?

The problem is that there really isn’t any other simple notepad. Instead, you either have “stickies” like Stikkit which still suffer from the size issue and have all sorts of baggage like to-do lists and other junk, through to ThinkFree’s Online Office which is a whole Java office suite. Google’s impressive Google Docs is pretty nice, but it has a 512k limit, which worries me. Seems like a lot, but I’ve been burned before with arbitrary size limits on files (Yahoo! couldn’t have emailed my account and let me know it was going to truncate my files? How could you just throw away user-entrusted data? But I digress…)

There are more and more of these AJAX laden online office suites, and its disappointing that so few are trying to just make a simple notepad, a text box that one can plop text into, without making me have to install an entire wiki or CMS on my server, without me having to remember to escape this chararcter or deal with that type of formatting or whatever, and without trying to make it too overblown.

So, what are my options?

Install my own
There are wikis and CMS tools which I could put up. For generic CMS/Content systems, Drupal is really nice. WebGui by PlainBlack, Joomla and Mambo are popular, but more complex. I couldn’t find a simple “notepad” tool; I guess I could write one in PHP but it seems like someone should have already done this. Maybe its standard homework for Comp 101 classes, so no one shares their results.

For wikis, its also an overkill problem. The “supported” wikis are huge and dense, and the lesser ones tend to disappear. WikiMatrix lists many wikis for installing as well as wiki hosts (see below).

MediaWiki is the fan favorite (its the wiki behind Wikipedia), but its a monster. It does get around the “small text box” issue by allowing independent editing of section breaks, which is a nice touch. TWiki is also impressive, but way overkill (and not related to Twiki of Buck Rogers quasi-fame).

Finding a simple and supported wiki engine is actually very difficult. PMWiki has turned out to have a nice compromise between simplicity and staying power.

There’s also TiddlyWiki and other “all in one HTML file” variants, but I find them to be gimmicky. Some people love them.

Public Wiki
Either hosted open source or proprietary wikis allow anyone to have a wiki. Some use easier AJAXy or WYSIWYG attractive editors instead of wikitext. Note that some of these do not allow private pages, so your entries would be open to the world if you aren’t careful.

I am not so interested in having others collaborate, but if you are, you can look at CentralDesktop and Nexdo.

BTW, if this doesn’t make you sick of wikis, check out WikiIndex.

Organizer sites
Stikkit and others. All see notes as very short things, or “lists”. These all tend to look great, but either a) add lots of stuff I don’t need b/c they all think they are PDAs/Outlook, like Calendars, ToDo/Tasks, etc. or b) are so Ajaxy that they take forever to load. They all tend to be Web2.0 good looking, but again feel like overkill. They also tend to be stuck on the GTD philosophy, and if you aren’t using that approach, then these tools may not be lots of fun. Finally, they are very dependent on tagging, and not all offer full text search, and if you know my opinion on tagging, you can understand why I’m underwhelmed. You may hear the phrase “digital sticky note apps” as the “catch-phrase” around these…

Online Office Sites
Every one is overkill when you just need to whip in and edit a note.

Not everyone is a suite…

So, what will I use? I’ll update when I have an answer. I’ll look at the public wiki sites and potentially the office sites. It comes down to speed to implement, and speed to edit (how fast can I get it, add a line, and get out). In the future, mobile access would be nice as well… but that can wait for another time.

PS: I was pointed to 50 ways to take notes which is pretty comprehensive, some overlap with my list, but worth looking at.

PPS: Interesting cool site: Competitious is a way to make comparison matrices and track competitors and comparisons between products or offerings.

PPPS: More on notetaking, most of which I wasn’t all that impressed with, but the authors at Web Worker Daily like them: “7 Apps for Online Note-Taking“

* * *


  1. I would suggest Editme, its a wiki hosting service that helps non-technical users to quickly and easily build editable web sites.

    Kathleen    Mar 22, 11:33 AM    #

  2. Recently I came across to this online note organizer – , i should say it is pretty simple and easy to work with. Also there’s a pda version which is handy.

    Plamen    Apr 19, 07:44 AM    #

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