A different take on note-taking: Springpad

Yesterday I featured a collection of note-taking applications in my quest for a free alternative to OneNote. Then I had the chance to talk with Jeff Janer, CEO of Springpad.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor

Yesterday I featured a collection of note-taking applications in my quest for a free alternative to OneNote. Then I had the chance to talk with Jeff Janer, CEO of Springpad, who was at Google I/O to announce the launch of the Springpad Android App. As he gave me a walkthrough of the app and the accompanying website, I was struck by the educational potential of the largely consumer/social software. It isn't OneNote, but it doesn't try to be; rather, the company's slogan for Springpad is right on the money: "Never forget again."

Well isn't that a good idea? Now I'll probably still forget things, but Springpad, with its automatic synchronization of everything you input between the browser interface, an iPhone/iPad app, and now, an Android App, means that you have access to a lot of information virtually wherever you are. As I noted, Springpad is largely consumer-oriented, but its potential ubiquity, easy interface, hooks to the web, and rich note-taking applications make it well-suited to a variety of uses, whether educational or merely for those of us who struggle to keep our thoughts, to-dos, lists, and dates together.

For those of you unfamiliar with Springpad, this video gives a nice overview of its capabilities and the approach to "lifecycle management" for the information in your life:

So there's the consumer schtick, right? There are a couple things that make this specifically useful for students, though. You can create a notebook, populate it with multiple tabbed pages of notes, and easily embed links, checklists, images, and video: instant rich notes from a class or study session, accessible anywhere, including your iPhone or Android phone. There are general notebooks as well as a "Class Notebook" which is a template with content specific to classroom note-taking. Other useful apps include grade tracking and a School Project Manager, designed to "Keep track of your projects, set reminders & organize your tasks." These templates (or Apps as they're called in Springpad-ese) are currently all provided as a convenience by the company, but their goal is to open up development of new Apps to the community soon.

Many of the apps support file uploads and embedding, but the real beauty is that this represents an extensible platform with a social component that allows you to, for example, share a set of notes or a project task with other Springpad users (like your classmates). They can easily import the shared resource for use in their own Springpad accounts.

The second intriguing feature is the semantic capability of Springpad. According to their press release,

Through semantic detection, Springpad automatically organizes the information for easy retrieval and enhances it with useful links and offers to save time and money.

The semantic detection works best at the moment when you enter an item that can be purchased, rather than adding simple notes. For example, adding a book to my list of "Stuff" yields reviews and the Wikipedia entry, as well as the note itself, reminding me of the book title. A straight note about a calculus concept just gets you a link to email the note to yourself rather than any web resources related to the concept in your notes (I wrote a couple sentences about derivatives to test it out). However, because the platform already exists and is both robust and easily monetized (think of all the content and advertising partners who want their ads and links served up based on your notes), I think we'll see significant development in this area. Entering a movie already gets you links to buy it on Amazon, add it to your Netflix queue, or look it up on IMDB. It isn't much of a stretch to look up math-related notes on Wolfram Alpha.

One industry analyst note, “With so much information coming at us all day long, it can be tough to keep track of the things we have to remember and the things we want to remember. Since we have our phones with us at all times, it makes sense to use mobile devices to make remembering easier.”

This is an App to watch, both in the educational and consumer spaces. As it evolves and becomes an open platform, the use cases could become quite varied. For now, I'm just happy to have an app that lets me take notes on any number of subjects, search and organize them, and then store and organize all of the other information I need in my personal life in the same place. Like I said yesterday, one app to rule them all.

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