Planning a Trek: Dealing with Data

The internet, of course, is a major asset to those of us who are planning a trek or expedition. I find it very difficult to remember what life was like before we had Google to quickly link us to details of places, train, air timetables, equipment review, trail journals and so on. But it is very easy to quickly accumulate too much data, so much so that it is easy to loose that critical piece of information that you’re sure was saved to read later. The more data you accumulate the more is can begin to resemble that note that was scribbled on a bit of grubby paper which has now being lost on the mound of paper on the desk.

Recently I was talking to a friend planning a trek and I realised that he wasn’t using any of the simple tools that are now available to help you categorise and file your data.

So, I thought it would be worth sharing some of these services with you — and encouraging you to share your own tips for making sense of digital overload. First, off let’s look at three products that I have used extensively.

Delicious Bookmarks

Delicious is a simple but powerful system for collecting bookmarks, saving you the problem of a bookmarks table which is overloaded with information.

Delicious is a simple ‘cloud’ product, i.e. it is a service that sits on somebody else’s server.

To use Delicious you simply have to open an account which is free and download a plugin or extension to your favourite web browser.

Delicious offers you a quick and easy way of keeping track of web pages. You find a page you want to reference later. Press the Delicious button on your browser and your presented with a dialogue box which lists the title and address of your page. You are simply asked to apply some tags to the date. Delicious will often suggest some tags for you to use and will also remember those tags you have used before. As you type the system will ‘suggest’ one of our previous tags to use.

When you want to look at or organise your new bookmarks you simply look at your own Delicious page (login details will have been given when you register).

Here you will find a simple list of your tags. My delicious page looks like this:

delicious

On the right had side of the page you can see a list of tags and clusters of tags.

You could easily tag route details, journals, gear and so on and make sense of the.

For a long time — when starting on a new work project — I would automatically create a new tag cluster for every project that I worked on.

On your Delicious page you can search for tags or combinations of tags, for example “pack AND ultralight”

The advantage of Delicious is that it is very easy to use and doesn’t have much of a learning curve.

Delve into Delicious a little and you can find that you can share tags and links with someone else who is using the service. Each time I log on I will find details of the links and tags that a friend or colleague has sent me. So, as simple as it is Delicious can be quite a powerful tool for collaborative work.

An iphone App is available that allows you to take your bookmarks with you

Diigolet

Diigolet is a more recent service, very similar to delicious, that takes the cloud concept a little further. Diigolet is another cloud service and you subscribe in a similar way to Delicious. However, Diigolet has more services on offer and for some of these you will have to pay a subscription. A fully functional basic service is available for free. More storage capacity and new features are available to subscribers. The top level of subscriptions will only set you back £30 or so, but if you do a lot of research this could represent great value for money.

diigolet-1

Rather like Delicious you install a plugin or extension to your browser. Currently the plugin for Firefox is the most fully featured.

With your plugin installed you have more options when looking at a web page that are given by delicious.

Above is a graphic of my Diigolet page. But the content here is not just bookmarks.

You can bookmark a page with Diigolet and this feature works very much like Delicious. But you can go further.

highlight

This browser window shows how you can highlight text with Diigolet. Also,note the Diigolet menu bar that has dropped down from the main browser header.

Effectively, the highlighting of this text creates a clipping that is saved on your Diigolet page — and you can add tags to it as you can with bookmarks. With Diigolet installed the highlighting will show every time you look at this page. On your Diigolet page you will only see the clipped information but a quick click on the title will bring up the complete page.

sticky

Another option is to attach a Sticky Note to your page — as you can see above. The content of the note will also be saved to your Diigolet home page. You can also add a page comment in a similar way.

Your notes, clippings and bookmarks can be shared with others who have a Diigolet account and who become part of your network.

Diigolet is developing all of the time and is set on becoming a valuable tool for writers and researchers.

