Posts filed under ‘PIM’

Instrument software words of wisdom

Instrument software examples of Information Management and Getting Things Done:

“Obviously, users who are going to measure hundreds of trials against numerous standards would do well to name the files and folders they create in a manner that allows for easy identification of archived files.  We suggest that you develop file and folder naming conventions, write them down, and apply them every time you open and save a new file.”


“Thinking about Macros – Creating a successful macro entails a bit of forethought.  You will want to answer some or all of these questions:

  • What task do you want to accomplish?
  • What steps are involved in  accomplishing the task?
  • How should the steps be sequenced?
  • What steps must be repeated?
  • How do the steps that must be accomplished match with built in commands?
  • What is the simplest way to get the job done?”

Sounds like a recipe for life.  In a really geeky sort of way.


July 22, 2008 at 4:31 pm Leave a comment

All-star Tips from Starr’s The Personal Organizing Workbook

Notes from The Personal Organizing Workbook, Meryl Starr

First impressions: wait, there’s pictures of purses and lipstick and closet organizers on the cover….whoops, that’s the wrong book…oh, no it’s not. 

The audience for this book seems to be working women.  There were some good ideas, and some ideas that weren’t that relevant to me.  Nevertheless, the book was practical rather than theoretical, and I appreciated that following the excellent, but exhausting Keeping Found Things Found and Personal Information Management.


Table of contents:


CH1 Stash your stuff

  • Questionnaire
  • Common Problems – and solutions
  • I’m overwhelmed. Where do I even begin?
  • I can never find the things I need.
  • I’m always lugging around a heavy bag.
  • I’m running out of storage space.
  • Projects
  • Project one: Clear out the car
  • Project two: Sort out your clothes closet
  • Project three: Conquer your paperwork

 CH2 Streamline your to-do list

  • Questionnaire
  • Common Problems – and solutions
  • I’m running behind schedule…again.
  • I’ll never get through my mile-long to-do list.
  • It seems like my job is never done.
  • Projects
  • Project one: Update your calendar
  • Project two: Reclaim your personal time
  • Project three: Get a head start on your day

 CH3 Manage your relationships

  • Questionnaire
  • Common Problems – and solutions
  • So many people, so little time…
  • I never get to see my friends anymore.
  • I hate to turn down an invitation, but my social schedule is wearing me out!
  • Projects
  • Project one: Pursue someone new
  • Project two: Add fun to your holiday plans
  • Project three: Entertain friends…and yourself!

 CH4 Stay Organized

  • Questionnaire
  • Common Problems – and solutions
  • I can’t seem to shake old habits.
  • What was it I was supposed to do again?
  • I trusted someone else to do it, and then it didn’t get done.
  • Are we having fun yet?
  • Projects
  • Project one: Seize the day!
  • Project two: Plan a winning week
  • Project three: Put your dream into action



Author’s acknowledgements

Author bibliography


P26 Under organizing solutions, I think the main key here is: everything has its place.

P34 Suggests lightening the load by cutting back on the amount of cosmetics I carry.  Check.  Oh and carry a smaller cuter wallet.

P48 I liked the mandate to toss junk mail and the comment “you can tell its junk…when the words ‘or current resident’ are present.  Any company that can’t take the time to write to you personally isn’t worth yours.”

P64 discussing to-do lists suggests writing a want-to-do list…  write down long term goal and start to make dreams come true….From Keeping Found Things Found, P268 The graduate student who took notes but rarely referred to them later.  The act of taking notes helped her understand the lecture better and also made immediately apparent the points that she didn’t understand in time to ask questions.  P362, “…both the act of writing and its visible results help us to think through the plans to be made”

  • Make dates on the calendar to pursue the items on the want-to-do list.
  • Check your calendar regularly
  • Get a convenient and even fun calendar – go with what works for you and plenty of space
  • Families should have a wall calendar
  • Improve on-time arrival by setting clocks and watches ahead.  Have a clock in every room, even the bathroom.
  • P68 other organizing solutions
  • Make priorities into urgent action items
  • Set reasonable goals by breaking down projects and being realistic how long tasks will take. 
  • Minimize multitasking and concentrate on one task at a time.
  • Group similar tasks together. 
  • Don’t try to do it all
  • get a jump on tomorrow today, create the next day’s list the night before
  • Cut down on the list
  • say no instead of maybe
  • negotiate tasks and due dates
  • graciously decline
  • Make tasks fun, e.g. Invite a friend or go to a cool store instead of one that’s more efficient but bland.

