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(Archived) Thoughts on the Whole Notebook/Tag/Saved Search Thing

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I've been playing with the beta for a couple of days now, and playing with both getting information into it, and information out of it. I've also been thinking about a few of the posts that I've seen here, most especially some of marclarke's essays on what's broken and not broken about the 2.2 paradigm.

Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

Marc's right - it's not that the 2.2 paradigm was broken; it's more that it was actually mixing multiple paradigms together. I'll be honest - I use some categories as folders or containers for notes. For example, I have a category for recipes. I don't tag anything in there, since I only have something like 50 notes in there. When I want to find a recipe for chocolate muffins, I just do a search for chocolate or muffins, or chocolate and muffins, and find those few recipes.

I like the Recipe category as a container, because it very clearly keeps my recipes away from my afghan patterns, which are both kept away from the books I want to read one day, which are most clearly kept away from my research notes. So, in this case, it would make very good sense for me to have separate notebooks, one for Recipes, one for Afghan Patterns (Perhaps Yarn Patterns in general), one for Books, one for Research. This also matches nicely with how OneNote uses notebooks, and I'm pretty sure that the EN team is looking at OneNote at least.

A couple of things that would make this more useful/powerful, would be the idea of sub-notebooks, as was suggested elsewhere. For instance, then, I could have a notebook for Yarn Patterns in general, and a specific subnotebook devoted to just Afghan Patterns. Likewise, and this is where the idea first came to me, I'd like to have a Household notebook for general household stuff, and a separate subnotebook for the Camera research that I'm doing right now.

Another useful feature would be to hide/elide the tags that are empty when looking at a particular notebook. For instance, a tag that's important with respect to recipes, e.g., "vegetarian", would not be useful when applied to the Yarn Patterns notebook. This is something already suggested and possibly approved elsewhere in the forum. I'd definitely like to see this, even with a toggle for "show all tags", as has been requested.

Now, on to tags. I have literally, over 1000 categories in my current multi-purpose EN2.2 database. Most of those come from the fact that I'm using categories as containers. Here's and example (and very much reduced one at that) of how I have tags orgainzed for my research:

Research Projects


----Getting Papers

------Searches (How To)




--Phd Dissertation

----Tips for Doing PhD

----Outline and Format




--PhD Research


------Stuff to @fix now

------Stuff to fix @later

------Stuff to @look into

------Stuff to @remember



--------MindManager Shots

--------@L3 shots

--------Diagrams to @keep Track Of

------Code Snippets

------Test Runs

--------.act Files


------Working On Code

--------[ ] Long description of old problem not finished

--------[x] Long description of problem finished

--------[ ] Current thing I'm coding


Sorry to be so long-winded, but I wanted to give an idea of how categories as containers (and as automatic keyword categories) help me work. So, when I'm coding a problem, I put most if not all new notes directly into the "[ ] Current thing I'm coding" category, as I go. I can put dozens of notes in here in a day. This is why it's so important to me to be able to pick the "tag" that I want a new note to go into. Of course, if it were possible to have a hierarchical notebook structure (or say, a notebook with subsections, or pages, or something), then I could use that instead. I think one of the key things to remember is that with 7000+ notes in one database, I *need* the structure that containers gives. I like the convenience of tags, but to me, pure tags are good for looking for things that you know you're looking for. For instance, I know I'm looking for books that I have to order, so I go to my @ill tag. But the containers themselves are good for *browsing*, when you don't really know exactly what you're looking for. For example, up above, I only show you three things under "Working on Code". I actually have a couple of hundred. By browsing through those container names, I can see what problems I've been working on, what still needs to be finished of (in high-level descriptions, not nuts and bolts of the notes themselves), etc. It would be a disaster if I kept all 2000 notes kept under "working on code" and tried to get a high level view from that!.

As I create notes, I "tag" some of them by using keywords. A diagram that I want to keep? I put @keep in it. Something I want look at again? Add @revisit. Some things I don't even have to add to, e.g. a printout of an *.act file automatically gets put into the ".act Files" category because it's filtered on ".act", etc. etc.

This brings me to the discussion of tags vs. saved searches. I would love to see some way of keeping a separate "Saved Searches" section. I see Saved Searches as kind of a temporary thing (actually, replacing the category intersection panel.) I want to see all notes that in the "working on code" tag/category , and all of its children, that are not yet marked "done". Create a saved search for that. Use it for a few days/weeks. Eventually kill it.

However, I also have other "saved searched" that I would like to maintain full time, and actually have them boosted up to the tag area. For instance, all notes that have "@next" in them, etc. It would be very cool to be able to use Saved Searches in a disposable fashion, i.e., just leave them in the bottom pane, but then to be able to promote them to the level of tags, and have them higher up in the list.

Now, don't tell me that the tags aren't smart enough to have the same functionality as a saved search. I don't buy it. Right now, I can create an EN3b database that has tags that filter on keywords, such s @next, @waiting. I can even have a tag that filters on images. I can even have one that filters on to do/state. How? Simple - just create the appropriate automatic categories in EN2.2, and then bring in some notes that have those categories attached. The automatic categories become tags in the new database. The problem is that these tags are only "smart" in a forward sense. You can't bring in a new tag filtering on @next, and have it recognize older notes. You would have to edit an old note containing @next, and then the new tag would recognize it. But the new tag has no problem recognizing @next in a newly created note.

So, I know that I can fudge the tags to be smarter than they're supposed to be. So why not take this a little further, and let us have tags that are automatically assigned?

Now, we're already able to have hierarchical tags. Very nice. But let's take that a littler further, and let us sort them manually as well.

