January 2022 Software of the Month: Curio

Curio can be many things, from a whiteboard, to a project planner, flow chart creator, mind mapping tool, note taking tool, and many more. It includes integration with Reminders and Calendar, so that any item can have a checkmark, a Start date, Due date, and Done date.

Free 2-week trial.

Agenda-style pricing (pay one amount, use it forever with 1 year of updates included), or subscription pricing.

And if you haven’t heard, George, the developer, is a great guy.

https://zengobi.com

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The link has a typo.

Thanks!

As an example, here’s a simple but repetitive task that I was working on with Curio today. Being the end of the year, it’s time to begin collecting all final statement for banks and credit cards, etc.; download the data; load it to my budget and tracking system; categorize it; and do year-end reporting and analysis.

So, in Curio, I created a “list” figure on an “idea space”. Idea spaces are blank canvases. A Curio “project” file can have any number of idea spaces. A list figure is … a list. The list I made today lists all the accounts and the various year-end tasks I need to do all here.

Lots of apps can do lists, of course – but the reason I like Curio for this is what I can do with that list to track this activity.

Here’s what the list looks like with fake data:

  • Each task - each line in the list - is configured as “checkmark”. Checkmarks can have any level of “percent complete” from 0% to 100%.
  • Some of the tasks have begun but are incomplete. The Harvey ball that represents this shows graphically how much is complete.
  • The list is configured to roll-up completion percentages at each parent level – so the Harvey ball visualizations for the parents are automatically calculated and displayed.
  • The little page icon on the incomplete tasks indicates that that task has a note attached to it. In this case, the notes explain what needs to be done to finish the task. If I hovered the pointer over the note icon, Curio would display the note contents in a tool tip.
  • Some tasks need to start on a certain date – the day after the closing date for that particular account’s monthly statements. So, I’ve assigned a start date to that line in the list. (I could have assigned an end date, or both a start and and end date). The dates are shown in the image.
  • Curio will sync a project with your calendars and the Reminders app (and thus anything – like OmniFocus – that uses calendar and reminders data). In this case, the start dates for the tasks that have one will appear in Reminders on the relevant date.

I do not know of any other app that can put together a graphics-rich data-rich display like this. Sure, I can do all this in OF or Things or whatever, but I really enjoy seeing my work portrayed the way Curio can – and I can change the design to whatever I please.

In fact, my main motivation for using Curio daily after all the years I’ve used it is that it’s just fun and pleasant to work with.

The example above demonstrates maybe 1% of Curio’s capabilities, by the way.

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@anon41602260 Nice example! Many thanks.

One example I use a lot is the Spread PDF option. I’m a university educator (doctoral level). For first year students I have them read original research. But this is all really new to them. So for each module I focus on one of the readings: not in terms of content, but in terms of structure and style so they get used to what research writing is all about, the norms used, and so on. So they read the regular article as a PDF. But using Curio I create a “template” with the first page of a PDF article. Typically I use landscape mode with the article page on the left hand side and plenty of room for me to make comments on the right side. Once I have my template set up I simply select the “spread PDF” option and all the rest of the pages with that article are also created using that same template in less than a second. That’s the magic part of Curio for me in this process. Then I go through each page and add highlights and comments (on the right side) as needed per page.

That’s simply one usage, but I don’t know of another app that offers this SpreadPDF capability.

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This description at the Zengobi forum might be interesting for some:

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Curio’s documentation is here, for anyone who wants to browse some of the features:

Curio 20 Documentation

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:wave: all, downloading Curio for the third or fourth time now. Thanks for the example @anon41602260. I have a few immediate needs and am eager to see how Curio handles them. Will report back.

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I thought of you Beck, in this scenario: if you create a stack, and tag the title of the stack, then anything you put in that stack will appear to be tagged with the stack’s title’s tag.
I.e. todo stack, doing stack, done stack. Anything in the todo stack will show up in a search for the todo tag.

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Here’s something I did recently in Curio. It is an Idea Space with pictures and links to websites for some equipment we use and are thinking about buying.

In the image, you can see small blue circles. These are an indication that there is a link associated with that Figure (a Figure is a thing on an Idea Space). In Curio, or in an exported PDF, you can click the blue circle to open the link in your web browser.

Super handy when I was talking to a colleague yesterday. I shared my screen, zoomed in, and talked through the connection between devices, and had the websites at my fingertips if I needed to look something up.

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@anon41602260 @JohnAtl I’m a bit confused as to what Curio brings to the table for the purposes you shared that dedicated apps don’t? This is an honest question, I’m not arguing a point.

Why note use something like MindNode for this? What is the advantage to using Curio for this?

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Why not use a task app for this? What is the advantage to using Curio for this?

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After an hour spent playing with Curio, when it comes to exporting projects, it seems to be a ‘Powerpoint-on-steroids’. Links(‘References’) between objects (‘figures’?) are dead as soon as are exported into PDF or HTML. Doing research in Curio would be interesting, but only when you do it just for yourself or share it with other Curio users, as exporting kills some, fundamental for me (links), future. Maybe I’m missing something - I will try to find time to have a deeper dive this weekend. Just my initial thoughts!

I have a very similar question, @Bmosbacker was able to articulate much better than I can put it. Also a genuine question for me to learn. I downloaded the trial version and is now playing with it. Like a lot of good software, I can trying to figure out where to start

To be fair @Bmosbacker it looks completely different to MindNode and any task manager.