P72 some more organizing solutions regarding running errands, I guess to the grocery store…

  • Limit errand runs to once or twice a week. 
  • Keep a pen and paper handy all the time so you can make note of what you need. [the last of my ‘KM made simple’ list: “And finally, always carry a pen and paper.  Maybe your pocketmod, or just the back of a receipt, but being able to capture those quick thoughts can be useful.”
  • Get an entire week’s meals covered and buy in bulk. 
  • Make a plan of action and do errands geographically. 
  • Set out your clothes and breakfast the night before.
  • Stay focused,
  • Do what you can no more
  • minimize distractions
  • tell other people that you are busy
  • keep momentum
  • don’t do it all yourself
  • create a chore board
  • trade tasks, divide and conquer with friends, ask for a favor once and a while, accept help graciously, pull a Tom Sawyer,
  • I add – always have a dinner plan in the hole for times when things are chaotic and the last thing you want to do is think about what’s for dinner.  A break-glass-when-hungry emergency meal.

P74 Calendar tips

Get the household on the same page with a household calendar….

Keep one calendar.  Review it often.

Seasonal ideas to add.


  • cleanup
  • planting
  • research summer camps
  • picnics
  • air conditioning serviced


  • check sports equipment
  • plan summer vacations
  • summer fairs and festivals
  • weekend getaways


  • stash summer items
  • bring out sweaters
  • household repairs done before cold
  • flu shots
  • winterize windows and check car tires


  • plan indoor entertainment
  • organize a book club

….also listed monthly ideas too…but I’m reminded of that book of lists I read a while ago, Checklists for Life by Lagatree – these lists don’t work for me, and they don’t really teach me how to write a good list…but then again in KFTF P220 it talked about creating and sharing organizational structures as sort of templates to help people get started with organizing…

P83 Some contradictory advice: suggests stealing an hour from sleeping time by getting up earlier than usual or staying up later to get things done, but earlier it asked P58 “How often do you forego sleep?”  And said ideal answer was never.  “As leading scientist point out, the cumulative effect of even a lost hour or two now and again can wreak havoc with your stress levels and productivity…”  So wait…two pages later says don’t forego sleep again and suggests ways to get better sleep: exercise, less sugar caffeine and alcohol, and making the bedroom a sanctuary – no work or TV in the bedroom.  I’m very confused here. 

P137 tips for staying organized…I liked “make room for an item when you buy it.”  Everything has a place.

P140 most of us shrug off memory lapses and say if it were important I’d remember, but the human brain has a tendency to suppress stress-inducing thoughts.  Instead trust crucial tasks to paper …group tasks into like categories.

P141 writing down intentions and stating them out loud are effective means prompting the brain to remember. Again from KFTF about writing things down, that they helped “make” the memory.

P143 make it a date, write down all appointments, Write that note NOW, short term memory is only able to store information about a minute.  Break things to memorize into bite size chunks, maybe we can remember only seven things – maybe only three.  Group items into chunks.

P144 delegating – telling someone to do something is only half of your task, following up is the other half.  Schedule follow up time.

Staying organized lists:



  • collect thoughts review, group tasks, geography, time
  • Think of one thing you’d really like to do and schedule the time to do it


  • look over to-do lists and check off completed
  • glance over tomorrows schedule
  • look at tasks you didn’t complete and why
  • review notes


  • Make a daily routine
  • Who needs to do what
  • Delegate
  • Find the right time slots


  • Include accounting, housecleaning, bulk grocery, recycling and garbage, phone calls for next week’s appointments.’


  • think small and take realistic steps to your goal, schedule these steps, take baby steps to the goal, and get help where you need it
  • Keep a journal so no inspirations are lost.

This book was a little weird to read when it was giving tips for going on hot dates, etc. but there were some good ideas.  It was a little of Allan’s GTD, a lot of optimism, and some practical advice.  But while it’s great to have a check box for cleaning out the closet, finding the time is impossible.

