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    Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while or who know me know that for a long time I've been maintaining a complicated index-card file for a long time now (ten years this summer!). It's full of notes on books and things I read on the web and recipes and recommendations for albums and films and what have you.

    I've been in the process of digitizing the index card file (into Access) for about two and a half years now, working at it sporadically in fits and starts throughout that time. The work is tedious, but the benefits are obvious. As I wrote in this note from 2004, "being able to use the processing power of a computer to filter and shuffle the thousands of cards I have on file will be super-fun, and if I get a version up-and-running on a laptop the entire card file will essentially become portable."

    But of course, the real grail would be to get it all online, and thus independent of even a laptop—which would be handy when I wanted to, say, access my list of books I wanted to read from the middle of a library. I know there are ways to integrate websites with databases, but I didn't really want to have to learn SQL scripting: just thinking about reading a book like this makes my eyes begin to glaze over. Del.icio.us has the great advantage of being built around a multiple-keyword system like the one I use for the cards, but the prospect of cutting-and-pasting all the card text into del.icio.us seemed even more daunting. So this, I thought, this is something that will need to wait for a while. I thought I'd have to resort to the day when Google would roll out some sort of Access-killer (to join up with its already-extant Word and Excel killers).

    Then I watched this demo for a Web-based database application called Dabble DB. Within about the first minute I was convinced that I wanted to use this product; the remaining six minutes made my jaw pretty much literally drop open. It's subscription-based, at a fairly steep $10 a month, but I think that's a fair price to pay considering the value of having ten years of note-taking available from any Web browser. (Note to Google: buy this app and make it free to everyone.)

    I hunkered down over the weekend and started playing with it; there are some quibbles and minor things I'd change, but by-and-large I was incredibly impressed: the fact that I got the whole thing imported from Access, online and working with basically a single copy-and-paste command basically floored me. Additionally, the export function works wonderfully: with a single click you can export and publish the data in multiple formats: HTML, RSS, PDF, etc. So, for instance, here's a dynamic webpage that updates with new cards tagged "To Read;" another experiment is here, which are all my notes on a specific book from my library, Eviatar Zerubavel's Time Maps. (Expect the book-log page to eventually be ornamented with links to various Dabble exports like this.)

    The entire database (at least what's been digitized so far, lives here. I've arranged it so that the most "recently modified" are on top, and I'm still entering old cards, which explains why what's on top as of this writing are cards from 2003. Sadly, you, the casual browser, won't be able to sort or filter these cards, because you can't apply database functions to these export pages: you'd need to be cleared as a "user" of my database to do that, and if I upgrade to five users (instead of single-user only) it's an extra $56 per year. I suppose if I could get four people to PayPal me $14 each for access it would pay for itself, although if you're dying for it that bad I'd say just grab all the data in Comma-Separated Value format (from the export page) and plug it into your own database at home.

    Can I just say here how happy this all makes me?

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    Tuesday, February 13, 2007
    6:10 PM


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