Monday, June 16, 2008

Ecco from 1993 to 2000

In a Journal entry of Tuesday, August 10, 1993, I find: "I also bought a copy of ECCO, and familiarized myself with it over the weekend. Imported the addresses and the bibliography file from InfoSelect. Though I had gotten quite used to Ascend, the program has some things that I really did not like. It is not very flexible. You really cannot use it very well for long-range planning. Ecco is more flexible, but perhaps it is too flexible. It does not give me the kind of structure that I really need. However, as an outliner and a research tool, it is really great. I'll try it out for scheduling over the next few weeks."

Well, I used it for several years, at the beginning parallel to InfoSelect, but increasingly as the only application for note-taking. It implemented outlining well. In fact, it may be the best outlining application ever developed.

But, not all my data were in Ecco. I also used paper Notebooks from this time forward, indexing them in Ecco. Ultimately, however, I gave up on it for two reasons: (i) I realized that the outlining metaphor was not the best for keeping a database of information or notes, and (ii) Arabesque, the company that had published Ecco, was bought up by NetManage about a year after it was released and I had bought it. While the original owners were very responsive to their users, NetManage seemed to have no interest in them whatsoever. Soon, the product became "abandon ware." For more on its features and its history, see Ecco Pro

Even though I have installed the last version of Ecco on every computer I ever owned, I did not become one of the die hard accolites of the program. The main reason has to do with my realization that the outlining metaphor is inherently limited when it comes to note-taking. If Luhmann was right about anything, then he was right in his claim that a hierarchical structuring of one's notes gets in the way of future intellectual growth, which has to do, at least to some extent, with extending our concepts "as in spinning a thread," twisting "fibre on fibre. And the strength of the thread does not reside in the fact that some one fibre runs through its whole length, but in the overlapping of many fibres" (Wittgenstein). A network of notes serves me better than an outline.

Put differently, my original fear was groundless. Ecco was not too flexible. It turned out that it was not flexible enough, though I sometimes wonder what would have become of Ecco (and my note-taking habits), if the original developers would have continued developing it.

I have transferred all the notes I ever had in Ecco to Connectedtext. I used it occasionally in outlining papers and projects, but the outline function in ConnectedText has made this largely superfluous. So, I don't know whether it will find a place on the hard drive of my next computer or will become another "toy" on a flash drive.

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