BrainTool is a ‘Topic’ Manager. Topics are the basic unit of organization. The BrainTool Topic Manager shows your topic hierarchy and provides tools for editing and curating your topics. The BrainTool Bookmarker lets you quickly assign a topic to any web page or resource that you want to keep track of.
A topic is a category or a tag or any way you want to group a set of web pages. Topics can be nested inside each other to any depth. All topics and links have associated notes. By making it easy to quickly save a web page under a specific topic and drop in a text note, BrainTool allows you to build up your own topic map - a map of all of the information you want to keep track of.
Getting your links and notes into BT is easy but once there they give you a unique ability to control your browser and navigate your online resources. From the Topic Manager you can open and close individual links or all links for a topic, and see which links are open and pop any one to the top. Everything is controllable via keyboard commands as well as the mouse. This ability to navigate sites and tabs from the Topic Manager can greatly improve your browser workflow.
Finally, all of the above takes place in the browser. But BrainTool doesn’t want to lock all this valuable information away! Underlying what you see on the screen is a plain text based representation. You can turn on a continuous sync to a Google Drive file or manually save versions of your topic map. Beyond just being a backup this allows you to access and edit your notes and links in any text editor.
BrainTool is launched by clicking the icon, or using the Alt/Option-b keyboard accelerator. On first click it will open the Topic Manager which comes pre-populated with a default set of topics. You can add your data into this structure or create your own. On the first launch BT will re-size your current browser window to make room for the Topic Manager. This is a one-time operation to make sure you see the side-panel, you should feel free to re-arrange your windows as you see fit.
Assigning a Topic - the Bookmarker
The topic selector then shows an overview of your current topics in a navigable tree. You can select one with your mouse or just start typing. Auto-complete will show possible topic options, hit enter to select. If BT has a good guess as to the topic it might be pre-populated. In this case either just hit enter to use it, or delete to clear out the suggestion.
If a topic name is not unique the auto-complete will show a colon:separated hierarchy. Typing in an unknown topic will create a new one at the top level. Entering an existing topic followed by a colon:subtopic creates a new subtopic under that parent topic (EG Projects:My new project). Topic names can have spaces. If you leave the topic blank (ie just hit enter) the page will be assigned to the generic ‘Scratch’ topic.
Hitting Enter will save the page into your topic map and close the Bookmarker. You can choose to close the page(s) after saving or leave it open grouped with its peers of the same topic.
The Topic Manager
Once you have a set of pages saved into your personal braintool you can use the Topic Manager to control the browser. You can select it as you would any other browser window, or double click the icon or use the accelerator Alt/Option-b-b (ie hit b twice) to pop it into focus.
The Topic Manager shows your topic hierarchy in an expandable table. The small triangles next to topics allows you to expand or collapse the hierarchy. Links that are open in a tab show in pale green as do topics which have one or more of their links open.
Hovering your mouse over a row in the table reveals a set of buttons that perform operations on that row. As shown, right to left, the operations are as follows:
- Delete: Delete the row’s page or topic. If it’s a topic also delete all its children. In the latter case a confirmation warning will be shown.
- Open/Close: Open the page in a tab or all the topics pages in a set of tabs, or close links if open. See Options below for details on groupings - tabs for a topic can be separated into tab groups or dedicated windows.
- Edit: Show the Topic card associated with each entry. This allows you to change the topic’s title or a links label or url, as well as to edit the notes for the item.
- TODO: Each item in the table can be assigned as a TODO or DONE. This button toggles between the TODO states. Note also that adding :TODO after the Topic name in the Bookmarker will mark the item as a TODO.
- Add Child: Create a new child topic under this one and open its Topic card.
- Outdent: Move a node up the topic hierarchy.
- Move: Allow the node to be dragged elsewhere in the hierarchy and dropped into a new position. If it’s a topic node all its children will be moved along with it.
- More/Fewer Tools: Expand to show the full set of tool buttons, or shrink to show the summary set. All these tools can also be accessed using keyboard accelerators.
One thing to note here is that BT has the notion of a 'selection', which is the table row that is currently selected. This is the one on which keyboard commands will operate. It is shown in dark green in the tree.
S is the Search accelerator, or just click into the search box. As you type the next matching row will be selected and shown with matching text highlighted, searching downward from the current selected row (or the top row is there is no selection).
Hitting Alt/Opt-s will select the next matching row. If search hits the bottom row without a match the search box will show in pale red. Hitting Opt-s again will loop the search around to the top row.
R is Reverse search, it works like search but searches upward from the selection (or from the bottom row). At any point you can use -s or -r to find the next or previous match.
