When it comes down to it, my life is a series of hacks to save information I find for later use. This means I’ve spent decades trying different products to make such a process as efficient as possible. From notebooks to print outs to email to screenshots to audio memos and everything in between.
In the last decade or so, this has meant trying every note-taking app that I can get my fingers on. But the reality of what I want is far more simple.
I want a way tohighlight a bit of text, no matter where it may be, and for that highlight to be saved somewhere, in an at least somewhat organized fashion, ideally with a link back to where I found the information saved.
Over the years, a few services have popped up to do this at a high level. Highly is one that comes to mind (well, did). Liner is another. OneShot, a “text shot” service is yet another.¹ Unfortunately, these services tend to pop out of existence as quickly as they pop in. More importantly, they’re often limited by the OSes on which they run. So the experience you’re left with is one that 99% of users will never bother with.
This is why I believe this needs to be OS-level functionality. Right up there with cut, copy, and paste. Ideally right next to those as an option.
Imagine reading on the web and coming across a section you like and want to save. Right now you could maybe use a share sheet to save the text elsewhere. Or you could take a screenshot. Or even take out a pen and paper, like a 20th century animal. But most likely, you’re simply going to copy and paste the text into another app, per above. And this is fine.
But now imagine there was another option — again, right next to the options to cut, copy, and paste — which is ‘highlight’. And invoking this highlights the text on the screen and saves that text somewhere else — maybe even the Notes app — to be revisited later. Again, ideally with a link back to where you found said text. Either a website or even another app.
If this sounds familiar it’s because it is familiar. If you use a Kindle, for example, this is a standard thing. So standard that Apple does the same in their own Apple Books app. This is all derived from the idea of highlighting words in an actual book, as we used to do. But it’s sort of silly that we still limit this digitally to book-reading apps or electronic representations of books. On your phone, tablet, or computer, you should be able to highlight any text, anywhere. And in fact you can, with your mouse cursor (or finger). But there’s no good way to make such highlights permanent, beyond the above steps.
Now imagine a world in which this was not only a system-level setting, but an API as well. So all those services that already do this — the Kindles of the world, but also the Pockets, Instapapers, and Mediums — could tap into this functionality as well to further augment it. Hell, maybe even Microsoft Word and Google Docs and the like.
Where ever these highlights are saved, be it a ‘Highlights’ app or again, the Notes app, is where you go to find your saved highlights in reverse chronological order. And if you so desired, you could do some work to further categorize them here. And you could share them out to other services. Perhaps in the aforementioned text shot format. Except a far more powerful version, one that links back to the original source of the text. Again, perhaps a website, or even another app. Imagine app discovery through text shot!²
This is a world I wish existed. And I don’t think I’m the only one. It could ease the burden on note-taking apps immensely. And save us all a ton of time. And maybe even make us smarter. Or at the very least, better at saving and sharing dumb things.