This is a more powerful service the Delicious, although there is an option with the Firefox plugin to save your bookmarks to both Diigolet and Delicious at the same time. Delicious’ search facilities are a little more powerful.

The content of your Diigolet page is easily exportable for use in databases, word documents and so on. A series of Apps are available for both Android and iphone/ipads.

Free Form Databases

The more powerful services are probably those that sit on your own computer.

I’m thinking here of the new generation of ‘free form’ databases. These are programmes into to which you can put almost anything. You can make notes in them, drop PDFs and photos in, keep bookmarks together and so on.

Evernote is one of the most popular of these programs and it is available for both Windows and Macs. You can use it to ‘clip’ information in much the same way as you can with the services above, but you have a much more powerful solution for cataloguing and searching for your data.

I use a program for the Mac which really is a killer app — DevonThink. DevonThink does everything that Evernote does and more. It is the natural home for project plans.

The clever thing about DevonThink is that it uses an Artificial Intelligence system to learn how and when you file data. As your database grows it will offer you options of folders for you to put the dat in.The system is remarkably accurate. The same AI system is used to provide you with other documents that already sit in the databse.It is amazing how often these connections are useful.

I have a number of really big DevonThink databases. For example, I have one for Scotland. Into here go all my notes, clippings and bookmarks for Scottish mountains. I have a folder for each TGO route. I also have routes that have been given to me by others and links to blogs, trail journals and so on. I can use ‘smart folders’ to automatically collect information with, say, a specific place name. Nothing is ever lost and Devon Think’s search criteria is as clever as its cataloguing function.

Devon technologies also produce a web browser that is optimised for complicated searches — Devon Agent. Devon Agent allows you more powerful searches than Google. It uses the same AI technology to present information to you in order of relevance. The clever use of graphical maps allows you to easily pick key connections that the program has detected from the mass of source material. You know that feeling when Google presents you with 10 pages of links and data? Well, Devon Agent has an amazing ability to get to the point and to present the data in a visual form that makes more sense.

I could go on for hours about Devon Technologies and perhaps one day I will review them properly.

Summary

The point is that there are now a number of services that will allow you to make better use of the data you find on the net, making your trek planning easier. Services such as Diigolet are improving all of the time and goodness knows what it will be doing for us in two years time.

Dedicated databases like Evernote and Devon Think really do allow you to make the most of a mass of information and to easily retrieve it. There are other options as well, googling Evernote will easily connect you with comparisons to other, similar, products.

If you’re planning a trek in the near future these services and programs will make life a lot easier.

What other services — and workflows — are used out there?

Comments

  1. Alistair Hunt says:

    I have been using Microsoft Note for a while and I really find it useful for work and personal notes.

    Well done for keeping up the good work with your blog by the way.

  2. I use Instapaper a lot, excellent tool and well worth the money.

    Reeder is my mobile RSS reader, syncs perfectly with G Reader and has nice features. Also well wort the money.

    I haven’t yet Summify too much, but like that it tells me how long articles are & how long it would take me to read them.

    That’s them for the moment, me thinks.

  3. I’ve been using Evernote for about 2 years. Besides for having every piece of paper (including every receipt) I’ve ever gotten in that time I use it to store routes which I can search for by hill, location, etc..

    A blog post was written a week ago but the night I was taking the screen grabs Evernote updated to version 4 which removed the manual geo-location of Notes. It kid of messed up my whole blog post :-(

  4. Andy, with the cloud based bookmark services what happens if you decide that you don’t want to use that particular service any more, can you export your bookmarks for use in another application?

    The same question re the database type applications too. I’d be really interested in one of these, and DevonThink sounds interesting, but I’m still PC. I tried various simple types of organisation software a few years ago, including mind-mapping software, but it was all a bit clunky; it’d be good to see something that was a useful tool.

    John

    • The short answer is yes but a private email is on the way. For the others who have asked I will deal with Devon Think in separate post.

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