July 21, 2008 at 1:28 pm Leave a comment

How I Found Keeping Found Things Found

Obivously I liked it, I took a lot of notes, but I was also frustrated.  I guess I was looking for more solutions and not an encyclopedic overview of PIM.  However, this is a good complement to Bit Literacy, which is all solution and not as much background.

Keeping Found Things Found – Jones

This site states the audience for this book as: “professionals in HCI, data mining and data management, information retrieval, and related areas, plus developers of tools and software that include PIM solutions.”  This is true.  The book illustrates and defines many of the issues we’re having problems with today, but offers few solutions.  There are exceptions though, and the book is more useful to the ‘lay-person’ than Personal Information Management by Jones and Teevan which seems to be exclusively for the researchers in the field of PIM.  This book’s scope is “what about?” rather than “how to?”  This explains why much of the book doesn’t give as practical solutions as I hoped.  Bit Literacy provides many practical solutions, but those solutions will become dated quickly, while the issues in this book will remain issues to think about for PIM in general. 


TOC  (taken, but corrected, from this site!  Someone decided to annotate and elaborate on the titles of the chapters, I guess for clarity.  Jeez.  Here are the titles as they appear in the book.)

I.         Foundations: A study and a practice; A personal space of information; A framework for personal information management.

II.       Activities: Finding and re-finding: From need to information; Keeping and organizing: From information to need; Maintaining for now and for later; Managing privacy and the flow of information; Measuring and evaluating; Making sense of things.

III.      Solutions: Email disappears?; Search gets personal; PIM on the go; PIM on the Web;

IV.   Conclusions: Bringing the pieces together; Finding our way in(to) the future.

V.     References; Index.

Pxi.6 basic questions of Personal Information Management (PIM) Where and how to keep information, at home or at work, on which computer, in which account, in which organization, in what form, as a paper printout, an e-document, an email message, a web-bookmark, or perhaps an in-line reference in some document, where did I put it, how best to organize and maintain all the information accessed and accumulated, is it worth it to organize information into folders, or maybe labels and tags could be used, or maybe nothing at all if we can use search, what about versions, how to be sure the most recent or relevant version is the one retrieved?

Pxvi Peter Morville of Ambient Findability is one of the contributors.

P7.7 Mentions “As we may think” by Bush, right at the beginning!  This is starting well…

P8.5 Many of us can remember the frustration of failing to find an item of information…we may spend precious minutes, sometimes hours looking for lost information. 

Licklider, Man-computer Symbiosis (1960); about 85% of my “thinking” time was spent getting into a position to think, to make a decision, to learn something I needed to know….[M]y choices of what to attempt and what not to attempt were determined to an embarrassingly great extent by considerations of clerical feasibility, not intellectual capability.

P9.3 Information is a means to an end…rarely even a very precious resource. We usually have far too much of it.  Simon, 1971: information consumes attention.  A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

P9.8 PIM is more than decision making and task management, getting things done.  To manage our information is to manage our reality.

P10 Yates (1989) filing cabinets were first available in 1893

P13 Better PIM promises better productivity with clearer understanding of their information and their needs; better strategies relevant to education programs; Age = less working memory, PIM can help provide compensating tools; Personal health information can help patients better manage their treatments.

P14.5 PIM needs to be studied in situations of actual information management…who better to study your own practices of PIM than you?  Tales of PIM website.

P28.4 The information value of a message depends on the recipient of the message and his/her state of knowledge….not absolute but relative to a context that includes the intentions of the sender and the current state of a recipient’s knowledge.

P30.9 Information is converted between forms, e.g. paper, computer screen.  We assume that the information contained is the same, but the information’s impact can be altered.  Following a cookie recipe on a computer screen is different than following a paper-based version; parts of the recipe may be off screen, or in the paper version it might get smudged.

P31.1 Information can be stored and retrieved later; its processing can be deferred.  Information has reach over time and space; can be stored, retrieved, moved copied, transformed, and distributed, and it differs from knowledge, in that some internalized knowledge can be very difficult to articulate.

P33.6 Information is power in that what we know that others do not can give us a real advantage.

