The Digital Ethnographer’s Notebook: Diigo vs. Evernote vs. Tiddlywiki

I have never been happy with the standard Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) software options that have been available (or the prices!), so for the next 2 weeks I will be on a quest for the perfect fieldnotes management system that will be used by my incoming class of 15 students for our ethnographic project exploring anonymity on the web.

So far I have been testing Diigo, Evernote, and Tiddlywiki.

I’m looking for something that has the following characteristics:

  • free (all 3 pass)
  • taggable (all 3 pass)
  • searchable (all 3 pass)
  • ability to share links and notes openly and instantly (Diigo wins here)
  • ability to protect private notes securely (still exploring this)
  • data exportable (all pass but I need to explore more … the good news is that notes can be exported from Diigo as a CSV file)
  • ability to share an entire “notebook” so a student can send me their entire body of research (Tiddlywiki is great for this)
  • ability to create private notes that are not linked to any particular website (Diigo fails this)
  • ideally it will also work offline (Diigo fails)

So far, Diigo seems best for the collaborative aspects of the project.  It allows us to build up a massive database of links and notes that are collectively generated, tagged, and organized.  But it is a total failure when it comes to the ability to create private notes and work offline.

Right now, the best solution I can imagine is a combination of Evernote and Diigo.  Evernote for managing private notes and working offline.  Diigo for sharing and collaborating.  If Evernote could somehow be synced with Diigo we would have the perfect solution.

I should also mention that each option also has bonuses not listed above.  For example, Evernote is easily updated and synced from multiple devices.  You can even upload pictures from your mobile and Evernote can actually decipher text within the photos which is then searchable.

One more problem with all 3.  It would be great to be able to hyperlink to offline materials such as photos and videos.  (Obviously, none of these things were designed as QDA software replacements, so these are not really shortcomings.)

Any thoughts or solutions?  Any possibilities I have overlooked?

Still much to explore.  I’ll update as I find solutions.

Wesch

Associate professor of cultural anthropology. Ed Traceur. Hacker. Car-free.

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19 Responses

  1. djiezes says:

    I think Scrapbook (a firefox extension) fills in the gap where diigo fails: offline highlighting, annotating & plainly saving.
    Also, Evernote is great, but doesn’t run on linux systems, so I had to abandon this. This could be a concern if you’ll be obliging your students to use one single application.

  2. Bob Bell says:

    Mike,
    I use “zotero.” It is a firefox extension. It seems to meet many of your requirements. BTW, it is a great resource for personal learning.
    Bob

  3. wade says:

    Hi, Michael,
    The ability to manage information not tied to a website (e.g. private notes) is coming very soon to Diigo.

    As for generating report and sharing a notebook, I would be interested in your experience in using Diigo’s lists and where it might fall short. Related to this, Diigo groups will get a major upgrade soon, making it even more a hub for collaboration.

    Regarding offline access, we have plan to enable that using Google Gears, but we question whether it is really needed by a lot of people, and whether it is worth the extra complexity. Would appreciate your insight on this.

    Thanks and Happy New Year to you.

    Wade

  4. Prof Wesch says:

    Bob: Yes, Zotero is great, but it does not sync online (though this is fixed in 1.5 – but it is too buggy to trust for this project) It also does not allow link-sharing, so it is great for personal use, but not for collaboration.

    Thanks for the update, Wade. If Diigo adds private notes, will those notes be taggable like they are on Evernote? That would be great.
    Any chance of adding the ability to sync notes with Evernote? I have been trying to hack together a solution myself, but no luck yet.

    Offline access is not useful unless you want to evolve from a social annotation tool to add full notes management. Even then, I personally would only need the offline functionality when I am doing fieldwork in Papua New Guinea or other remote locations.

  5. Adam says:

    Google Notebook also fulfills many (but not all) of your requirements.

    http://www.google.com/notebook

  6. james says:

    Google docs is also a good hit, when you combine the spreadsheet with forms you get a web based front end that saves as a spreadsheet and can be used offline through gears.

    It does not handle everything that diigo does, but may supplement it well.

  7. gaby d says:

    the fact is that if one already uses zotero & delicious , now starting or should i say continue with another bookmarking site seems a bit strange; cause if one wants to be able to re find his/her bookmarks having 3-4 bookmark sites seems a bit too much. am i wrong?

  8. anitsirk says:

    @gaby d: in diigo you can have your bookmarks sent to delicious. it was rather buggy when i tried it a few months ago, but maybe that problem has been fixed now.

    @wade: the improvements to diigo sound great. i should head back over there again.

  9. Mads Gorm Larsen says:

    I like Diigo, zotero or delicious for bookmarks – but Zotero has the advantage of exporting correctly formatted citations.

