February 1, 2009

PersonalBrain 5: Data to Information to Wisdom

If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time. --- George Carlin

You can't have everything. Where would you put it? --- Stephen Wright

In the digital world, we can collect more and more without taking up much physical space.

We collect so much stuff we can digitize. Where do we put it? On ever-larger hard disks. How do we find items? With desktop search tools like Google Desktop Search. Here's the big question: how do we organize the data in ways with meaning to us.

Say you saw or read The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by Irish writer John Boyne and want to store these related items
Where do you put them on your computer? Under the author? Under categories (book review under Books, movie links under Movie)? Whatever you decide, will you remember? Will you be consistent?

Suppose you see a connection between Striped Pyjamas and
You'll probably find other interesting items along the way. The film Australia can connect to Rabbit-Proof Fence (also deals with children forcibly taken away in that country), which connects to Peter Gabriel, who composed the soundtrack. In turn, Peter can be connected to the musical group Genesis to which he belonged or to Witness which targets human rights violations.

You quickly end up with an messy, scattered collection.

We see different connections. We want to find items we saw earlier, but can't easily find again. What can we do?

PersonalBrain 5
Imagine searching for years for something that might not exist. Then finding it. That's PersonalBrain, a hierarchy-free database. You put data (called "thoughts") anywhere you want and create links to show the relationships with other thoughts. You can add or change links later. You can search too. Your collection (called a "brain") can include photos and other attachments.

I started testing version 4.5, then became a beta tester for v5 which has now been released. Version 5 is definitely better. I especially like the easier way items can be tagged.

You get peace of mind when you know you can find what you want when you want. I like the following
  • fast and easy to use (after watching an online tutorial)
  • copying web pages (besides saving the link, I paste the page content and then highlight selected lines for easy future reference even if the source webpage disappears)
  • portable: my files were on a memory stick but are now on an encrypted external hard drive which I move among computers (you install PersonalBrain on the portable device)
  • you can move files into your "brain"
  • uses the same file structure as your operating system, which allows you to use other search tools like Google Desktop Search
  • ongoing updates (every few weeks)
  • excellent online tutorials and live webinars
  • multiple uses: file organization, brainstorming or mindmapping, capturing web snippets, client relationship management
There's lots more that I've yet to explore. I've got several "brains": general, contacts, projects and writing. PersonalBrain makes a great repository for quotations but I put mine online at Spark Insight so you can use them too.

The Main Drawback
These days, you can find many powerful applications that are free or low cost. PersonalBrain comes in three editions
  • Free ($0): may work well for simple needs
  • Core ($150 US): the version most users would likely want
  • Pro ($250 US): even lets you publish your "brains" online
You can only buy online from the company and they don't have sales. Luckily, you can test-drive the Pro version for free. After 30 days, you're downgraded to the Free level. You don't lose anything you've done, but are restricted in what you can do. I got hooked fast and bought Pro.

I experimented with other tools
  • Evernote: interesting online tool but raises concerns about confidentiality, speed and access through corporate firewalls
  • Clipmarks: online tool captures web snippets (too limited)
  • MindJet MindManager (too specialized and for other purposes)
  • storing files in Windows folders and locating items with desktop searches (too hierarchical)
PersonalBrain is a weird name. Try using it in a sentence and see if anyone can understand you. Visual Brain or Virtual Brain are more descriptive. There's plenty more to explore. You know how most computer-based presentations follow a linear pattern? Well, PersonalBrain lets you select relevant material instantly. Think of the impact.

What a way to organize data into information. As you add more and create links, you'll see patterns you missed before and gain wisdom. Highly recommended.

Podcast Episode 4 (10:10)

direct download | Internet Archive page


Promod said...

podcast added to bottom of post

Anonymous said...

Subject:Alternative software recommendation
Note:Written by a user not the publisher.
Brainstorm is a much superior noting software if you intend do write sentences and paragraphs rather then work with single words/categories/entries.

Its main advantage over any other noting software is its ability to arrange and interlink information, and as in the case of Personal Brain, without the need of a complex and slow(in complex 'brains') java graphic interface.
Also very complex systems of ideas can easily be navigated without the use of a mouse and also viewed as a standard outline.

Try it out with a writing purpose in mind and observe how it accommodates the process in all respects conducive to efficiency.

Rene Steg said...

I just wanted to download the alternative, not because I am not satified with PersonalBrain, but I like to see alternatives. But guess what: It's one of these Windows-only tools. And I am a Mac-User.
It might have "some" advantages, but in my opinion, if a vendor today did not understand, that there is a wide mac-community out there, then it does not belong to the serious software market at all.
TheBrain Technologies, does take this fact seriously and therefore is ways ahead.

JohnnyMacG said...

Version 5 is cross platform.....I've got it on my iMac, my MacBook, and my WinDoz box at the office.