Electronic Lab Books 2

Last year I posted about my search for an electronic laboratory notebook (eln). Since then I’ve had experience of several systems, and my ideas have changed quite a bit, so I thought it was time for another post.

I listed a number of criteria that I thought were important for my eln. I got it wrong however, it turned out that two of the things I valued most weren’t even on my list- synchronization and style.

I was at that time using journaling software, and syncing using either their internal capabilities to link to my .mac account, or later on using the excellent Dropbox to sync. This worked well 99% of the time, but 99% isn’t enough. I wanted my eln to be in perfect sync between work and home and NEVER get corrupted by conflicting changes. So I abandoned these journaling software elns despite the nice software.

This sounds superficial, but I realized that using attractive software is very important to me. I spend most of the day working with my lab book, and I just can’t commit to using something spartan and ugly. I want to use a modern software environment that is attractive and well laid out. I was initially put off blogs and wikis not just because they are generally short of features but because most are really ugly to work with.

(Its not all about sync and style, I want many other things too, but I’ll discuss those specifically in a follow-up posting)

I’m impressed with Evernote, and seriously considered this as my eln. It works very well in fact, yet I have decided not to go this route. Evernote is proprietary software, which isn’t a deal breaker for me, but compared to many it has very poor export. It will export your data as an xml file, but as far as I can determine this xml file cannot be opened by any other application. If Evernote went out of business tomorrow could I get at my information? Well, the local copy would still work with the application but I would not be in a good situation at all.

So, having researched this quite a lot, I have decided that my eln will be WordPress. Not any blog, but specifically the new WordPress 2.7. I’ve been using it for 2-3 months now and I’m going to write why I’ve chosen it, and how I’m using it, in a following post.

Blogs have been discussed and used for eln before. I’m not suggesting a whole new approach here, just recording my personal experiences in finding an eln solution that works for me.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. mark says:

    Dave,How is the experiment with Word Press as an ELN going? I’m still looking for something that I can apply to my entire lab group, but have yet to find a simple system I can afford.


  2. Dave Lunt says:

    Mark, its going very well I think. I haven’t tested it on anyone else in my lab yet, but its working well for me. I’m using the Atahualpa theme (http://wordpress.bytesforall.com/) because it offers the most options of any theme I’ve seen. The things that “didn’t work” for me early on have been fixed by altering the theme settings. So for instance I wanted the date and time to be right at the top of each post, which is an option.Overall a few minor annoyances but its the best system I’ve used so far, and I’ve tried quite a lot.I’d be interested to hear how you get on.


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