It’s All in There Somewhere

I want a place to stash stuff on the web. I want to be able to find it later without remembering where I put it. I want it to be relatively secure from other people’s prying eyes but it would be nice if I could make certain things accessible to anyone or at least to people to whom I had given explicit permission for access.

I want to be able to stash anything from a short text note to a complete document, a simple URL to an entire web site, a few random values to an entire database. I want it to be accessible from my desktop, my laptop, my tablet, my phone, or any of the numerous, internet connected gadgets that are cropping up all over the place.

I’d like to be able to get a readable representation of the items in the stash using a web browser. This may (or may not) require a web application to massage the items into a readable form.

This post began when I sat trying to figure out where to stash a reference to a web site that I was interested in along with some brief notes about it. This comes up more often than I would have expected and I have tried many different solutions for it.

The first, most obvious solution was bookmarks. The problem with bookmarks is that they are browser dependent and require that you either use a browser that maintains a central registry of your bookmarks or that you copy your bookmarks manually from platform to platform. The central registry approach requires that you trust the operator of the registry, usually not a problem for me but definitely a problem for some of my more paranoid acquaintances.

Another problem with bookmarks is finding stuff that you bookmarked later. None of the bookmark schemes has a particularly good search mechanism. Perhaps I gave up on them before they implemented something useful but I have this huge ball-of-mud collection of bookmarks that I  have been collecting for ages and I have all but stopped adding to it because I can’t find anything when I look for it and I can’t trust that the link will still be active if I do find it. Bookmarks also ignore the aspect of wanting to store documents and other data in the repository.

An approach that addresses that last objection is to store notes on Dropbox or one of the other network file systems. That has (at least) two problems. First, you have to be able to access the service from everywhere. My employer views these stores as potential data leaks for corporate espionage and blocks them with our firewall. This would probably be true of any service that provided the features that I am looking for. Second, storage is less than half the problem. Finding the data is the harder part. Rendering it in a readable fashion can be challenging as well.

Then there are the online notebook applications like Evernote. They are pretty close to what I’m wanting but they are also kind of pricey. I suppose a business model that meets my requirements while not costing an arm and a leg is another requirement. I should look at Evernote closely and see where it falls short.

Perhaps I just need to go start hacking away and see what I can come up with. If it is useful for me, it will be useful for other people. And I’ll learn a lot about myself and the way I use the computer along the way.