P34 Personal information:

1.      Controlled by me

2.      About me

3.      Directed toward me

4.      Sent by me

5.      Experienced by me (already)

6.      Relevant to me

P36.5 Mentions Levy’s Scrolling Forward and his description of a cash register receipt as a document… “…the ability to preserve or freeze some aspect of the world.”

P37.8 I wrote the note “same line” I can’t remember specifically, here, but there is a ton of overlap between this book and the other Personal Information Management.  I am kind of uncomfortable with the amount of overlap.  It’s almost like publishing the same book twice.  This book is a little more colorful and might be more accessible for the lay-audience.

P38.4 Essential to the management of any collection of information items are operations to copy, move, retrieve, and delete these items.

P45 Personal Space of Information (PSI)

·        We have only one PSI – everything informational as it relates to the person.

·        Defined as much by what we would like to be able to do as by what we can currently do.

·        The PSI is external to the person

It contains the information 1. controlled by me, 2. about me, etc. above.  It affects the way we view and interact with the world we inhabit and affects the way we are seen, categorized, and treated by others.  A person has only one PSI.

P46.3 It’s a mistake to focus only on digital information to the exclusion of paper-based information.

P50.6 A quote from Paracelsus!?  “When a man undertakes to create something, he establishes a new heaven as it were, and from it the work that he desires to create flows into him…. For such is the immensity of man that he is greater than heaven and earth.”  Awesome. More quotes.

P56.8 The author drops a lot of “hip” websites and tools, but I think he’s just name-dropping, and listing these out will really date the book in a couple years.

P57.9  Asymmetries in tools of communications and collaboration, Grudin 1988.  1988!?

P59 Key PIM activities: Keeping, Finding/refinding, Meta-level activities

P62.99 Information gathering as foraging

P63.99 Anticipated need, Bruce Information Research 10(3) 2005

P65 Meta-level activities: Organizing, Maintaining, Managing privacy and the flow of Information, Measuring and evaluating, making sense.

P68.9 …impacts that modern tools may be having on our activities of reading and writing, mentions Levy’s Scrolling Forward.

P69.3 Access to large amounts of digital information is surely changing our habits of writing.  Legitimate reuses of information can represent a considerable savings in time, e.g. reusing a presentation for a new audience.  By reusing the presentation, we then effectively reuse the hours of work it took to put the original presentation together.  [Reward me for the cut-n-paste: why do we tell students to “put it in their own words?”]

P71.3 PKM – personal knowledge management – sounds sexier than PIM, though often the word Information should be used in the context instead of Knowledge – knowledge is what’s in people’s heads, implicit, hard to articulate.

P71.9 our external representations of tasks and time are themselves information…at some point we’re forced to externalize and to depend on external tools….what is task management without at least a to-do list.

P72.5 First RSS mention under a heading ‘Managing information flow,’ as an example.

P76.5 In a world increasingly defined by the information we receive and send, PIM – the ability to manage this information – is one of life’s essential skills.

P81.4 Finding is as much about interaction as about end result, we can be successful and find something but be frustrated unless the process is reasonably short and trouble-free, and we may find serendipitous information during our search that offers a benefit.  Finding is about the journey as well as the destination.

P83 Finding activities involve dimensions of information ownership and whether the information has been experienced before leading to a Gartner-group quadrant-like figure.

P85.1 Problems in finding activities often originate as earlier failures of keeping and organizing.

P87.8 Berry-picking model of search, Bates, 1989. “The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the Online Search Interface,” Online, 13(5) 407

P91.6 (2004) Knowledge workers spend 15 to 35 percent of their workday finding information.

P93 Finding is multi-step, interplay between recall and recognition.  Initial searches may provide words or phrase that help guide the next search attempt

P94 generic methods of search or finding (Bates, 2002):

·        One extreme = Browsing – when the user is not sure what they’re looking for or are unable to remember keywords, content, properties.

·        The other extreme = Linking – a desired item is fully specified, e.g. a full reference to an article

·        Directed searching – stuff in between browsing and linking.  E.g. full-text searching.

Also teleporting where people jump to the information they seek, and orienteering where people employ a stepwise navigation to the information they need.

P98.5 research failures are also more likely when information is fragmented.