    Why not set up a Mediawiki for online sharing and writing – the students would also learn how to write in mediawiki, and that seams to be the preferred academic wiki software. I know mediawiki is as hazel to work with, but it might very well be were you in the end you will want to publish your final paper.

    In order to avoid the usability issues with mediawiki there is tools that make it easier to work with mediawiki.

    Then I think for the offline note tool I would use OpenOffice, for one reason only – it can export document in the Mediawiki format.

  10. Prof Wesch says:

    Mads: That is a great solution, but Zotero doesn’t allow link-sharing or shared commenting on those links that are shared – which is essential to this collaborative project. Del.icio.us is unnecessary when using Diigo, since all Diigo links can automatically go to Del.icio.us as well.

    So far, it seems like Diigo is hands-down the best link-sharing / comment-sharing solution. I’m leaning toward Evernote for the private note-taking solution. There are currently 2 downsides to this relative to other possibilities:

    1. students will have to save a link both to Diigo and to Evernote if they want the link/note to be shared and in their private notebook.
    2. Diigo does not have the citation export capability of Zotero

    We will also be using a WetPaint wiki (much easier to use than Mediawiki) for building up an interlinked collection of more refined insights and conclusions. I’m not too concerned with students getting literate in the technicalities of MediaWiki. I’m more concerned with them getting literate in the art of collaboration, so making the technology as easy as possible will help in this regard.

  11. Mads Gorm Larsen says:

    Thanks for tip on synch between Diigo and del.icio.us, did not know that.

    Evernote has an export function – it export to an xml format it would be fairly easy to make that in to an RIS format or similar that can be imported in bibtex, endnote or zotero.

    I love wetpaint, but I don’t think it scales will. Meaning it is good for something small, but once you really have a big wiki full of good information you can’t make a descent backup (you get a bunch of html files). You can’t use html so you can’t format the arcicels in an advanced manner, you don’t have the “cite this” option etc. So I feel you are sort of caught halfway to a truly great wiki.

    I would love if you could convince me that wetpaint is the right solution, because I love the little things like the pictures that get larger the more you post, and the ability to have friends.

  12. tycho garen says:

    My note taking tool is a piece of software called ikiwiki (http://www.ikiwiki.info), which is weird on the onset, but I think provides several “killer features,” that are worth considering. It is, of course open source/free software.

    Basically I create a a directory (and sub directories) with text files, and ikiwiki runs like a compiler and generates a wiki-based website. So from the get go, you have something thats easy to edit and export data from (text files) and easy to view and read (a wiki website).

    Beyond the basic ability, the system adds: a web-based editing interface, a tagging layer that lets you add tags to individual pages, interface with the xapian search engine (or any kind of searching tool, because they’re plain text files).

    The killer feature, however, is the fact that it does all of this inside of the kind of source control systems that software developers use. While it’s flexible, the “git” backend is the one I use, and I think it’s a good choice. I’ve found this general feature to be useful because it is built around the possibility of collaboration.

    When you “check out” a copy of someones repository in git, you have an effective way of sharing and collaborating, and then syncing changes and “branches” back and forth. It’s a different way of thinking about editing and storing content, but it’s been really useful: I store copies of my own wiki on my laptop and my desktop and can synchronize between them (and a server if I was that kind of fellow) without much fuss. Git is also designed specifically to allow full functionality off-line, so that’s taken care of. And if editing plain textfiles isn’t your scene, the system provides a CGI based interface for editing in a web browser.

    The problem? There isn’t support for locking specific files, outside of encrypting them with something like PGP, which would work… You can put the whole thing behind a password wall, and the transactions, at least with git, mostly happen over SSH so it’s secure in that way, but on a more atomic level… not so much.

    It’s also *really* geeky, though most of the parts are pretty accessible. The web editing interface makes editing pretty accessible, and there are pretty good installation tools for git on all platforms that don’t require low level access. While getting web servers and ikiwiki itself setup on your local machine–if you don’t have it set up already, can be a bit tough, but you could work it so that all of the presentation end happens on a server… which is probably for the best anyway.

    I’ve also setup wordpress.org instances for people to use as note taking platforms. It has search, tagging, locking of individual posts, marginally useful export, quick publication, revision control/history, and integration with other services. It’s often overkill, but surprisingly effective.

