Review of 3 best ways to document, collate and categorize primary research

For the last few days and before my vacation I ended up spending 2-3 hours daily (which is a lot I agree) on research (on the web). Some might call it “wasting time”.

There are 3 different topics I am researching currently:
1. Healthcare communities
2. All things viral – viral adoption, viral marketing etc.
3. Online Retail communities, retail adoption.

Here are somethings I am looking to get answers for:
1. Overview of the space
2. Which are the key communities
3. What are their strategies
4. Who are the key players (Names, contacts, etc.)
5. How to put these items in a context that is easy to understand
6. Relationships (or lack of) between the players
etc.

The output of this research is a series of blog posts / articles and I intended to make them available in multiple formats – presentations, images etc.

Here are the tools of the trade I am using:
1. Delicious for bookmarking
2. Google Notebook (Firefox plugin) for taking notes
3. FreeMind for mindmap (I have tried mindmeister, but for some reason dont like it)
4. Zoho for documents and spreadsheets. I also tried Google docs (We have Google apps for the enterprise), but the lack of offline support pretty much makes it difficult to use
5. Twitter for quick questions, polling etc.
6. Google Reader (since some items are blog posts that I have starred or shared) over the last year.

Here is what I am using even after trying out all these items.
1. Google Notebook: Collecting, marking and collating is a breeze with Google notebook. If you dont need to share your links with everyone else as part of the research, there’s nothing to beat this. Why? Markup is easy, the note book is a small extension on the bottom right corner of my web browser. This beats delicious any day (again, I assume you dont have to share with anyone else).

What’s missing: 1. Offline access (I sound like a broken record), but I move around a lot and in many places there’s no Internet access (or I am too cheap to pay $14.95 a day for it). 2. Easy way to export this into Mindmap software so I can create maps out of it. If each notebook entry could be an object that I can then easily move it into FreeMind and manipulate it right there. If Google docs and spreadsheet did have offline access AND were easily integrated with Notepad, I think this would be the ideal scenario and I’d switch to Google apps.

2. Zoho for documenting and collating. By far the best online productivity suite by a mile. As I mentioned we have Google Apps for our domain but most of our folks are using Zoho. Since some of my team is in India, where DSL speeds are still 500Kbps, offline access is key. Zoho is absolutely awesome for that. Its also very simple to use.

What’s missing: 1. Documenting contacts is a pain. I want a contact object in Writer so I can collect Name, Email, blog / website and Phone number. Just putting it as a text makes it difficult to put it into my address book. 2. Some small features that are what I think most people call the 80% (least used) are ones that I use a lot. E.g. Delete cells (not all items in a row, or all items in a column) within a sheet. I am torn on this since I value the 20% functionality which is the most important, but not being able to do certain things and having to find other ways to do them is a pain.

3. FreeMind. If you have not tried MindMapping, (while doing research) you absolutely need to give it a whirl. It helps you put a lot of things in a simple context. FreeMind as the name indicates is opensource and very easy to use.

What’s missing: 1. Easy way to create the maps you create into spreadsheets, documents etc. The export capability is absolutely needed since most people dont have mindmapping software and PDF export does not allow you to edit. 2. Importing objects from other documents, notepads, etc.

Be sure to check out Spatially Relevant’s Lazy Blogger’s way to efficiently manage content for an alternative set of ways.

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