So, what does Crane's Ultimate Vision give us? It gives us a section for Notebooks, with subnotebooks, and subsubnotebooks. They can be sorted in whatever order we like. One notebook remains the default (I like this idea, and have named my notebook "INBOX".) It also gives us a section for Tags, which can also be stored hierarchically, and sorted in whatever order we want. Finally, it gives us a section for Saved searches. By default, we just have a list of a few saved searches that we use frequently. But if there's a saved search that we particularly like, and need to have as a tag, we have the option of promoting this saved search to a tag, and it can now live happily in our tag hierarchy.

I think one of the differences between how the power users (at least some of us) us EN, and how the desired customer base for EN3 would use it is the difference between organizing and searching. Like others, I don't need to be able to dump 1000 quick images into EN and then look for the one with that cigar label that I liked. I also need to be able to relate some notes to others, while keeping entire sections of my database separate from others.

I think that if the developers could think of EN as a way to organize *a lot* of information, instead of just as a way to quickly get info in and out, then we could really have a product that will suit all of us.

Bear in mind that my suggestions above do not have to make things complicated for new users. For instance, have a set of options, that by default, are set to "idiot level". This would give you a bare bones database that has no hierarchy in the notebooks, tags, or saved searches. Then, power users can turn the hierarchy on and organize like crazy. Similarly, tags, by default would be dumb and have to be manually assigned. It would take an advanced user to *choose* to turn a saved search into an automatically assigned tag.

I think that EN could offer different levels of complexity to different users. It's been done with other software, e.g., with the "simple" vs. "wizard" views/toolbars/etc.

Phew. That took a long time to type. I hope it's useful for others to read :)

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Crane, thanks for your excellent analysis: it's very close to how I use EN and how I think about it.

But there's one point worth emphasizing. I would much prefer to see the saved searches reintegrated fully with the tags list (assuming that the latter could be manually organized). If the saved searches are to be the substitute for our present automatic categories in EN3, then it seems important (to me at least) to get them back into a hierarchical list along with the ordinary tags; as your example shows, both tags and saved searches are simply two aspects of a broader attempt to impose some intellectual order on all those notes in a notebook. Perhaps a special icon for saved searches could be automatically generated? And for those users who choose to stick with the alphabetical order of tags, then perhaps the saved searches could be by default placed at the beginning or end of the tags list.

EverNote is already, in some ways, weaker at organizing information than OneNote and many of the simple two-pane note-taking programs (though better than them in almost every other respect). It seems to me that segregating the saved searches into a separate list just makes the organizational aspect of EN even more incoherent. I cast my vote for a reunion of tags and saved searches.

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But there's one point worth emphasizing. I would much prefer to see the saved searches reintegrated fully with the tags list

I guess I didn't emphasize that enough - it's what I meant by "promoting" a saved search up into the tag list.

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Wow, what a thought-provoking essay. :) I am going to have to go think about it for a few hours. 8)

In the mean time, I propose to dub two new terms "Dumb Tag" and "Smart Tag". A Dumb Tag is a tag that you have to take-by-the-hand and lead around. That is, you have to manually drag-and-drop it onto a note to assign the Dumb Tag to the Note. Or, you have to drag-and-drop the note onto the Dumb Tag. Dumb Tags are extremely easy to comprehend and use. If you can play Windows Solitaire, you can immediately work with Dumb Tags.

Smart Tags are tags that are bright enough to assign themselves to notes. 8)

One can at any time change a Dumb Tag into a Smart Tag, or change a Smart Tag into a Dumb Tag. In EN Classic, one can simply change a Dumb Tag into a Smart Tag by dragging-and-dropping a selected word or phrase from a note or from the textual search box onto a Dumb Tag in the Tag Panel.

To me, a Tag is a Tag. I don't conceptualize a Dumb Tag differently than I do a Smart Tag. I think about them together in the same hierarchical Tag Tree.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I agree entirely. I am very disappointed that the Categories (and Category Intersection panel) of Evernote 2 has been scrapped for this far more limited tag/saved-search framework. The flexibility of the old categories and auto-categories was the thing that made Evernote such a useful program for organizing research. The new framework strikes me as a sad conceptual leap backwards.

Hopefully, the old Categories system will rise from the dead before the final release of Evernote 3. Furthermore, I also hope it will be possible

1: to choose icons for categories

2: to create subcategories in one step

3: to format categories (bold, italic, colors, etc)

4: to order categories according to one's preference, not always automatically in alphabetical order.

One could do ALL of those things in Evernote 2. For these reason, unfortunately, I find Evernote 2 to be far superior to Evernote 3.

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I need to second the opinion of ghblaustein and others in the forum. The flexibility of having a category/tag also be a saved search is a critical feature for me in EN2.2, allowing me to, for instance, quickly add to a category without a painful search through the category list and without dragging and dropping. Sometimes, though, dragging and dropping is more convenient and the EN2.2 system allows for both. The separation in 3.0 is a huge step backwards and would force me to reorganize and artificially partition my entire tag/category tree. I just don't see any advantage to the hard separation of tags and saved searches.

I did find this bug with saved searches: They do not recognize special characters in the search. For instance, @next results in all notes with 'next' (ignores the @).

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I did find this bug with saved searches: They do not recognize special characters in the search. For instance, @next results in all notes with 'next' (ignores the @).

Funny, I could have swore that my "@next" saved search worked, at least in the desktop app. It never did in the web app. But now, after installing the 2nd or 3rd version of the desktop app, I find that the @ is being ignored.

Again, less functionality than was originally anticipated. If the "upgrades" keep degrading the program, we'll be back at pen and paper in no time.

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