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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

Mike Shea's picture

I absolutely love this idea....

I absolutely love this idea. I am a huge fan of the good old fashioned .txt file. I always have bits and pieces of crap I want to save, URLs, quotes, article texts, stories, whatever. This would be a great way to keep track of this - sort of a running history file.

This also fits into another neat idea, the idea that someone else can retrieve your stuff if you're killed in a horrible Bird Flu epidemic.

I'm going to start one of these tonight and I'm never going to stop using it.

For a text editor, I think I like Notetab Pro the best. It handle's HUGE text files, it has a nice spell checker, some good text statistics, its cheap (Light is free), and its super fast.

One problem I will have to figure out is a way to run this remotely. Either I'll have to do the thumb drive idea (although my POS laptop only has one USB jack) or I'll have to find a good way to keep it remotely. I'll think of something =)

Great idea, I love it. Thanks for posting!!

Mike Shea mike@mikeshea.net




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