Capture software is software that allows you to record bits of information that you can put to use in your projects. These bits of information include notes, to-do lists, book references, quotes, web pages and even sound files and photographs. Examples of capture software include Google Keep, , Zotero, Evernote and Any.do. (Examples of software that would not be capture software are Microsoft Word, the GIMP and Audacity.)
Capture software offerings can seem endless, and many of the offerings are free of charge to the user. Regardless of your decision to use a free or a subscriber-sponsored title, you must ensure before you begin using the software that it will satisfy all of your information capture and use needs. Further, you will probably decide that a combination of offerings best serves your workflow. For example, you could decide that Zotero is best for managing your bibliographic references, Any.do is best for your to-do lists and Evernote is best for capturing Web pages. Once you decide on your specific titles, you must dedicate yourself to using the appropriate title in any given scenario; if a to-do crosses your mind while on a beach with your tablet, entering the to-do in your chosen capture software should be an automatic process. But how do you decide which program you will use for each category of information capture? Below I offer a set of criteria I find useful when considering new capture software.
Capture input ability: Can the combination of software, operating system and hardware capture all of your information in all of the input formats you desire? Perhaps you need to be able to record and tag voice notes. Maybe you need speech-to-text capability; on Android, that's available via the keyboard. It would be extremely difficult to capture a book citation via speech, but perhaps you want the ability to enter a citation via a photograph of a book's barcode that you capture on your tablet while in your favorite bookstore. List all the scenarios you anticipate you'll be collecting data and be sure your combination of software and hardware can capture your data in each scenario. Don't find yourself in a situation where you have a breakthrough idea but because you overlooked technical limitations you can't capture it. This causes unnecessary stress and, perhaps, the loss of your brilliance.
Integration: Does the software provide the required integration with your other software? For example, can a to-do list app integrate with your calendar software, allowing you to assign a due date on your calendar at the time of the to-do's capture? When you arrive at a desktop environment, you do not want to have to go over data you captured in a mobile environment to re-enter it into other applications.
Import: If you are already using similar software, can you import your existing data into the new? How easy is it to import your data from the other software? Do a test import and make sure everything imported properly and completely by performing many random tests to check the integrity of your data in the new software.
Data use criteria
Highly-specific, data-driven URLs: The software must allow for fine-grained URLs such that you can slice and dice your data so subsets of that data can be expressed in bookmarks as described in my article, Organizing Your Cloud by Project, Using Google Chrome Bookmarks. Perhaps you need a URL for each of your folders in the software; perhaps your need a URL for each tag. Look closely at the URLs in the Web version of your software to see what data-driven URLs are available. For example, Google Keep is note and to-do software that allows you to bookmark each entry, although that feature is not readily apparent. To obtain the URL of a Google Keep note, set Keep to grid view. Click on the title of the note you want. The note will appear solo in the browser, with the URL in the address bar. The bibliographic software Zotero allows you to capture bookmarks by navigating to your desired folder in your library and creating the bookmark from the resulting URL; it also offers you a URL for each of your tags.
Backup and Export: All your data must be able to be backed up at any time. Examine the software's documentation to see what steps you must do to backup. Create a backup using some dummy data and explore the backup file(s) until you are sure everything you might need in the event the software disappears is copied to your local storage. Then, commit to doing regular backups. I backup weekly, every Sunday. If necessary, put backup reminders on your calendar, as a recurring event.
Sync: The software must allow full synchronization with all of your devices. Synchronization must be constant and seamless. Don't accept software that has "on-demand" synchronization. You will forget to manually synchronize your data, and you will get burned, sooner or later. Make sure your software synchronizes even when it isn't running. Whenever you are connected to the Internet, your capture software should be working behind-the-scenes to make sure all of your information is current.
Sharing data: Some users need to share their data with others. You can usually get away with copy-and-pasting the data into an email and hitting send, but does your software offer you more convenient options? Perhaps Bluetooth? Perhaps making items visible to others who use the same software?
Support for all your platforms: Does the capture software offer all of the functionality you need on all of the platforms you will need? If, for example, you must be able to list your captures by folders and/or tags, give the software a trial run on all of the platforms you will need those lists to be sure each platform performs adequately. Just because the Web version of the software allows you to perform a given function doesn't mean the scaled-down Android version has the same capacity.
You may have additional capture and data use criteria specific to the domains in which you work. The key to finding these criteria is brainstorming. Picture yourself going through your life scenarios and carefully explain to yourself how you will successfully use the capture software in each scenario. If it fails too many scenarios, or even one critical scenario, you will have to find other software.