History Tech Tips #1: Note-Taking with Dropbox and DocsToGo

From time to time I find myself gushing over a new digital tool that I’ve recently discovered which helps me with some of the day to day activities of a historian. Rather than quietly enjoying the benefits of these technologies alone I thought I would share and review them here as “History Tech Tips”.

The summer is usually the time of year when I catch up on my backlog of reading. And as I read new books and articles in Canadian and environmental history I like to take notes. In general, I am an analog note-taker. I handwrite my notes in a clipboard on loose sheets of lined paper. I then files those notes away for quick reference later. Recently I’ve taken to scanning those notes and archiving them digitally, but I’m now looking for a better way to cut to the chase and take my notes digitally.

Because I do a lot of my summer reading away from the desk and occasionally outdoors, I needed to find a portable solution that would allow me to take notes on the go and keep them synched and archived on my desktop PC. Here’s what I’m trying out: iPod Touch + DocsToGo + Dropbox.

The iPod Touch is a surprisingly robust pocket computer. As a former Palm user I was thrilled when Dataviz released an iPod Touch version of its excellent mobile word processor, DocsToGo. After a number of key updates and revisions over the past year, DocsToGo has become a superb mobile word processor that is fully compatible with Microsoft Word. As such I find it to be my best mobile note-taking solution. I can create and edit word documents on a handheld device with relative ease as I read through a new book outdoors or on the couch. While typing on an iPod Touch is definitely an acquired skill (similar to learning Palm’s Graffiti), I can attest that it is possible to comfortably and competently write short to mid-sized documents on this device. I’ve even written a couple of book reviews using this software and I’m writing this post on an iPod Touch.

The next challenge was to find a way to keep my notes synched and archived on my desktop PC. To do this, I upgraded my copy of DocsToGo to allow me to integrate it with a cloud-based synchronization and storage service called Dropbox. With Dropbox I can automatically save and upload my notes to a free 2gb online storage account that instantly synchs with my desktop PC using the Dropbox desktop client. For example, when I’m taking notes with DocsToGo on an iPod Touch in a coffee shop with wi-fi the notes are automatically uploaded and stored on my desktop PC back home. The service works in reverse too so that I can take my work from home with me as I commute to campus, allowing me to edit lecture notes on the bus.

My experiment with DocsToGo and Dropbox as a note-taking solution is working quite well so far. I’m not yet prepared to completely abandon my pen and paper notes, but I can definitely appreciate the advantages of digital notes.

What are your note-taking solutions? Do you use pen and paper or do you take digital notes? Let me know about your solutions in the comments.

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