Interview | Shantanu Bala Writes a Quicklyst

Shantanu Bala created Quicklyst because the software he normally used to take notes—Microsoft Word and OneNote—wasn’t simple enough and didn’t lend themselves well to his favorite type of notes—outlines. “Since I personally really liked outline-style notes, and I wanted an easy way to study for exams using my Kindle, I thought others might like such a software as well,” he says. The basic premise for Quicklyst is: to be the simplest and easiest way to take and study notes anywhere. Although Shantanu continues to develop and improve Quicklyst, he says: “I’ve managed to make a web site that I actually enjoy using myself.” He invites others to join him, and in this interview he shares why.

Victor: What does ‘Quicklyst’ mean?

Shantanu: Quicklyst comes from the words “quickly” and “list.” The main idea is that with Quicklyst, making bullet lists is extremely easy and fast.

Victor: What is it, exactly and who created it?

Shantanu: Quicklyst is a tool for taking outline-style or bulleted notes. I developed it in my free time, and I’m the only one working on it. I started working on it a couple
months ago in December, and launched just a few weeks ago. It’s a perpetual work in progress, though. I’m always working on improving it and adding new features and incorporating new ideas.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Shantanu: Quicklyst, first and foremost, provides a really simple way to take bulleted notes. It uses a familiar keyboard-based interface where enter creates a new bullet point, the tab key is used to indent, etc. The main benefits of Quicklyst are the simplicity, the fact that all data is stored online (you’ll never wind up losing your notes), the ability to search through all your notes to find what you need to study, the ability read your notes on an Amazon Kindle, iPhone, iPad, or Android device, and the ability to get instant definitions of terms and words as you type your notes.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?

Shantanu: Quicklyst is essentially a bare version of Microsoft Word or OneNote that was specifically designed for students. It leaves out all the things that aren’t necessary like complex formatting, charts, video, and other distractions. It also differentiates itself from Word or OneNote by integrating with the Amazon Kindle, a device that (in my opinion) has the potential to change the way people read books in the same way that the iPod transformed people’s consumption of music. I couldn’t really find any other service that paired the Kindle with note-taking, and it’s a really good combination. Other products like Evernote aren’t really focused specifically on class notes, and are more oriented towards saving quotes and doing research rather than taking notes during a lecture or presentation.

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Shantanu: A very minimal product was developed in a few weeks in my free time in December, and I’ve been updating it (almost every week or two) with new features, speed improvements, or a slightly better-looking interface. I think the most interesting thing is mainly that I was able to do it in my free time. I’ve found that I actually really enjoy making Quicklyst and watching it grow. It feels a lot more satisfying than I would have every imagined, and I’m fine giving up watching TV or playing video games for a couple hours to keep going.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Shantanu: It’s all on and it pretty much always has been. When it was in development, I was the only one with access, but I released it into the wild. It will always be on the same web site, and I’m working to make native applications for different devices rather than just a mobile-friendly version of the web page. That way, people can access their notes if they don’t have a network connection.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Shantanu: It’s free! Although I plan on adding some paid features, the current product (and most future updates) will always be free.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Shantanu: Since notes are private (unless a user explicitly shares them), there really aren’t a whole lot of examples, but here’s a brief outline I made of the Mexican Revolution for history

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Shantanu: It’s made for students with computers. Ideally in the next few years, more and more high school students will have laptops. For now, college campuses may be a better audience for Quicklyst than high school students since most college students have laptops. Mainly, it’s not made for people who want every feature or complete control over the appearance or settings of things. Quicklyst practically has no settings—just a username/password to sign in, and a text box to enter a Kindle email address (if a user owns one). The goal is to make taking notes as fast and easy as possible, and remove the need to fiddle with options and settings.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Shantanu: Education is a little disconnected. I remember sitting in class once thinking “I remember reading that on Wikipedia” and part of that went into Quicklyst. I’m working on getting more sources of information working with Quicklyst, but right now it allows you to instantly search Wikipedia and the Merriam-Webster dictionary directly in your notes. My dream is to one day see a classroom where students have software that pulls up images, graphs, and information about the topic of a lecture or presentation as it’s happening. There’s a ton of information that’s free online that is waiting to be used in the classroom, and education can be greatly improved just by incorporating it little by little (my favorite sources include TED,, PBS/NPR, and the Khan Academy).

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Quicklyst?

Shantanu: Quicklyst is a start, and as I mentioned before, giving students instant access to information can allow students to ask more in-depth questions.

Victor: How does Quicklyst address some of your concerns about education?

Shantanu: I think it’s actually not as bad as many people think. I like the ideas of Sir Ken Robinson, and I think education systems need to change, but I don’t like much of the negative press surrounding public education recently. We can make gradual steps towards providing better education for students—we don’t really need a complete overhaul of how things work. More technology, more electives, more community involvement, fewer high-stakes examinations, and more in-depth and focused curricula are, in my opinion, the brighter future.

Victor: Anything else you’d like to add or emphasize?

Shantanu: Quicklyst is inexpensive, doesn’t require setup, and is really easy to figure out how to use. It’s mainly about keeping things simple. Making things simple can go a long way. As I mentioned before, I’m hoping that as I develop it further, it turns into something that can really encourage deeper student-student discussion and learning in general.


Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of Edtech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to:

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