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I have had this peculiar problem for years and tried many tools to solve it, but so far none were satisfactory.

I read a lot of blogs, social sites, etc. and regularly encounter very interesting pieces of information that I know could be useful for me later and I want to preserve. The problem is that by the time I may need them (probably months later) I completely forgot where I have seen that information and how exactly this site was called and what it was about. Only thing I remember is that there was this really great article that is relevant to what I'm doing now and I made a note to myself to get back to it when I will be doing that but that's it. Very irritating.

I tried using bookmarks aggregators like Delicious, but it doesn't solve the problem completely, since I have by now more than 1000 bookmarks there and only way I can find anything there is the tags - but I regularly discover that tags that I used when I saved the info aren't the tags that I'd look under when I need it! For example, I stumbled upon a great site with free pictograms and thought - aha, I like it and it'll work great if I make presentation about X, so I file it under "free pictograms" - and in 3 months I am making presentation about X and try to find the site where I've seen these nice icons - but the tag "icons" shows nothing! Neither does "pictures"! Hmm... I can't use the thesaurus each time I find something useful, right?

So, is there a better way to manage these pieces of information?

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9 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'd suggest to

  • use tags for your bookmarks or text snippets (even if you will not directly remember them)
  • use an information management software like DevonThink Pro or Evernote or whatever you like to store useful text information, images and bookmarks and add tags to them.

If you store full text instead of only a bookmark, you might be more likely able to find it later, because it may already contain the keyword, you're now searching for (with the disadvantage, that it takes much more disk space).

This system is not foolproof (I' still having problems with it, but at least often I can quickly find what I know is there already but did not know where I found it).

I'm using DevonThink Pro Office for some years now and its big advantage is its "see also" feature which can find similar information and content somewhere else in the database.

What might help:

  • if you find something useful, attach a comment with your own words to it, why you found it useful and what's in there.
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Lately, as I've been coming up against the same problem, I've started clipping webpages to Microsoft OneNote. I'm not usually a Microsoft fan, but this seems to be a rather powerful solution to the problem of information conglomeration. The best part, for me, is that I can organize things into topics, but I can still do a global search. Granted, it's only in one location, so when I got home I don't have access to it, but it still works pretty well for my work stuff.

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I agree with the tools mentioned already.

Just want to call out that it's likely your biggest problem is not the technology but your system. And if you are like me, your system needs to be based on context.

How do you use, or want to use, the snippets you find?

For me, I want two things: topic and process.

Topic is like an index. i just want to hit a keyword and get all the stuff I've saved under that keyword.

Process is like a recipe. I want to be presented the info I've saved in the right order at the right time as I complete some project or task.

Therefore, I use tools that let me order the snippets the way I want to create a manual. And the tool also lets me tag or categorize the snippets so I can reference by topic.

For example, if I'm writing a sales letter, my system has all the steps listed out, and all the snippets I've saved listed under each step. Headlines, First Sentences, Calls to Action, etc.

I can walkthrough my process and scan snippets for ideas, inspiration and best practice.

However, these snippets are also tagged as copywriting and in other ways so I can get a fast view of all this related info without imposing a structure.

Evernote, Wikis, My Info and other software does this nicely.

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I suggest using Read It Later. Even when it looks like a bookmark site, for me has been much more useful than Stumble Upon favourites and Delicious. It is very helpful that you can create an account to link your browser based app and the Android/iOS based apps. Also, many feed readers have connection to it, so it is very easy to manage your interesting links. I had the same problem that you mention, but this has really helped me.

Another tool is Feedly, which helped me too, but it has the problem that is for Google Reader, so if you read your feeds there, its great. But if you just use Stumble, it might not be that helpful.

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It may sound a little weird, but in my experience, the more I try to memorize/organize something, the little I use those organized information.

In short, we can't predict what we may/will need in the future. So instead pouring lots of effort to organize things, I find a seemingly more effective way. Whenever I found something interesting, I send it to someone (friends, professors, co-workers...) who might interested in it. In your cases, if I find a website which offers free icons, I may recommend it to several designer friends, or my co-workers.

Since they usually work with icons/pictures more than me, they will remember it far better and become the "living reference" about those specific fields. By that way we can utilize the power of groups.

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My current approach is multi-pronged:

  • if I can't read it now, but want to read it later, I send it to Instapaper
  • once I read something, if it's a link I'd like to go back to later, I send it to Delicious
    • if I want the link handy in my browser, I save it to local bookmarks (synced with XMarks)
  • if there is specific information I want to save for later reference, I clip it to Evernote
    • use of descriptive tags makes this library easily searchable later on
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Evernote is probably the tool you're looking for. If you stay under their quotas, it's free and meets this need brilliantly.

Everything I could evangelize about here is better covered by their website. But, a few features you might find useful:

  • Tags and Tagged Searches
  • Cross-browser integration for taking, reading, and searching notes. Newer versions of the widget even allow you to search your note archive for everything you punch into search engines, automatically flagging relevant content.
  • Automatic OCR of handwritten notes and other difficult-to-index pieces of information
  • Integration with notetaking systems like LiveScribe, if you're into that kind of thing

I also highly recommend Emacs Org Mode for managing time-sensitive notes and personal documentation best sorted at a later time. While it requires a paradigm shift to use effectively, once you get the hang of it, you'll wonder how you possibly lived without it.

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I've had the same problem and tried several types of bookmarking and such, only noticing that there's always something new coming up or something old seeming less of a good idea than it was at first. So finally I decided to go for the most stable, simple and trusted system to preserve textual information on the long term. It's simply made of:

  • The File System
  • Plain text files

The filesystem itself is probably the most stable part of the ever-changing computing world, especially if you backup its "data" branches regularly, possibly in an automated way. I use Linux with mostly console access, but I suppose this applies to other OSes that have been around for long enough and other interfaces to navigate the filesystem. The good thing is that the filesystem itself is malleable : it's very easy to move things around, or to keep parallel classification methods (in Linux you can do this via symbolic links).

Plain text files allow you to copy/paste the relevant information, possibly a link, some personal comments and maybe the date when the snippet was collected (the filesystem tracks this, but think of the case when you change to a new computer or have to use a backup - filedates may then change). If you change your mind on your favorite editor or whatever, your information is still accessible easily. That's the simplest you can get, and it's efficient.

(Well, I admit I add some very light markup on the plain text to be able to also navigate via a system called Vimwiki, but they're still plain text files, which will be usable even if I decide not to use Vimwiki any more in the future.)

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My approach is this: as a firefox user i can assign tags to bookmarks saved in the browser. This tags will be searched along my history when I start typing in the address bar. When tagging my bookmarks, I tend to tag them with several synonyms just to be sure.

If a website is very important, I import it into evernote. This way, the site will be downloaded and I can do an offline search in all saved pages (and also my personal notes). If I find the time, I type an short abstract of the saved page just above the offline version (just 1-3 sentences).

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I love tagging in Firefox, but I find Firefox itself pretty unattractive and slow, and been using Chrome exclusively for a while now. Bookmark tagging is the thing I miss the most - hope it will come to Chrome soon! –  Ciaocibai Jan 3 '12 at 21:02
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