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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

Jay Dreyer's picture

I'm with Jason...the GTD Tiddly...

I'm with Jason...the GTD Tiddly Wiki is fairly similar to having everything in one big text file (really, that's what it is). The downside is that you have to use a browser to view it. But, you can do so much more with it than you can with a text file, at least from a presentation stand point. Plus, it looks purdy.

I use it with my new hipster pda since it lets you print out tiddlers on 3x5 cards. So far, so good. I carry the cards with me, update them with ink as I accomplish tasks, and then update my wiki when I'm at a pc. I suppose you could do that with a text file if you worked at it.

It's funny, 6 months ago I would have thought a conversation debating text files and 3x5 cards for a pim would be insane.




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