What is Scrintal?
Personal Knowledge management (PKM) apps have gone from a niche interest to a mainstream category in the last few years. A couple of things have driven this:
- Apps have developed the ability to navigate between notes (units of knowledge, information, or ideas) using links and backlinks to form a network of connected content and thinking.
- Lots of discussion of PKM as a way to improve creativity, thinking and writing using these tools.
Books like Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte and How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens have helped explain how PKM works and how to do it from differing perspectives. These books cover general ways to organise personal knowledge and specific techniques such as the Zettelkasten methodology first used by the German Sociologist Niklas Luhmann. For serious knowledge workers, this approach can be highly effective.
Scrintal is a new PKM app that combines structured note-taking with visual layout and mind mapping. This new approach was not a random idea from the developer but the result of starting with a real problem faced by one of the founders and following it up with a lot of research.
How it all started
It all began when the CEO of Scrintal - Ece Kural - was doing her Ph.D. Like many researchers, she became frustrated with just how time-consuming and cumbersome it was to do the research. She knew there had to be a better way and later teamed up with Furkan Bayraktar (CTO) and Arda Ertem (Chief Business Officer) to form the Stockholm-based startup in 2021.
Scrintal is currently in closed beta and has onboarded several hundred users who are actively being used to provide research and feedback into the evolution of the tool. This approach - starting with a real pain point and then using user research to develop a product - is an intelligent way to create a valuable and successful outcome.
Who should use Scrintal?
Scrintal is a general-purpose product, which is therefore ideal for several different types of users, such as:
- Project Managers
- And more
As we will see, Scrintal is easy to use - with a low learning curve - but is powerful enough to be used for serious work. It does not force the user to follow any particular way of doing things, so it has a low barrier for people to start using it and express themselves however they like. It allows you to work abstractly or formally (or both) and lets you work on multiple projects simultaneously. Scrintal’s best feature might be that it gets out of your way and allows you to do your own thing in whatever way suits you.
Let’s start with some terminology and explain how Scrintal works.
The fundamental units of work in Scrintal are Cards. Cards are resizable documents in which you write (with formatted text) and place objects like videos, PDFs and other files. Cards can have one or more tags attached to them, which is helpful for searching, categorising or attaching status and additional information. You can link to other cards and see backlinks from cards and related cards (i.e. links to cards that share a tag). Traversing these links is easy to navigate.
When you first log in to Scrintal, you see the desk, a refreshingly empty canvas where you do your work. The desk is infinitely large, and you can zoom in and scroll around it. You can put existing cards on it, add new cards, move them around, organise them and link them together in any manner you see fit. The desk is where you visualise your work as well as where you do your work.
In real life, we don’t just work on one thing at a time. For this reason, you can clone your desk at any time and create a board with its own name. Once you have a board, it is like another desk: you can do anything on a board that you can do on your desk, but in addition, you can share it with others (see below).
Your work will probably consist of several boards representing different projects or parts/views of an existing project.
Finally, we have the archive, where you keep all your cards and boards. The archive is accessible via a prominent search bar at the top right-hand side of your screen. You can browse your cards/boards, search for them, or use tags. You can drag one or more cards from the archive into your desk or current Board. When you remove cards from the desk or board, they remain in the archive unless you explicitly delete them.
Working In Scrintal
Your desk (or a board that might be yours or shared) is where you do your work in Scrintal. You can put as many or as few cards as you like on your desk. You move cards around and arrange them in any way that makes sense to you, including using colour. You can also "fold" cards so that just their titles show on the desk.
Cards can be created or found in the archive and then placed on the desk. You can find cards in the archive by browsing, searching, or using tags.
You navigate from one card to another visually or by following links between cards. Clicking on links contained in cards will open linked cards or boards. You can see which boards a card also appears in and follow links. Finally, you can also use URL links in cards to connect to external resources.
If your desk gets too cluttered, you can remove cards (they will go back into your archive) or make a new board showing another view of your card collection.
Since we tend to have more than one project at once, it makes sense to have several boards that reflect the different things you are currently working on. Any cards can appear on any board, and it’s quick and easy to add and remove cards at any time.
The uncluttered interface allows you to work in the same way as if you were manipulating a bunch of index cards on your physical desk. You can also see their relationships and navigate to related cards, even if they are not already on your desk.
Scrintal has tags available for cards. These can be used in various ways to suit users’ needs, and you can find cards based on their tags. For example, you can have tags for different categories of cards (#person, #reference) or to show status (#todo, #done).
