Monday, September 5, 2011

Lotus Agenda and ConnectedText, III

James Fallow's observed in his original review of Agenda what he valued most in the program was a function he "didn't know it possessed when [he] first bought it," namely its ability "to organize and keep track of large quantities of research information." This is where ConnectedText really shines.

As Fallows observed:
Suppose you had collected information on your computer in dribs and drabs, knowing that eventually would need to put it together in some organized way. Perhaps you had been copying out notes and citations for a thesis ... Agenda can then sort the information into usable categories, based on the rules you specify.
The same thing will hold for ConnectedText 5 which will have automatic category recognition. The difference is that you do not have to specify rules, but that the program will do so automatically, based on your past assignment of categories. This does not, however, prevent you from assigning categories at will either. (How do I know? I was a beta tester.)

But categories are only one way to organize the information. You can also use smart topics, as I suggested in my previous post see II.

Let's take Fallows' example:
If your project concerns the history of China, you could specify that any paragraph containing the words "John King Fairbank" could be assigned to categories such as "Harvard scholars," "long-term impact of American missionary families," and "Who Lost China controversy." If you were research world leaders, you could assign all names including "King" to the "royalty" category, except those also including the words "John Fairbank," "Martin Luther," or "Kong."
He admits this is time consuming, but finds that "occe you have laid out" these categories, "Agenda can retroactively apply them information already on your computer, and automatically categorize each new bit of data you add."

The pay-off is that you will then be able to define views in Agenda and can as a result
switch from view to view and see exactly the information you are looking for. If I want to see all items concerning relations between America and China, I bring up one view. If I want to see all citations I've collected from the writings of John King Fairbank, including some that were also in the "America and China" view, I can switch there. Then, if I want to see notes on the influence the children of American missionaries in Asia, I can switch to another view and see comments from Fairbank, and Edwin Reischauer, and Henry Luce.
To achieve this in ConnectedText you do not create categories like in Agenda or folders like in Ecco but a topic in which you formulate an inline query. So, if you want a view that contains all items (topics) on America and China, you can formulate a query like: [[$ASK:China & America|INDEX]] (where Index indicates only that you want the material ordered in a bullet list, there are other ways of ordering the results of these searches, but this is not important for the present topic. More important is that ConnectedText does not just allow simple searches, but expressions composed of: [(] [NOT] {AND, OR, NEAR, XOR} [NOT] [)]. It also allows wildcards, etc. Categories, attributes and predicates can also be searched for.[1] Regular expressions cannot be used in inline queries, however.

You do not have to worry about the contents of a smart page. If you add another topic that satisfies its criteria, it will be automatically added to the page. Category pages are, by the way, work very much like smart topics as well. They "search" for pages with categories.

So, as I suggested in the last post, you might want to create a page called "Views" in which you collect all the different pages that you consider as views. You can put a link to that view into the footer so that it is available on every topic page, like so:

Clicking on Views at the bottom might bring up a page like this:

And here is a view of topics that contain references to ConnectedText in my main note-taking file:

This is the easiest part of reconstructing Agenda's capability in ConnectedText. Since this was, however, the most important use many people made of Agenda, it is quite significant already. I will address scheduling and planning in a future post.

[1] More about that later.


Miles said...

Please expand on how you created an Agenda-like column formation in CT.

MK said...

Will do! the short answer: a table without visible borders.