Many apps can be used to solve the same thing - a blank canvas approach doesn’t appeal to me (I’m not creative enough!) but I can definitely see why it would totally appeal to a lot of people.

I could see myself using this as a brainstorming tool, changing it constantly as new ideas come up - a bit like as if I was working on a whiteboard (without the pressure of having to have my writing legible!).

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You probably could. I always found mind mapping software restrictive, in that it forces a tree structure on the user. I much prefer concept maps. Some apps (I think MN is one) allow connections between nodes, but that still doesn’t allow you to, e.g. place things where you would like.
The diagram I posted has a spatial structure that makes sense to my brain. When I return to this, I remember where things are in that space (one of the fortes of we humans).
I’ve also grouped things by some meaning (e.g. company), which gives another layer of structure to the diagrams.

That might be ones perception after an hour, but there is a lot more there than ‘Powerpoint-on-steriods’.
At this point, you don’t yet know what you don’t know. That’s normal, and part of learning.

These work fine for me. Check into jump actions in the docs.

For those tempted by it but not sure how it fits for them, maybe I’m a good case study. I bought Curio a few years back, forgot about it for a few years, but in the past year paid the upgrade fee, which I think gave me a year of updates. It isn’t an app that I find myself picking up out of instinct or habit. I should, though, because I find when I use it to work through something, it pushes me out of my comfort zone (probably the wrong term), and forces my brain to work in a way that it normally doesn’t, which is a good way to look at things fresh. Perhaps I’m looking for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist, but whenever I use the app, I feel rewarded and think I should use it more (only to fall off the wagon again, unfortunately).

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Downloading now. Prediction: I’ll either love it or hate it. No idea which one though. Will report back in a few days.

I’ve done this a couple of times too.

Curio has really been (to use an over-used term) a game-changer for me in the last few months.

I finally realized that my data analyses were too complicated to keep in my head for any length of time. So I built diagrams like this, where the boxes are either links to source code or data files. I can open the source code in R or Matlab just by double-clicking a figure in the Curio Idea Space. Lines that connect things tell me how the data flows, or that one function calls another, or that things are related. Since I don’t want everything on one giant Idea Space, thing are divided into multiple Idea Spaces, and there are jumps between.

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Curio caught my interest during Black Friday 2021, so I downloaded a trial. During the following couple of days, I uninstalled it (“Eh, so much complication and overhead!”) and reinstalled it (“Hmm, maybe if I use it this way…”) multiple times and it finally clicked.

Curio has replaced Notion and part of Drafts for me, and I believe it can be a cornerstone of my workflow as I get to spend more time with it. Its value to me lies in the ability to mirror the messy analog world using its free-form structure. I use it to organize all the support material for active projects; in other words, their value is ephemeral, and they will be obsolete by the time the projects are completed.

Two of my primary use cases:

1. Outlines and related resources (for books, courses, etc.)

Before Curio, I used Notion for tracking commitments because I suck at following through. A concise visual outline and my (lack of) progress can go a long way at pushing me to finish on time. For example, here’s a pretend page for the book Thinking, Fast and Slow:

  • What makes Curio great for this?

    • Low friction to create nested checklists (⇥ to indent, ⇧⇥ to outdent; auto-numbering, e.g. 1. 2. 3., a. b. c. in the screenshot)
    • Option to reflect progress changes to and from children (e.g. in the screenshot, Part III. Overconfidence is automatically set to ⅔ done)
    • Automatically get favicon and title from web links (e.g. in the screenshot, the two podcast episodes under Resources)
    • Option to set due date for tasks and sync to Apple Reminders (I chose not to use it)
  • Why not use Notion for this?

    • Cannot make nested checklists, the hierarchy that makes the most sense for outlines to me
    • More friction to set up relational databases and roll up the progress (I used to do it)
    • I also tried ClickUp some time ago. All things considered, web apps are overkill in some aspects and subpar in others, for my use case. (1) Web-based UI and/or apps vs. Curio’s native app, (2) Data privacy concerns vs. Curio’s local projects, and (3) Website uptime concerns vs. Curio’s always accessible local approach.
  • Why not use a task manager for this?

    • YMMV, but my brain dislike thinking of books as “Projects” in the GTD sense. I do not want to clutter my task manager with stuff like “Finish Chapter 1 of book…” and “Finish Week 1 of course…” because they are not well-defined enough to be a GTD task for me.

2. Random ideas

Before Curio, I used a flagged draft in Drafts to capture random ideas that occur to me. It soon grew out of hand because I never review those ideas and only keep adding. Now, I still capture ideas in Drafts, but instead of piling up in Drafts, they are quickly filed into Curio and connected to related ideas:

  • What makes Curio great for this?

    • Ideas can be freely placed on a 2D plane, offering a bird’s-eye view of all the ideas and connections. It’s like Obsidian’s graph view, but you can see the entire content of every note.
  • What makes Drafts not great for this?

    • Drafts, or frankly any “traditional” text editor for that matter, presents text in a 1D list, making it (1) harder to view the whole picture, (2) harder to re-arrange ideas on the fly, and (3) hard to impossible to make connections between ideas.
  • Why not use Obsidian for this?

    • For my use case, the dynamically generated graph view is a con. Curio’s static graph is consistent each time I open it, and notes stay where they are after re-arrangement.
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