While definitely being a great fan of analogue writing and note-taking, I do always keep my eyes open for promising solutions that to some extend try to bridge the gap between the analogue and the binary world.
While there is just nothing like analogue note-taking and writing (the whole pen on paper-experience, the endless choice of pens and paper, and all the rather psychological-emotional advantages of handwriting), the analogue also has many disadvantages, too. These do certainly include a lack of an effective search ability, no option of effortlessly reorganizing your notes, as well as as not being able to access notes independent of time and place (which speaks to digital storage as well as cross-device syncing) – all things that the digital world offers and that I highly value.
Having that said, the Mod notebook that I recently stumbled upon seems to be a player that sort of combines an analogue notebook with the said digital features. So let’s have a look at that.
Disclaimer: I have not actually tried a Mod myself. Hence, this post is not an actual product review in that sense, but a mere reflection.
The Mod notebook itself actually seems to be nothing too special. It is available in three colors (black, red and grey) and three common rulings (plain, ruled and dot-grid). It apparently lies flat due to thread-binding and comes with 120g/sqm paper. I find the latter to be a bit exaggerated for a regular notebook, because this is like sketchbook-paper. I have no idea how many pages the notebook has, as there is no such information to be found on the website (which is a bit weird – this is normally something you would really wanna know?!), but I suppose it can’t be too many with such thick paper.
According to the manufacturer, the Mod notebook has the size of an iPad mini – which is, they claim, because a notebook and an iPad mini are a perfect combination. While I am not too sure about that, it might sound nice for marketing purposes.
Essentially, the Mod looks like any knockoff of a Moleskine or Leuchtturm (rounded edges, page marker, elastic closure-strip, …) that you could get in any random stationary store around the corner. So, so far, nothing that would sweep you off your feet.
The (big?) idea
What sounds much more exciting to me is the actual idea behind the notebook that should also inhibit the bigger part of the notebooks price, which is 29$. Here it is: (1) You fill in your notebook. (2) When full (or whenever you want to) you send it back to Mod (the company), using a pre-paid envelope that comes with the notebook. (3) Mod will then scan in the whole notebook for you within 5 days. Afterwards, you may have the notebook sent back to you or, alternatively, shredded. (4) All the scanned pages are then available in the Mod-app (i.e. digital) from any device (i.e. cloud computing). The digital pages could now also be synced with OneNote, Evernote, or Dropbox. The sending back, scanning in, as well as the app are all included in the notebooks price.
Image taken from the Mod website
There is also a video that explains how the whole thing basically works:
Well, the whole idea really sounded great to me – initially. After a little thinking and some research, it turns out to be not all that great to me personally.
First of all, I found a (slightly older) review on the Mod notebook by The Cramped. While the author there tries his best to be gentle with the notebook, it frankly speaking seems to be crap; quality-wise, as a notebook. In the defense of the notebook: this review is from 05/2014, so a lot may have changed – or not. I don’t know. Anyway, as the author on The Cramped already pointed out, the notebook quality itself is not the biggest issue. To me, there are actually a few bigger issues, not just one.
First, I am in line with the author at The Cramped, that it really is a problem that one is bound to the very Mod notebook. The Cramped already had suggested by then that Mod shall open up their scanning service to any type of notebook, meaning you can send them whichever (standard size) notebook, and they’ll run their “digitization-to-app-service” for you. A year and a half down the road, Mod still seems to have not picked up on that idea. But this problem of being tied to a specific notebook is exactly the kind of logic that also makes me dislike the Livescribe-concept, which is even worse: I am bound to a certain notebook/paper and a (horrible) pen.
Second, I also find that it feels really weird to send a notebook full of personal (private) notes off to a company for digitally ‘reading’ (feeding) it into their machines. Of course, the scanning-in won’t be done manually, I suppose (and there is evidence for that in a Mod statement). So no-one will literally be browsing through your notes. And, you might argue, all those cloud services like OneNote, Evernote or the Apple iOS NotesApp, in which you store all your personal and business related notes digital anyway, basically follow the same logic: your private stuff is online, automatically processed on the servers of a company – of which you can not really be certain of what they will be doing with your data or what kind of algorithms they’ll perform on these. But anyway, it still feels weird to me to send my personal notebook in an envelope to a stranger. But that might well be the privacy-obsessed German in me.
Third, and this sort of has to do with my second point: the automated scanning-in process will most likely only allow for ‘regular notes’. While you might say “so what”, I shall suggest for you to go to Instagram and check out the hashtag “bullet journal” (#bulletjournal) – a system, which I also use personally. People put stickers, colorful tape, post it notes, and the like into their notebooks. I do highly doubt that automated scanning can handle all those without clogging the scanners or literally tearing apart the notebook.
Fourth, I do most likely not want all my notes to be digitized, but rather just some of them. There is just too much junk among the entirety of my notes and there are only a few things that I’d like to keep on the long run. So what I am doing at the moment, and that works really well for me, is to just scan the pages of my notebooks that I’d like to keep with a smartphone app, and then archive these on OneNote. There I can annotate, search and reorganize them just the way I want to. When I compare all those options to the Mod web app, which one can try (no login/registration required), the latter seems very limited in what it can do. It is basically a ‘viewer’ only, in which you can browse through your notes. While one is apparently able to export to OneNote (or Dropbox/Evernote), I do not know how well all that really works in the end.
All in all, I think the disadvantages that I have outline above do by far outnumber the few advantages that the Mod-system has. At least for me personally. I rather use the notebook I want (quality, format) the way I want (stickers, tape, shimmer inks, a packed expandable back-pocket, glued in map-snippets and photographs …) and then archive the whole notebook (analogous!) in my bookshelf. And then just scan the few things I know I might need available digitally with a smart phone app and have the scan in super- flexible OneNote.