As we swim the ocean of data on the Web--in bookstores, in magazines, conversations and everywhere else information lives--sometimes we come across tidbits we want to save for later. Maybe it's the name of a movie to watch, an interesting recipe, an inspiring quote, or something we need to add to this week's to-do list. Whatever that piece of information is, Springpad wants to keep it for you.
Unlike its primary competitor, personal note-taking service Evernote, Springpad is mainly an online service. It does have companion applications for Android and iOS, as well as a Chrome "app" that is basically a version of the Web service that supports working offline, and another browser add-on for quickly clipping and saving webpages.
Since Springpad lives on the Web, it tries to use the Web for adding context to your notes. For example, when you clip a webpage containing a recipe, Springpad tries to parse it and identify the ingredients, number of servings, and the directions. Then, when you view the recipe in Springpad, it offers a link to add ingredients to your shopping list.
Since Springpad wants to be a catch-all for your information, sorting and searching become very important, and Springpad offers several ways to separate your information into manageable bits. At the top of the information hierarchy are notebooks: You manually create these according to whatever scheme that makes sense to you. You can have a "Personal" notebook, a "Weekend Projects" notebook, and so on. You can assign each notebook its own visual theme, to give it some individual character.
Within each notebook there's a navigation bar on the left, showing types of content. You can view all of your content as one long stream (sorted according to your preference), view only flagged entries, or view alerts. Alerts are shown either for overdue updates, or for coupons and other promotional content Springpad chooses to show you based on what you've added to your notebook. You can also view entries in your notebook according to their type: Recipes, notes, tasks, movies, and so on. You don't need to do any manual tagging for this to work: Springpad parses and categorizes your notes automatically. Last but not least, you can also search your Springpad notes.
Adding content to your notebook usually works, but not always: Once, when I tried adding a book to my notepad, Springpad simply refused, popping up an error message that said "Something went wrong when creating your item :(." Emoticons are cute, but that wasn't a very helpful message. Trying again did not resolve the problem.
On the plus side, when parsing works, it is very convenient: You can just type a name (even something generic like "Seven") and Springpad will search online sources and display tabs such as "Product," "Place," "Movie or Show" to help you narrow down the results, letting you easily find the right one, add to your notebook and see lots of metadata about it (cast, release date, and more).
Other than minor parsing hiccups, Springpad worked fine for me. The notebook metaphor is an effective way to divide data, and having the service automatically parse and categorize notes can be a valuable time-saver. If you're looking for a free information catch-all service that can save you some typing and put your data in context, Springpad is an interesting option. Then again, if you don't mind the $5 monthly price tag, Evernote provides a native Windows client and doesn't have built-in ads.