Sunday, January 4, 2009
Softfile is an old program. Even though it has not received much attention, it is very interesting. In fact, when it was announced in 1991, it was far ahead of its time. Softfile, it was said, "organizes information somewhat like a notebook. But, unlike any physical notebook, it could store roughly one million entries or records." And "if a note doesn't fit on one screen, it can be continued on subsequent records, just as you would continue a handwritten note on successive pages in a paper notebook. The records are connected in a way that lets you 'page' through them, forward or backward, like the pages of a book."
What really set Softfile apart, however, was the ability to "link" the different records by hypertext links: "You can set up a connection between the two records which lets you move from one to the other with a single keystroke. This connection is called a link. Any two records can be linked together. You can think of links as cross-references to other pages in the electronic notebook created by Softfile. - A paper notebook and a word processing document are linear: you start at the beginning, and text follows word by word until you reach the end. But text with links between related items, often called hypertext, gives you alternative paths through the information. - Softfile has both linear and hypertext capabilities. Records can be connected together so you see them in sequence, but they can also be linked together in any desired order. Indeed, records can even be separate from all others, like paper notes tossed at random into a large box."
Nothing much has changed. The latest version, which runs under Windows, has the same capabilities. While the early versions stored the information in text files, the latest one stores it in HTML. See Softfile Homepage. You can download a free demo, which is limited to 100 entries. The full version costs $25.00 if you choose the option of electronic delivery.
I came across Softfile very late, namely after having discovered Wikis. If I had known of its existence in 1991 or even 2002, I would have made extensive use of it. Now, it seems a bit dated to me. It has been left far behind by such applications as Voodoopad on the Mac and ConnectedText on the PC.
There is, however, one feature that still seems to be of interest, having to do with its Search function, which is otherwise not the strong suit of this program. The feature does not seem to have survived in the Windows version, in any case. As described in Inexact Softfile Searches, "Softfile can provide a list of up to ten words which are similar to a word you enter. For example, if you enter 'notes', Softfile might find 'footnotes', 'notebook', and 'notecards'. Each of these matches contains 'note', but none of them begin with 'notes'. - If Softfile doesn't find obvious similarities, it will look for more subtle ones. A search for words similar to "personal" displayed the following words: 'person', 'conversational', 'peripheral', 'persuasion', 'performers', and 'perspective'." The first part about "obvious similarities" is trivial. Any good search program will allow you to search for "*notes" or "note*". But the second part is not.
There is no PC note-taking application that has this automatic capacity even today—at least not that I know of. Connectedtext allows you to define such relationships in its Synonym list, but Softfile did (or was supposed to to do this) automatically. It limited "a search for similar words by assigning a score to each word and retaining no more than ten words. The purpose of the ten-word limitation is to focus on good matches, when there are some, and eliminate the large number of equally-poor matches which often follow the good ones."
It's too bad I did not know this application when I still had use for it.
1. See Softfile: A Memory Enhancer and on this blog Softfile and Luhmann's Zettelkasten.
2. Added Wednesday, January 07, 2009: Actually I misunderstood. There is less there than I wanted to see. What I saw as "automatic capacity" is more of the same. The program would just look for "per*", and "*onal"—nothing more. Any capable program can do this. My imagination is to blame.