VoodooPad: A Place to Put Your Brain

If you are working in plain text (I recommend it), then you have a lot of software options available to you on any operating system. However, sometimes plain text may not be enough, you might find an elegantly simple application like nvALT to be a little too stripped down for your needs, or you could be looking for something with great support for iOS. In that case, why not give VoodooPad a try?

There are a whole lot of features, a forum to discuss the application, and a little information on the Internet about how to use it. Here, I’ll just give an overview of what I think is compelling about the app for a student or researcher taking notes in plain text.

On a Scale of Notetaking Nerdiness

On a scale of notetaking nerdiness going from a notetaking program that does just about everything for you on any platform (Evernote), to one that requires you to invest a lot of effort into mastering it on a single operating system (Emacs), I’d say that VoodooPad falls somewhere in the middle.

VoodooPad as a Personal Wiki

Gus Mueller and Kristin Mueller are a husband and wife team who have created what I think is one of the best personal wikis available today. One of the reasons I wanted to switch to Mac a few years ago (up until that point I only dabbled in Apple stuff) was so that I could use this app. Gus recently handed VoodooPad off to Plausible Labs for further development — he is going to focus on another app he is developing, Acorn. VoodooPad has a lot to like, and most of the core features can easily be mastered in a few minutes.

  • Internal Links: Creating a personal wiki is easily done, because any time the name of an existing note appears in the text, an internal link is created. For students and researchers, this enables you to effortlessly link all of your materials in a dense web of interconnected information that works much like your own brain.
  • Formatting: You can format your notes however you would like. Highlighting, bold, numbered lists, etc. are all easily accomplished.
  • Images and Files: VoodooPad can store images and files, so you can have everything from PDF files to web clippings in one place.
  • Encryption: VoodooPad will encrypt your entire Document (a Document is like a folder that holds all of your notes, which are called "Pages").
  • Easy Export: Your notes can easily be exported from VoodooPad as HTML, rich text, Word, text files, etc.
  • Markdown: Markdown, as I’ve talked about, is a way to format unformatted text. VoodooPad has great support for this with a preview window that shows how your text looks formatted in HTML. I’ve included a screenshot below.

Putting VoodooPad to Work

Web Clipping:

  • Let’s say that you have a project that requires you to do a bit of research on the Internet, and you come across a site full of photographs that you’d like to clip. VoodooPad can easily import a PDF of a page made by your browser. I’ve captured a page from the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery website below. It looks pretty good, right? You can also copy/paste if you want to avoid PDFs.

Research Journal:

  • I make a research journal for each day, and I title it using a YYMMDD + keyword naming convention. For example, today’s journal is called "130402 journal tuesday." One of the great things about VoodooPad is that you can keep this naming convention, but designate a different word or phrase that will link to it as well. In this case, I could have any instance of "April 2, 2013" in the text automatically link to my page.

Personal Wiki:

  • On VoodooPad’s Index page, you can create an organizational system for your wiki. Technically speaking, there is no hierarchy, but by arranging the categories as you would like on the page, you can visually approximate an organizational system. The beauty of this is that you can "move" pages just by cutting and pasting.

My Favorite Feature: iOS Support

VoodooPad can use Dropbox, wifi, or iTunes to sync with your iOS device. What this means is that you can have all of your notes, encrypted, and available on all of your Apple devices. As far as I know, VoodooPad is the only notetaking app on iOS that offers encryption of everything.

In addition, unlike a combination of nvALT on your Mac and plain text apps on your iOS device, your links still work on the iPad, iPod Touch, or iPhone. You can also make them in iOS. It is a real pleasure to be able to seemlessly work on any Apple device with all of the main features.

DIY Notes and Organization

In my post about nvALT, I mentioned that nvALT requires a bit of effort to keep things organized, because at its heart, it is just a collection of text notes, and it doesn’t impose any organizational system on you (a good thing, in my opinion).

VoodooPad is similar, in that it also has a flat organizational scheme, and is a blank slate without folders and sub-folders. However, it is much better suited for creating a personal wiki, because it automatically links to existing pages. It still requires a do-it-yourself attitude towards organization, but gives you a lot of tools to get the job done.

Related Resources

  • Debug 28: Mike Ash on VoodooPad: Mike Ash talks about Plausible Lab taking over work on VoodooPad (about 3/4 of the way through). A lot is said, but one of the important points is that VoodooPad on iOS will see some improvements soon (maybe March or April).

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