Zenbe Lists Is Dead

December 6th, 2009

About 18 months ago I started using Zenbe Lists, a nifty list-manager system available for free from zenbe.com.  I liked everything about it: it was clean, fast, beautifully designed, and allowed me to organize and consult my many lists both on my phone and on my laptop.  I began to put more and more of my personal organization into it, but eventually I hit a wall: I found it didn’t scale well.  Furthermore it has a few bugs that I have trouble working around, and I slowly became aware that the developers have stopped developing it; it exists in a sad limbo of the nearly-awesome but dead.  So it’s with deep regret that I announce it’s time to jump ship.

What a drag.  Now I must begin yet another of those tedious technology-evaluation periods, in which I  demo the dozens of other contenders in this application-space, knowing full well that if Zenbe would just fix one or two things in their system, they’d still be my number one choice.  Sigh.  I feel I am no good at this.  Technology selection should be rigorous and rational, and that takes forever.  And I’m bad at taking advice.  Internet, please advise me.

Here are my needs:

  • I need to keep lists.  Some of these are GTD-related, some are not.  I have a lot of lists, so I need a way to sort and search and organize them.  (Zenbe started to suck when I got past about 20 lists.)  Really I want to use sub-lists, but i’ll take anything that works.
  • I need to be able to edit my lists on my iPhone or my desktop computer, and keep the data synced between them.  Even when my phone is off the Internet, I need my lists.  (Zenbe was awesome at this.  Sigh.)
  • I do not want to stand around waiting for my lists to be ready for me to use them.  Performance and a clean UI are crucial with this sort of thing.  (Drag & drop is a very powerful way to sort & arrange lists, which I like, and Zenbe does it well.)
  • I prefer a minimum of additional cruft not related to my aforementioned needs. I don’t need anybody’s particular implementation of GTD overlaid on my own.

There … is that too much to ask?  Let’s find out: here’s a bunch of list managers I found for the iPhone.

Tada Lists: admirably simple, yet … no sublists, no searching, no sorting.  No dice.

Remember The Milk: this app is widely admired, but it’s a To-Do manager, not a list manager.  There are four pre-named lists — a noun, and adjective and two verbs — and no way to create a fifth one.  I feel I can easily do everything this does with a general-purpose list manager, so this just ties my hands.

Todoist: hurts my brain.  Dripping with unorganized documentation, yet totally unintuitive and confusing.  (There’s also some fairly awkward screencasts — am I the only person who hates screencasts?  If you can’t say it in words, how can you make a movie about it?)  Todoist is a task-manager; there is some kind of way to create sub-projects but I can’t figure it out. Sorting is awkward; drag & drop, but you have to turn it on and off, or else you can sort by date but not alphabetically.  There is some kind of query language i’d have to learn before I can search; keyword search is good enough for Google, but apparently not for Todoist.  A very confusing UI in a field of simple UIs.  This looks like one intense hacker’s hobby, or else an open-source project.  Yuck.

ToodleDo (are we sick of Web 2.0 site names yet?) : kinda klutzy but better than Todoist.  No sublists.  More of a task manager.  Adding tasks is quick enough, but there’s no sorting and searching is broken.

… wow, it didn’t take long to run out of leads.  Nothing even came close to qualifying.  Christ!  Is what I want so strange?  Maybe I’m not looking for the right thing.  I search for “list manager” but get a bunch of e-mail tools.  I search for “to-do list manager” and get the above crap.  Is there a better name for what I want?

Maybe what I want is a database?  I looked at some iPhone & web databases (Storeit, dabbleDB) but they’re really all too heavyweight & crufty.  I don’t want a database.  I want nested lists, a standard data structure.  Lists of lists.  Sortable, searchable, editable.  Synchronized between my iPhone and my desktop.  That’s all I want.  Please?

(All I really want is for Zenbe Lists to come back from the dead.  Sniff.)

6 Responses to “Zenbe Lists Is Dead”

  1. steev Says:

    Have you tried “OmniFocus”? I have not, I actually downloaded it and then forgot to try it within the trial period. If I can’t even be organized enough to try out a new to-do list app, sounds like I need a more effective to-do list system. hah. anyway, some people seem to love it.

  2. Cassidy Says:

    My buddy Jason Schleifer has been hunting for the same mythical beast:


    Jason’s a great adopter of technology– he adopts early and often, and pushes systems to their breaking point, and communicates with the developers about why they break. My late-adopter strategy is to bet on him to figure this out, and then swoop in and use whatever tool he ends up recommending. Unless you figure it out first, that is! 😉

  3. misuba Says:

    Do some searching on “outliner” if you haven’t.

  4. mykle Says:

    Oooo … that’s the hot tip I wanted. Thanks.

  5. revphil Says:

    which one? are any of them available on the google phone?

  6. Benja Says:

    What Cassidy said. Let Jason figure it out.

    I was using gubb.net for a while but got annoyed with it.

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