The great beauty of a tool like Scrintal is that you can be entirely unstructured and free-form when you start to set out your thoughts but can add detail and create relationships as you proceed. This approach is quite different from mind mapping tools, where you have the visual picture without the content or a note-taking tool, where you have structured content without being able to see the big picture. In this sense, Scrintal is unique.
If you need formality, Scrintal allows for creating highly structured and organised material, such as creating a Zettelkasten. You can work however you like and in whatever level of detail you prefer.
A lot of thought has gone into the design of Scrintal to keep your attention focused on your work. Once you get into a flow state and become immersed in what you are doing, you don’t want to be interrupted by context switching (to other apps, for example). Scrintal helps with this in the following ways.
- You work from your desk (or a board) and can do everything you need to do in this one place.
- You can jump directly from a card to any linked card and to other cards related to those cards.
- You can jump from any card to a board, which is handy for having other views of your project or a board containing related material.
- Focus mode shows a card in full-screen mode. When in focus mode, you can click on links in the card and see the linked card on a side panel on the right-hand side of the screen. This feature is ideal if you follow a train of thought in focus mode and wish to refer to another card to take notes or look something up.
- The ability to watch a video, read a PDF or look at a web page whilst writing notes is familiar to us. You can do this in Scrintal directly to work on a card with the supporting material beside it on your desk.
People tend to use various software tools to do their work, but if they can manage to do the deep, thinking work in one tool without switching to others all the time, it makes for a more productive and less distracting environment.
Finally, the whole experience of using Scrintal is light and enjoyable. User interface design is critical with products you spend a lot of time working in. I found it easier to stay focused and remain working in Scrintal than using more text-heavy tools, such as Obsidian.
Using Scrintal with other tools
It is easy to copy and paste text from other sources into cards. You can import markdown files from another tool (Obsidian, for instance). You can now export cards as either markdown or PDF files. Bulk export is expected to be available soon, so your data won’t be stuck in Scrintal, and you can take it elsewhere.
Boards can be shared in read-only mode via a URL so you can share them with anybody. Here is an example. You can also share boards with other Scrintal users and collaborate with those users in real time (much like in Google Docs). You can see each user’s cursor on a card and work on the same card simultaneously. Since everybody can share cards to a shared board, it allows for a powerful collaboration workflow, as users can add their work into the shared space, edit it or create new material from scratch.
What sort of things can you do with Scrintal?
Because Scrintal is a general-purpose tool that doesn’t force you to work with any particular methodology, it can be used for many different tasks. Here are some examples:
- Ideation, brainstorming, mind mapping
- Organising concepts, thinking
- Studying, learning, research
- Planning and strategy
- Project planning
- Presenting to others
- Collaborating with others
Comparison with other tools
Scrintal fits within the ecosystem of PKM tools, but occupies its own niche. Well-known note-taking products include Obsidian, Logseq, Roam Research, Reflect, Amplenote, Mem and many others. There are a number of mind mapping and visualisation tools too. For example, Miro, MindNode, SimpleMind, Coggle and Scrapple.
Only Scrintal combines both of these approaches in one tool. The beauty of this is that you can use the visual aspect of the product to map out and understand what you are doing (something which everybody is naturally good at, whether they think they are or not). At the same time, you can immediately start adding detail to cards without having to do this somewhere else.
Scrintal is still a product in development, with many things currently in progress or planned. However, even in its current state, it is already capable and a pleasure to use.
Scrintal’s mission is to enjoy the research, thinking and writing process. If they continue to develop the product thoughtfully and in collaboration with their users, we can expect this to evolve into a very robust, capable and mature product.
Without trying to guess what is coming next, there will likely be an increased focus on collaboration and integration with other tools for those needing this and constant evolution of the core features. In short, I think that the future is looking bright for this product.
Scrintal might not be the only tool you will need to do your work, but it is a complete tool to manage your ideas, research and thinking. You will get more done with less context-switching using Scrintal compared to other apps.
Scrintal is simple, which is how it should be. You will get to work immediately, using it to create value for yourself. Many other products in this space tempt you to spend a lot of time setting things up, planning, configuring, refining etc. Your effort starts to become about your work rather than doing the work!
We are all visual thinkers to a greater or lesser degree. It is hard-wired into our brains and how we process things. With Scrintal, you have the freedom to work visually, textually, or with any blend of the two that suits you. The best way to see if it fits in with your way of doing things is to try it when you can and see for yourself.
We will explore some specific examples of how Scrintal works and how to use it in later posts, but hopefully, this one has given you a helpful introduction to what it is, what it is like to use, and what it promises in the future.
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