Find it faster: PersonalBrain app links obscure data

3-D software can help users better organize computer files

Imagine being able to find a piece of obscure information on your hard drive quickly instead of having to remember where you saved it, because it's dynamically linked to related bits and pieces that more easily come to mind.

That's the idea behind PersonalBrain, a 3-D information visualization and organization application from TheBrain Technologies. The company Monday unveiled Version 4.0 of the application, which for the first time runs on Mac OS X and the Linux operating system.

PersonalBrain allows users to link pieces of digital information, whether it's a document, name, company, fact, Web page, idea, concept or some other snippet of information. PersonalBrain's ability to link ideas and information can eliminate the need to search through traditional folder and file hierarchies in computer storage systems. Imagine a turbocharged 3-D family tree, with links in various directions that allows a user to drill down deeper or pull back for a more generalized view.

Harlan Hugh, CEO of the vendor and the inventor of PersonalBrain, said the application makes it easier for users to store information they will need to retrieve again at a later date -- without having to spend a long time searching for it. "I can do the work as I'm working" by saving collected information and linking it to related information so it's easily accessible in the future, Hugh said. An ESP Sync function allows PersonalBrain to track what a user is doing in another application, such as a Web browser, and then offer up existing links to related information in PersonalBrain.

With PersonalBrain, a user doesn't have to know exactly where to look or even exactly what he's looking for, because linkages can be uncovered by searching for more general and easily remembered information.

Version 4 of the software, which debuted in 1996, includes 65 new features and improvements, including advanced search, expanded views, zoomable icons and themes, and HTML exporting capabilities to share PersonalBrain with other users, according to the vendor.

Conrad Clyburn, a partner in The Clymer Group, a medical technology consultancy, said he has been using PersonalBrain for four years to better organize his work. It did take some time to create a framework, he said, but once he began adding the information and building its connections, "for me, it became like breathing in and breathing out. Once you get to that level, it's an incredibly dense and powerful tool."

Using PersonalBrain, Clyburn said he can gather information on any topic and bring together useful snippets that aren't available through a Google search of the Web.

"What's missing with Google is you're just getting lists," Clyburn said. "What the PersonalBrain gives you is relationships [among your existing data.] What it provides is context for the information. All that seemingly unrelated information now makes sense."

Timothy Cahill, an IT systems integrator who runs a home automation installation business, has been using PersonalBrain for 10 years and said it helps him better connect projects and ideas. "I'm a highly disorganized person," Cahill said. "I didn't spend any time organizing it. It builds itself as you work. Within a few days of using [the free trial version], I thought, 'I've got to pay for this.' My brain really works well with this product."

A free version of PersonalBrain gives users a free 30-day trial period but only allows users to link ideas and Web pages, not additional documents, after the trial is completed. The Core edition, which allows users to add document files to PersonalBrain, sells for US$149.95, while the professional version, which also allows a user to export PersonalBrain onto a Web site for use by others, sells for US$249.95.

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