Organize information with Zim

After this brief hiatus, originated by a small trip, I’m back to review a software I use on a daily basis: Zim. It’s a personal organizer based on a wiki. However, It’s not a regular wiki web based.  Zim is a desktop application with no dependencies to servers or databases and in its core there’s a wiki engine.

Wikis introduced a new way of organizing information, essentially focused on creating pages fast, connected by links (wiki names). The most well-known example of a wiki is wikipedia. These wikis, however, are web applications. Normally, you write your text in a box, full of weird syntax codes to format your text. Then, you press submit to see the results. That’s the normal process for a web-based wiki.
Zim, being a desktop application makes this experience a lot richer. You don’t have to remember special syntaxes to make titles, italics, lists, etc. To make a text italic, just press CTRL + I, as you would with any text processor. You still have some wiki syntax, like the wiki names for links and my favorite one: lists. To make a list, write * (asterisk) and a space at the beggining of a line. It will turn immeadiately into a bullet item. And after you press Enter another bullet item is added in the new line. This is very very handy. This also shows other advantage of being a desktop application: there’s no submission phase. All formatting happens immediately and not after pressing a submit button.
Another interesting feature of Zim is the introduction of the "context" concept. This basically allows you to define categories in a tree structure for organizing your pages (and shows that tree in the sidebar). This normally doesn’t happen in a wiki. Wikis usually rely only on links, leaving the burden of organizing information to the creators of the pages. The problem with this is that most of the times we are dealing with organized information. We try to put information with a natural logical structure into a framework that doesn’t support structure. This forces you to a tight discipline when creating pages, or else you will end up with a chaotic mess. Ideally, searching should bring order from the chaos, as google does with web pages. But here you’re not dealing with random stuff. Google’s indexing algorithms work better when you’re exploring, trying to find something based on a few keywords. In my case, the information is already organized in a natural way and it becomes easier to find something just by looking at a tree structure. Also, wiki’s search algorithms are hardly as good as Google 🙂
Overall I think Zim is a great personal organizer (I usually use it to store personal projects documentation, etc). The only thing I miss is tables support. That would be a great addition to its formatting capabilities.

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3 responses to “Organize information with Zim”

  1. Dan says :

    If you like Zim, you should also give Luminotes a spin. Luminotes avoids the whole save/edit cycle as well and has a WYSIWYG editor. One major difference however is that Luminotes is web-based. (The advantage of this is that it’s easy to collaborate with friends if you so desire.)

    Luminotes is at http://luminotes.com/

  2. Carlos Ribeiro says :

    Thanks for your suggestion. It looks very nice and solves some of the problems of traditional wikis.

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