Research Notebooks

There are some fundamentals about online research notebooks.  First, Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote seem to have sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the room.  Second, people who clip and save information are putting it into online “cloud-based” notebooks.  Assuming that most lawyers are saving text, links, images, and PDFs, Evernote and OneNote both offer plenty:  free versions, PC and portable apps, lots of integration with your Web browser.

Zoho Notebook was new to me.  It’s in beta – and has been for about 5 years – but seems to offer some new features that I haven’t seen in Evernote or Onenote.  Zoho offers probably the widest online suite of productivity apps.  It competes with Google Apps on typical business tools, but also has project management, customer relationship management, and many other services.

You can place free-form text and content onto a page.  Each notebook can have multiple pages, tabbed down the right hand side.  It would support the necessary organization for a trial notebook, enabling you to create notebooks (tabs across the top) with multiple pages within each tab to organize chronologies, summaries, and so on.

One of the interesting elements is the “Add RSS” feature.  If you wanted to create a research page, for example, you could embed a search query so that matching cases or articles automatically appear on the research page in the notebook.  Unfortunately, I tried a number of RSS feeds, including simple blogs feeds as well as more complicated ones from research databases, and this feature didn’t work.  If this is fixed when it comes out of beta, it could be a powerful addition.

The ability to add documents from other parts of your Zoho universe, in particular documents and spreadsheets, makes this more powerful than most research notebooks.  Normally, your notebook is in something of a silo and you need to place everything into it – or link to the information – but you’re not able to integrate external information.  The sharing function also looks useful, where you can share just a page or an entire notebook with others using their e-mail addresses.

I’m going to keep an eye on this.  The demise of Google Reader and the emergence of sites like Pinterest, never mind the power of Evernote, suggest a lot of people trying to organize their online information.  It doesn’t look like Zoho is putting a lot of effort into this product but they may start to if there’s more demand for this sort of tool.

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