Review: Springpad


I have been evaluating Springpad, a note taking tool.

It is not really fair, though, to call it that. Springpad is more like a Swiss Army knife for the Internet. There’s a lot of utility in small and elegant package.

Springpad was built to help you quickly grab information from the web, associate it with other information, create and manage tasks, and so on. There are specific integrations with a dozen or more popular services such as Amazon, Apple Trailers, IMDB, Flickr, and many others.

The creators also obviously were thinking of the iPad specifically and tablets and smart phones more generally when they named and designed this product. The user interface on the Android is easy to get around, and there are even big buttons for some things (such as checking off a to-do list item) in the web version.

Where the application really shines is in finding relevant snippets and web links about current day locations such as restaurants, but also museums and brick-and-mortar stores. The site then organizes the information and presents it in a clean list fashion, or as pins on a Google map, or on a virtual corkboard of images and stickies.

In your settings, you can link to Twitter, Yahoo, Gmail and Facebook accounts, as well as get an e-mail address to mail things to if you have something to add to Springpad when you are not on their site. There’s also a quick link to import your Delicious links. (When Yahoo’s decision to divest itself of Delicious, users of the social bookmarking site got up-in-arms about it; software developers at Evernote, Springpad, Pinboard and other sites quickly posted ways to import links from Delicious. Evernote’s method brings every bookmark into a single note, which is just lame. Pinboard and Springpad were more oriented to treating the links as independent items.)

Springpad is designed to help you control what you share. You cannot create fine-grained sharing controls. Items are either shared with everyone on the Internet or they are kept private. This can be controlled at the category level (bookmarks, restaurants, products, recipes, files, businesses, albums, wine, and so on) or at the level of the individual item.

For Getting Things Done (GTD), Springpad provides tasks and task lists, but also check lists, packing lists, alarms, shopping lists, events, and milestones. This looks like it will be very handy: When you add a recipe that the site recognizes as such, you are literally one click away from having a shopping list. Since the site syncs your devices, that list is ready to show up on your smart phone.

Springpad for genealogists is very handy as a powerful task list organizer, and as a quick way to gather in advance what is around the courthouse you will be visiting (the brewpub, the golf course, the hotel), but it’s almost painful to see how deep the integration is with sites like Yelp and Epicurious and realize that there is no such product that delves into, Rootsweb, Footnote, and similar sites. We still have to search for items one by one on various websittes, then manually download and catalog each finding. It’s only a matter of time before someone takes this level of usability and applies it to the gathering and organizing of historical data. When that day comes, the irony is that it may make physical repositories more important to the casual researcher, because genealogical data mining will proceed faster.