The folks at TheBrain showed off their latest work with PersonalBrain on a webinar today. It's strange, but today I have a better feeling for the ongoing viability of PersonalBrain in my toolbox. Just a week ago, I was thinking about giving up and relying more heavily on desktop search tools.
The limited beta version of PersonalBrain 4 has been out for several months, and they said a more public version will be out shortly. They are hoping to release the full version in the next months (I didn't catch the specifics). There will be three versions of PersonalBrain 4: free, core, and pro (described below).
I have been using PersonalBrain for about five years, and have been quite happy with my ability to navigate around the application and find documents, websites, and comments I've made as I've collected information. The biggest benefit I see in using this tool is that I am able to connect ideas and concepts together (along with the associated files) much more easily than I can with the traditional filing system. Desktop search will help me find files, but it can't help me see the interconnections that I can overlay with PersonalBrain. More details on the demo and the beta version below.
The most evident change with PB4 is to a different graphics engine, which gives the application cross-platform abilities. But for the user, it takes a little getting used to the minor changes in how things are laid out. Behind the scenes, there are a number of changes and improvements that Harlan Hugh (the President of the company) demonstrated on the webinar:
- Multiple attachments in a thought. This is one of the bigger improvements from my perspective. It's somewhat annoying in the current version to have to create a separate thought for EVERY file. In many cases, that's fine. But I like to keep versions together or keep a presentation and my thoughts on that presentation in the same folder.
- In a detail, thought attachments are kept in a folder unique to that thought. Any changes to that folder via standard file operations (copy, paste, cut, Save As) will show up in the list of attachments for that thought. On the other hand, I don't particularly like the names that the folders use: random hex strings of 32 characters.
- Dragging contacts from Outlook links back to the original in Outlook. It appears that no other Outlook items can be linked this way. And in one of the more frustrating changes, I cannot drag attachments directly from Outlook into PersonalBrain. Attachments can be dragged the reverse direction - or via a right-click on the attachment.
- By default, there are three types of links: parent, child and related. Any item can have multiple parents, multiple children and multiple relations. This has always been the case. But now, you can do more with the links. They can be typed, they can be colored and otherwise highlighted. Essentially, one can create a graphical representation of an ontology, though probably not a terribly complex one.
- There has always been the ability to search for thoughts, but I've found it rather lacking. The new version expands search to include the content of the thoughts (notes, attachments, linked websites) with an appropriate "relevance" ranking. Interesting.
- One can now select multiple thoughts and then operate on the whole selection. The capabilities of this are limited at the moment to moving the selection link to other thoughts, but the plans are to add more features to this capability (like emailing attachments in the selection?).
- There is now a calendar associated with PersonalBrain. A single calendar appears for the entire brain with tasks displayed for thoughts that have events attached to them. They have not connected to third-party calendars, not yet. This has been much-requested, but I don't use PB to track tasks, so this particular feature has not found its way into my utility belt.
- Expanded view. The standard view shows a central thought with all its parents, children and related thoughts to one level away. The new expanded view lets the user expand the thoughts displayed to follow deeper into a set of linked thoughts. I believe there are plans to allow saving of these views, but I haven't explored it much. The inability to see deeper into the network has been a complaint for a long time, so it's nice that this feature is there.
- On the other side, there is a filter to limit the view. Currently, this only gives you thoughts that have been viewed within X days. It sounded as if they would be expanding filter options as well.
- ESP feature. This is an odd feature: PersonalBrain can monitor your activity in other applications and highlight thoughts related to what you are doing in those other apps. I had it on for a while, but it was rather disconcerting at the time. I may try it again.
- Export options. One can now export the Brain as simple HTML in a menu-like format for easy sharing or in more complex animated HTML that includes a brain-like interface (see TheBrain website).
There will be three versions of PersonalBrain 4. 1) A free version that restricts usage in a number of ways (one attachment per thought, no calendar), but which will be able to read Brains created in other versions. 2) The core version, which has the primary limitation of one-attachment-per-thought. 3) The pro version, which has all the bells and whistles.