Hitting Enter exits search leaving you with the selected row which you can then operate on (eg open in a browser window by hitting enter again, or edit by typing ‘e’).
Note that search will find matches in the link title, link url and your notes, in open as well as hidden rows. The url, which is usually not displayed, will be shown if its the only match in the row.
In addition to showing the selected row, whether it was hidden or not and whether the matching text was visible or not, search will also indicate any other matches in visible rows, if the matching text is visible it will be highlighted otherwise the matching item will be shown in gray.
In addition to the key commands buttons for Up, Down and eXit are shown next to the search box when it is active.
There’s also a brief demo video on this recent blog post.
Actions: Import/Export, Syncing and Options
The green bar at the top of the side-panel houses the search input and the stats bar, which shows details on your topic cards and saves. Clicking the triangle button on the left will open the Welcome card which shows useful links and tips and any BrainTool announcements. Note that after the first launch the Welcome card shows briefly every time you re-open BT and then closes automatically. On first launch it will wait for you to close it to give you a chance to orient yourself.
From the Welcome card there’s a button to import your bookmarks. It’s a good idea to do this early in your use of BT and then to organize your bookmarked links into your topic hierarchy. After a first import the button is moved inside the Actions card which is also accessible from the Welcome card.
There are a number of Import and Export tools. You can import from browser bookmarks, an org-mode text file or an exported file from the TabsOutliner extension. You can export your topic hierarchy back out to browser bookmarks or to a local org-mode format text file. If org-mode and TabsOutliner are not familiar to you don’t worry about it, they are not important! (Note that importing can take some time if you have a lot of data.)
Via the ‘Topic Manager in:’ selector you can change the default location of the Topic Manager such that it opens in a standard browser tab rather than the standalone side panel. IMHO this is a less than ideal setup but was added as a user request. To effect the change, toggle the setting and restart BrainTool.
A controllable option on the card determines how BT topics are shown in browser windows, tabs groups and tabs. The default, Tab Groups, uses the new tab group functionality in Chrome and Edge (as well as Brave and some other Chromium-based browsers) to give a visual indication in the browser of which tabs are associated with the same topic. Tab Groups can be named and colored by right clicking on the tab group indicator in the browser. (Unfortunately the ability to automatically name or color the tab group is not available to the BT extension.)
The alternatives to Tab Group grouping are to open each topic’s tabs in separate Windows or do Nothing and open tabs wherever the browser puts them automatically (as it would with any new link you open).
Next there is the option to link your personal braintool topic map to a file associated with a Google Drive account. If you have a Google account you can walk through an authorization step to allow BT to write all your data into a file you can access via Drive (in addition to saving it in browser storage). Note that if you do edit the file externally you will need to manually sync it back into BT via the ‘Refresh from File’ button. If you use multiple browsers or machines with the same Google account you can share your braintool topics across them (again with a manual sync to import changes made elsewhere).
Finally you have the option to upgrade to a Premium version of BrainTool based on a monthly or annual subscription. See the pricing page for details.
Full list of Tip text
The BT Welcome card shows a random tip each time it’s opened. Here are all the tips for reference. Send suggestions for inclusion to firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe they’ll end up in the app!
- Add ‘:’ at the end of a topic in the popup to create a new subtopic.
- Double click on a table row to highlight its’ open window, if any.
- Type ‘:TODO’ after a topic to make the item a TODO in the BT tree.
- Create topics like ToRead or ToWatch to keep track of pages you want to come back to.
- Remember to Refresh if you’ve been editing the BrainTool.org file directly. (Also make sure your updates are sync’d to your GDrive.)
- Alt-b is the BrainTool accelerator key. You can change that in extension settings.
- You can save individual gmails or google docs into the BT tree.
- ‘Group’, ‘Stick’ and ‘Close’ support different workflows when filing your tabs.
- Save LinkedIn pages under specific topics to keep track of your contacts in context.
- Use the TODO button on a row to toggle between TODO, DONE and none.
- See BrainTool.org for the BrainTool blog and other info.
- Check out the Bookmark import/export functions under Options.
- You can click on the topics shown in the BT popup instead of typing out the name.
- Close and re-open the Welcome card to get a new tip!
- Double tap Option-b, or double click the icon, to surface the BrainTool side panel.
- When you have an Edit card open, the up/down arrows will open the next/previous card.
- Click on a row to select it then use keyboard commands. ‘h’ for a list of them.
- You can also store local files and folders in BrainTool. Enter something like ‘file:///users/tconfrey/Documents/’ in the browser address bar.
- Try hitting ‘1’,’2’,’3’ etc to collapse to that level.