Create a Personal Knowledge Library

By Phil Davis

March 2017 OMUG Newsletter

Most of us are constantly collecting bits and pieces of information that we find interesting and useful. We’ll read some household or technical tip on the internet that we say “hey, I could use that someday.” So we file that away in our brain, or maybe write it on a piece of paper and put it in a stack with all the other bits of useful knowledge.

Then, three weeks, or three months later we have an occasion to need this bit of knowledge, but we not only can’t remember it but can’t even find the piece of paper.

There is a better way. Start creating your own Personal Knowledge Library (PKL). A couple of years ago I talked about creating a reference library of all your user guides and equipment manuals. A PKL takes this concept one step further and becomes your long-term memory assistant. You might even call it your personal Wikipedia (or for us older folks, a personal Encylopedia Brittanica).

So, how to get started?

First, you will need to decide on an app to use to house your PKL. Ideally, you want one that is easy to use, can store many types of information and is searchable. Also, you would like your information to be accessible from your computer and your iDevices. The app should contain your collection of knowledge in a single file or database but have the ability to easily export stored information in a variety of formats.

Theoretically, you could do the same thing by saving everything in individual files on your computer, but this would quickly become a nightmare and defeat the entire purpose of your PKL.

Next, think about some of the categories you might want to use to identify your knowledge entries. I would suggest starting with some simple ones and expanding later — any good PKL app will make it easy to modify and add to your organization structure as it goes. For example, you might start with simple categories like household tips, technical tips, OMUG newsletters (saved as PDFs), favorite websites, travel plans, and important documents.

Finally, get an app and start using it. There are many to choose from, but here are a few to try. You might want to try several of these for a few days to see what works for you.

Apple Notes: This app is on all Macs and iDevices. The latest version of Notes in Sierra and iOS 10 satisfy many of the requirements but is not as flexible as some of the other choices. It is good for quick notes such as shopping lists that you want to use on your iDevice. Sharing between Mac and iDevices is done through iCloud.

Evernote: This cloud-based service is free, is easy to use, and has downloadable apps for the desktop and iDevices. Also, there are browser extensions that make it very easy to clip information from the web for later retrieval. There are paid upgrades available, but most users will be happy with the free version. Sharing between Mac, PC, iDevices, and Androids is done through Evernote’s web-based servers.

Microsoft OneNote: OneNote has been around for years on the PC and is now available on Macs and iDevices. It is free but requires you to have a Microsoft OneDrive account to allow sharing of documents. The user interface can be a little confusing but you might give it a try to see if it works for you.

DEVONthink: Devonthink is the best of the bunch in terms of power, flexibility, and searchability. You can dump almost anything in it and almost instantly find it later. It isn’t free, but there are several versions available and you can get a fully functional trial version to see if it is what you want. I have used DEVONthink as my own PKL since I switched to a Mac about ten years ago. DEVONthink knowledge bases can be shared using Dropbox, iCloud, Box, and a number of other services.

There are many, many other choices out there, but the best thing is to pick one or two and just get started. I think you will find that having your own Personal Knowledge Library will be one of the most useful tools on your Mac! Think of something like Apple Notes as your short-term memory and Evernote or Devonthink as your long-term memory.