    *shrug*

  13. Jeremy says:

    You know, I was thinking about this very issue a few months ago when I was doing some light text analysis for a paper I was writing for a class. I didn’t end up using the text analysis very much in the paper, but I came across some neat tools. I started out using diigo – I’m sure I could have done more with this than I had, but I haven’t really delved into all of its capabilities yet. I just put some notes on certain sections – is there a way to tag certain portions of text in diigo? I then found this website: http://www.usingenglish.com. It’s made for ESL students, but there is a tool on it (under the “tools” heading on the main page) that does some quantitative analysis of text. If you register (for free) you can enter up to 100,000 characters and save up to 10 texts. It does several things – gives tells you number of characters, number of words, gives it a reading difficulty level using several methods, creates a word cloud, tells you word frequencies, phrase frequencies, etc. Wordle (www.wordle.net) can also create an artistic word cloud for text, but it doesn’t provide any quantitative data, and it doesn’t recognize phrases unless you identify them before hand. Finally, for Mac and Linux users, I found this simple (and free!) data analysis tool called TAMS analyzer. It’s pretty basic, and easy to use, but limited, of course. I also use google’s open notebook for some things, but I only ran across it a few weeks ago. Evernote looks pretty neat, but, unfortunately, it’s only available for OS 10.5, and I’m still running 10.4 – for now.
    Just wanted to mention these things. I’m amazed at all of the great tools out there for us anthropologists. It is a bit frustrating that they’re not all lumped together though – maybe someday…..
    Take care,
    Jeremy

  14. I’ve tried all the options (plus Scrapbook and OneNote) and have settled on Google Notebook for quick notetaking with tagging (particularly when sharing is needed) and Zotero for research projects. I think Diigo would be good for a group of committed collaborators but it’s a bit too cumbersome for more casual day-to-day use. TiddliWiki is pretty good, too, but the synching and collaboration are a bit clunky.

  15. Jake says:

    Professor Wesch,

    I’d like to recommend a program called NoteScribe. Currently, it’s an offline only note taking and collaboration tool, but we’re currently building and testing an online collaborative tool to further expand the capabilities of the program. Notes can be organized in a note tree by categories, sources, and keywords, and you can also locate words and phrases by utilizing the global search function.

    Notes (and sources attached to the notes) can also be exchanged quickly between students, while allowing everyone to keep their own private database.

    After reading your blog and your necessities list I believe that NoteScribe meets most of your above listed requirements. If you have a moment, swing by http://www.NoteScribe.net to read more and to get a free trial. I hope it’s what you’re looking for, and if it isn’t, best of luck in your search! We’d be interested in hearing what you think of our program, too.

    Best,

    Jake

  16. Peter Miller says:

    I’m a little off the pace with TiddlyWiki but TiddlyChatter is now supported in TiddlySpot – http://tiddlychatter.tiddlyspot.com/ – though lokking a little stalled. More recently incorporated in RippleRap – http://ripplerap.com/ – for shared conference notetaking (presently available as Confabb Notes but the server is apparently only for registered conference use). Would obviously need some customising and all looking slightly beta. Interesting though.

    TiddlyWiki is now also available as part of the ANGEL VLE and there is some code on EduForge.

  17. Richard Wiand says:

    Its October 2010. Is there an AFTER report you can point me.
    1) What software did you choose?
    2) How did it work out?
    3) Additional criteria not properly assessed initially?(If any)
    4) Decision if had to do over again?
    5) Additional advice
    Thanks

  18. Jerrod Soper says:

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  19. Steve Schneider says:

    Interesting thread … from a few years ago, but still highly relevant.

    I’ve been playing with these three platforms, and have done a lot of work in tiddlywiki (most recently, using tiddlyspace.com).

    I like tiddlyspace as an analysis tool, because it has the richest tagging environment, and supports a wide variety of tagging (coding) structures. It is highly customizable, but does require some (sometimes, significant) “intervention” or light coding. Or, if one is interested, substantial coding.

    It works well as a semi-collaborative space for a class (see an example at http://sunyit-com380-spring2013.tiddlyspace.com, and a really interesting Master’s thesis at http://thesis.tiddlyspace.com/ that explores in some more detail research / coding opportunities).

    Diigo seems to be more friendly to academics, and its caching / archiving ability is a substantial benefit over Evernote. And, uniquely, it allows “drillable” searching on tags, so that one can search for tag1 + tag2 + tag3 — Evernote doesn’t support this.

    Tiddlyspace also supports (with some effort) hierarchical tags using the TagSearch plugin approach.

    But Evernote is more highly developed, better looking, more bells & whistles — most of which are not necessary in an ethnographic coding / analysis tool. So I guess I’m not enthusiastic about Evernote.

    Bottom line: if one is inclined to do some light coding work, and invest some time/effort up front, tiddlyspace is a great tool. Diigo comes in second place, in my view, because of its ability to do drillable tag search.