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I suspect that, like many people, I use my work email account (accessed via Outlook 2007) to store information. I generally try to group similar things in folders and sub-folders, but with a multitude of folders this gets very unwieldy. In particular, it can be a bind to locate things using Outlook's tree structure. (As an aside: I've yet to come across a good free search add-on for Outlook.)

I realise Outlook is not the best place to store all my information and I'd prefer not to.

In an ideal world I'd like to be able to organise all of the information stored in Outlook in a MindMap (my software of choice being Freemind) or Wiki.

To maintain an email audit-trail, I've considered saving individual emails as files using a MindMap or Wiki to link them. What do people think of this? (I can't say I relish the thought of the exporting process!)

Whatever I do is going to involve some pain (i.e. setting up a Wiki/MindMap) or sticking with what Outlook provides currently.

Has anyone been in the same position? Has anyone mass-migrated information from Outlook? If so, what was the best way? Any ideas or alternative proposals?

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9 Answers

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I use Google Mail for this. The global search combined with the ability to tag things is very powerful for things you know you read but cannot remember where.

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Me too. And as for "mind mapping", with web mail you can just store links to email messages in order to connect everything. –  Stabledog Mar 4 '10 at 13:24
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I've tried to use SharePoint discussions connected to Outlook w/o a lot of success. Maybe the 2010 versions of Outlook/SharePoint will make this better...

You might also find When In Doubt, Make It Public interesting reading.

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Very interesting reading - cheers. –  Umber Ferrule Feb 21 '10 at 21:46
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As someone who has been using email since the 1970s, I've tried just about all the usual routes. However, I've settled quasi-permanently into this scenario:

  • I use mail filters to scan all my old mail files and pull out mails of interest into basic categories - as COPIES, not moves!
  • I save raw in-box postings as-was, but move them, with the date they end as a part of their file name, into a subdirectory specifically for these inboxes.
  • I use grep to find what I want - from the file system. It gives enough granularity through file system mechanisms.
  • I then step back to a mail reader to read the items found via grep.

Note that grep can give you a window before and after matching lines. A little clever scripting gives you a pretty robust search capacity and you can manage it all on your own disk space...

Finally, no way in the world I would use Outlook - it's just troublesome malware if you ask me. I want access to my raw data, thank you!

RT

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Interesting - I'm already giving this some thought! Thanks. –  Umber Ferrule Feb 13 '10 at 13:41
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Aside first: I'd recommend XOBNI as a tool for Outlook-searches. Thee free version, however, is limited to searching for contacts, IIRC.

Personally, I've been searching for good solutiom for personal info/knowledge-management for years. Tree-based concepts did not work for me, because I have too many links between info. Example: I started off with Client\Projects-Structure, but then I met the same external consultant for the first time in a 2nd project with another customer. The way I had my stuff setup, I could not properly add a "Consultant"-Dimention to my info, would have needed fulltext search and similar solutions. My search ended when I discovered "PersonalBrain" 3 yrs ago. As you are familar with MindMapping: PersonalBrain gives you the possibility to organize information in a graphical way, not too far awayr from MindMaps, but with some key differences that give you so much more possibilities. My current "Brain" has 18.000+ "thoughts" in it, from family over church to ALL relevant biz-info, software-development notes and whatever.

There is a free 30 days trial-download, the software works on Mac, Linux and Windows, Registration is $149 or $249.

Disclaimer: since I was (and still am) so enthustiastic about this software, I became german reseller last year (http://www.pbrain.de). But this doesn't make my advice less genuine or true ;)

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I've tried Xobni but just can't seem to get on with it - thanks anyway. –  Umber Ferrule Feb 24 '10 at 10:02
    
Another Outlook search tool I've encountered is Hana Outlook Folder Search - hanadaddy.com/outlook –  Umber Ferrule Feb 24 '10 at 10:05
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I'd recommend SharePoint as being a great store of this information for several reasons:

  • SharePoint provides an indexed search over content including email and attachments in email.
  • If your SharePoint environment is exposed to the web you can now access your knowledge store from any web browser.
  • SharePoint is a very configurable environment so you can create columns of metadata to categorise your items in a way that works for you. In SharePoint 2010 I'd suggest looking into tagging and taxonomy (managed metadata). This provides the perfect way to categorise information on-the-fly and search/navigate your knowledge store.
  • You can store just about any type of file in SharePoint this means that the same knowledge store can be used not only for email but other snippets of knowledge as well (Office files, website links etc)
  • The solution is scalable to more than just you! You can give people access to all or parts of your knowledge store. In a business situation you may setup different SharePoint sites or libraries for individual employees, but then also have dedicated libraries or sites for projects or jobs so that all email/documents related to that project/job are stored centrally and visible to those that need them.
  • SharePoint provides a single centralized store for backup.

While SharePoint is a great store for the information, getting your emails and other files into SharePoint and applying your metadata (e.g. categories, tagging with keywords) isn't as simple and quick as you would expect.

There number of commercial products in the market providing a solution to this requirement. (Note: I am affiliated with OnePlaceMail)

You can download a time expired trial of OnePlaceMail from http://www.scinaptic.com/outlook-to-sharepoint-integration.html .

OnePlaceMail example capabilities are:

  • Send and save emails to SharePoint
  • Save emails messages from Outlook to SharePoint using a simple drag and drop
  • Automatically capture email attributes such as To, From , CC, BCC, Subject, Category etc...
  • Enter additional SharePoint Column information (metadata) when saving emails
  • Emails are saved in SharePoint in the .msg format
  • Drag and drop Email attachments into SharePoint from Outlook
  • Save documents to SharePoint from File Explorer
  • Save Microsoft Office documents to SharePoint
  • Use SharePoint inside Outlook
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You can try using Xobni as an Outlook extender. It has better search, and better organization capabilites as well.

What I used to do is to host a Wordpress installation in my localhost and just post snippets of information here. :P

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If you have less than 1GB, I would recommend the perhaps off-beat use of Posterous. just forward all the emails you want to save to post@posterous.com and you'll be greeted with an editable, searchable blog. Woot! you can of course make it private.

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Boy are YOU a trusting soul. NO WAY would I send it ANYTHING. You're a real sap if you believe such stores aren't mined for information... Maybe most aren't but can you risk it? –  Richard T Feb 12 '10 at 16:34
    
well, that really depends on what kind of information you want to store. Would I be willing to trust posterous with some info? yes, some. They seem like a serious company (Y combinator funded, known creators, etc.) and the question makes no mention of privacy requirements. –  brice Feb 12 '10 at 16:50
    
And that this is the simplest solution proposed –  brice Feb 12 '10 at 16:57
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Tinderbox is the best but it does not work on Windows.

http://www.eastgate.com/Tinderbox/

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I use the native file system's organizational structure, without any extra knowledge store software. I'll sprinkle text files, links, images, etc, where they belong. For important emails, I'll save the whole thread as text in some relevant folder.

No help for bulk migration, of course. And this approach adds redundancy unless you delete email. Creating the files can be non-trivial, and could be a deal-breaker, depending on what needs saving.

But I prefer native OS search and management tools over the apps I've seen. The learning curve with the native tools might be steeper at first, but it's likely to be more rewarding; lessons learned often apply more broadly. Native OS tools often have a smaller resource footprint, too.

Less sophisticated than Richard T's scenario, this is a kind of compromise for those of us who won't escape our sub-optimal email clients.

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