Ready-Fire-Review: Anagram

Anagram is a small piece of software that almost falls into the category that we used to describe in my Silicon Valley law days as “a feature masquerading as a company.” Many of those companies went away, some were bought and became features, but a few lived on as they became viable standalones.

What does it do?

Scenario 1 – contact info: when I get an email from someone with their contact information in an email signature, I select all the text and then hit the Anagram hotkey: Ctrl+C, Ctrl+C (that’s hold down CTRL and hit C twice). Anagram launches, figures out that the text is a contact, and creates a new contact in Outlook by populating the fields with the information I selected. It takes literally just seconds.

Scenario 2 – appointments: adding a conference call or meeting to my calendar: I select the portion of the (usual) back and forth email that has the time and date and phone number, or the portion of a web-based registration confirmation page that has the relevant date and time info, and hit the same hotkey combination. Anagram recognizes the time and date information, decides that it should be an appointment, and opens a new appointment in Outlook with the information filled in.

In both cases, Anagram leaves the new Outlook item open for me to review its auto-recognition (funky telephone number/label layouts can sometimes lead to the wrong numbers for office or cell, and a single address almost always goes into the “business address” field). Where this is particularly useful is when I want to label the appointment in some different way or when I introduce more generic, i.e., less structured, text.

Scenario 3 – fuzzy tasks: The last scenario that rounds out my Anagram use is capturing text from emails or webpages and shunting it into my task list in Outlook. Since I try to move all my tasks, even partially thought-out and items of the “someday” variety (a la GTD) into Outlook’s task list (in no small part because it’s accessible on my Blackberry through Exchange), this tip allows me to really work hard to skip the whole process of bookmarking webpages only to have to refer to a list somewhere to re-read the page and extract what I wanted to think about in the first place.

Why should you care?

Cutting and pasting takes time. Switching to outlook and hitting a hotkey for a new item takes time. Pasting the info you want into the right fields takes a lot of time for low value. I believe that if it’s been typed once, we should aim to never type it again.

Here’s the real-life live task that sparked this review: I have been scheduling some “Roving Office Hours” for ASDworld using an event calendar plugin that is pretty decent. However, I realized last night that I don’t have any good process for getting those events into my own calendar! (Yes, I have to look for a better plugin or create another software bounty.) I have about 10 of these currently on the schedule. Creating 10 outlook appointments and cutting/pasting or retyping strikes me as a waste of time.

Here’s what I did: I went to this exact page; selected all the text that constitutes the post; hit the hotkey; and tweaked the resulting appointment. Elapsed time for doing it on the next page (after the page is loaded and on my screen):  15 sec from starting to select text to hitting “save & close” on the appointment, and that includes copying the subject I want  for the appointment AND the location. Here’s the resulting file (ics), so you can see for yourself.

Saving time, especially right when I need to save time, is worth the money I paid however long ago to buy Anagram.

Not only does anagram have the personal version that I have used for a couple of years now, but they have two great ways to try out the features if you’re not convinced: an iGoogle gadget that lets you paste text into your iGoogle page and then have it added to gmail (reminds me that I need to set this up for my wife!); and a free Blackberry app that will enable you to select text and have it added to your contacts.

Let me know if you use Anagram, and please especially tell me if you try it and like it.