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Life inside one big text file

O’Reilly Network Weblogs: Living in text files

Giles takes one of the biggest, geekiest leaps you can—moving all of his stuff into a single big-ass plain text file.

As Danny O’Brien discovered during his research into effective organizational habits of geeks, text is the simplest, most platform-independent, fastest-to-search format we have for storing information. So everything I need - from todos, blog posts in progress, article ideas, addresses, my list of books to read, the shopping list, and much more besides, lives in just the one file. In effect, I live in that file. When I’m sitting in front of my computer, it feels like home.

This ambitious strategy—usually only whispered about among the lower geek echelons in which I dwell—seems to require a lot of confidence, planning, and familiarity with your favorite flavor of text editor. Mine’s currently TextMate, but, given what I’ve seen people like Danny do with Vim (and its incremental search-on-steroids, scripting functions, and endless shortcuts and configurability), this really reignites my resolve to hit the book and thumb through all my bookmarks again.

So. Questions for people who are already living in one text file:

  • What tips do you have for people considering the big move?
  • What tricks do you use to organize, automate, and move around in your huge-ass text file?
  • How do you decide where new stuff goes within a mutli-thousand line document?
  • Are you using section and sub-section headings to jump around?
  • How do you handle versions and multiple drafts of subsections (like, say, blog posts)
  • Got any sweet Vim tricks to share?
  • Any point where this approach starts to fall apart?
  • Have you found you think about your work differently when you work inside only one file?

Spill whatever you like about your one-file system (and, curious folks, feel free to ask questions).

Related Stuff

Brett's picture

I myself have a lot...

I myself have a lot of experience with typing personal files - I typed a diary that went for 5 years in MS Dos Edit (80 column lines! customizeable back and text colour!). It worked out well for me, the main things that I did to sort it out was to rigidly type the same stuff at the start of each day (I wrote daily) - JournalStart 17/8/05 Normal Entry (this is meant to be tabbed) xxxx stuff here The tab was important, as was that the journal start was 3 spaces down from the last one... the reason for this was that i intended to write a simple program that went through and looked for those two things and made them into whatever I wanted programaticly.

I also have like a file on my desktop that I plonk anything i see thats cool - phone conversations when im at the pc, websites etc...

I make sure I write a one line description of what I pasted when I can though, so when I do a search I can usually find it very quickly because a word or two i can remember. By the way, I use notepad, ARGGH!! lol. Well it loads fast anyway.

The idea behind that is that I don't have to spend time at the most critical time of organising my stuff - when I just want to put stuff in and im in a rush! its more important that its there at all in my opinion, and this helps me greatly.

Now if only the PSP has a keyboard addon and a text editor...

PS - nice post guys!




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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