Saturday, May 22, 2010

Virtual Note Cards for Writing

There are several programs that try to mimic paper note card-systems for writing. Most of them are freeware or shareware. Text Block Writer seems to be freeware (though I seem to recall that I have also seen it advertised as shareware).

According to the author: "Text Block Writer is a virtual index card program for writers. It can be used to organize research papers, articles, fiction, non-fiction, books and whatever related to writing. It is intended for people like me who use paper index cards to write all the notes and pieces of an essay, and then arrange the pieces and then use that to type them into the computer. With this program, you can type in the notes and arrange them on the computer, and then export them to an rtf document (that can be opened in word, open office, or just about any other word processor)."

I tried it a long time ago, and I must say that it did not do anything for me. It's rather disorienting with its very small snippets. It also takes a heavy hit on Resources because it needs version 2.0 of the .NET framework. Windows only.

Mindola's Supernotecard costs $29.00. It's available for Windows and the Mac. It can even be used online.

One nice feature: "Notecards automatically highlight keywords that relate to factors like characters or references like websites, journals or books. Pop any into a second window to refine as you work. Or, add notes to track the details of the relationship between a character or source and each notecard."

I also tried it some time ago. It never clicked either. There is something "toy-like" about it that interfered for me with serious (academic) writing. It probably was never meant for people like me.

Finally, there is Ndxcards for Windows.[*] "The program uses the concept of electronic index cards to capture notes and ideas. As they say: "It provides you the freedom to organize notes by keywords, subjects, sources, and authors. All the features of ndxCards™ are very easy to interpret and use. Whether you are a student, manager, teacher, writer or a lawyer, ndxCards has a use for you."

Actually, I found it rather confusing. Also, it is primarily designed for note-taking. I use it only to round out the discussion.[1]

On the whole, I find the programs that try too hard to reproduce the "look and feel" of paper notecards rather disappointing. Virtual notecards obey different laws than paper notecards. In fact, the paper look becomes something of a misleading and restricting "metaphor" for something that in principle goes far beyond the restrictions of paper. On this, I can only agree with David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous. The Power of the New Digital Disorder: Virtual applications allow us "to arrange our concepts without the silent limitation of the physical." Why re-introduce the physical limitations by way of metaphor?{2] That's why I use a wiki-like arrangement instead of notecards.

* The website is defunct, as I noticed on March 22, 2015.

1. Scrivener allows you to use virtual notecards, but it does not use notecards as its primary metaphor.

2. The German program Zettelkasten, about which I have written earlier in this post, is now available for Windows, Unix, and the Mac (and in Spanish and English localisations). It has been improved to reflect Luhmann's ideas better, but it also seems to me to suffer from an attempt to stick to closely to the physical meetaphor. (I will write a post about it at some time in the future.)


Anonymous said...

There's another "virtual note card" -- sort of the grand-daddy application, Writers Blocks. Here's the web site:

I'm not recommending this application. It is old and expensive. The developer hasn't upgraded in in five or six years -- I did write to them a couple of years ago and was assured that they were hard at work on the next version.

The application is awkward, but it does have some intriguing features. For one, each of the blocks of text can be a full-blown document (though why you would want to do that, I don't know). And there is a way to view concatenated views that are, I believe, editable.


MK said...

Thanks, Steve. I was vaguely aware of this application. Even though it is rather old, it seems to have definite advantages over the ones I did discuss.

MK said...

Just looked at the Website Writer's Blocks and now remember one thing that always put me off: a price of $149.00

Anonymous said...

Yes, the price was too high back when it was somewhat "cutting edge." That they continue to want people to pay $150 for WB3 is crazy. I wonder if they sell (m)any copies?

MK said...

I would even try Writer's blocks out. But it is not easy, if you run Vista or Windows 7. Here their instructions: "In order to properly install Writer's Blocks under Windows 7 or Windows Vista you must temporarily turn off the Vista User Account Control system before running the Writer's Blocks setup program. Follow the instructions below to successfully install under Windows 7 and Windows Vista."

Anonymous said...

I guess that's as good an indication as any that they really have no plans to update the application. It's too bad, because Writers Blocks does have some unique features.

Tom Hyde said...

I'm the author of a simple note card writing program, which is available for free at . The program runs on your computer, not on the internet. The program itself created the screens on the website, so you can get a feel for the interface, before downloading it.

Bob said...

Can't omit mention of Apple's Hypercard, precursor to all of these card-metaphor flat-file databases. It was brilliantly simple, fast enough to take a note and get out of your way, and it required no preconceived indexing scheme.

MK said...

Just do a search for "HyperCard"on the blog: HyperCard. There are several entries.