P100.4  But separation of information by device or email account can also be useful, e.g. home and work email.  Seperations can help divide information into manageable regions.  Even better is when separations are under our control; we should be able to remove separations when we need to.  E.g. My to-do list has views sorted by work, home, and all.

P101.3 information fragmentation is by definition, bad.

P102.5 keeping information in view can help to keep them in mind, like piles of paper on a desk, emails in an inbox, files on the computer desktop…until the piles recede into the background mess, messages scroll out of view, and the computer desktop is too cluttered.

P103.2 In many instances, the need is not for a single information item but rather for a set of items whose members may be scattered in different forms within different organizations.  E.g. calendars….  When all items in a set need to be retrieved, chances of failure increase with the size of the set…. Output interference – retrieval of the first items interfere with the retrieval of later items, e.g. the last one or two people in a group are the hardest to remember.

P106 [In re-finding] Sometimes context matters, and we know exactly what we’re looking for.  Other times our ability to recognize an item is totally dependant on its occurrence in a context of occurrence.

P107.3 In interactions with our information, space often does matter.  The visible fabric of information can operate as a powerful extension to our internal, overtaxed, and limited working memories.

P108.5 Try keeping your own log and count the number of times:

1.      Look for a document, either to open and check some fact, reuse some information, edit, or send to someone else.

2.      Look back through your inbox for emails you’ve not yet processed, or search for replies to a message you sent out, or look for messages from a particular person.

3.      Check and recheck your calendar – to search for upcoming events or to see when you have free time to schedule something

4.      Return to various web sites to check news, or look up information

5.      Look for a song or a picture or a funny story

6.      Incidents of finding like the above when prompted while filling out a form (e.g. expense report)

In our effort to find or refind information for our current task, we often get off track and look at other information instead….not always bad…but we leave the context of our work.

P109.7 Wayfinding, Lynch (1960) The image of the City. Morville’s Ambient Findability is mentioned.  The journey to find information is important.  Paths, Districts, Edges, Nodes, landmarks

P113.4 Recognizing the needed information is often heavily influenced by the context surrounding its access.

P113.7  There is certainly evidence that people are creatures of habit in their access to information, taking the same sequence of steps, or the same route each time they need to access an information item such as a web page or a file…even though we suspect there are shortcuts.

P118 Practical tips!  Sort-of solutions! Finally at page 118!  What now for you and me?

Practical suggestions apply to each essential step in finding.

1.       Reminding/remembering to look.  Look at your surroundings, your desktop, your inbox, your calendar, paper documents, digital documents, bookmarks, e.g. at the start of the day.

2.      Recall.  If you have information in multiple places, make a list of these that’s easy to recall.  Implement at least an informal method of version management. Use your friends and colleagues are information sources too (and reciprocate) – instead of searching for contact information through old email messages, just ask again.

3.      Recognition.  Make information easy to recognize.  Use better names for documents, bookmarks, email subject lines  …is worth a few seconds before you send it out so that you are more likely to recognize and attend to replies in the inbox later.   In group collaboration, some minutes spend agreeing on subject-line conventions can be an investment that pays for itself many times over.

4.      Repeat?  Is the complete set of information needed?  There is no ‘complete set’ of information anytime the web is involved.

Other suggestions.

1.      Get a desktop search facility. Use it.  They are free…but recognize its limitations. Search is only one of several tools supporting several methods of finding.

2.      Note the bits and pieces of information you find and re-find.  Write these down for easy reference.  A contacts application or even just a scrap of paper at hand can help.

3.      Begin with the end in mind (ala Covey).  What are you trying to find?  Where will you need the information?  What needs are you trying to meet?

4.      Become a student of your own finding activities.  When finding fails, learn from it.  Many of the problems with finding information originate and are best dealt with during the keeping and organizing of the information.

P123.4  Finding and keeping are reciprocal activities.  Sort of like throwing yourself a ball into the future.

P125.1 keeping and organizing are related but different.  Placing a document in a folder is keeping.  Deciding on a scheme for how folders should be created, named, and related to one another is organizing.

P126.1 keeping activities are a common occurrence; organizing activities occur less frequently.  Organizing is a meta-level activity focused on a personal information collection (PIC), rather than on one individual information item.

P126.4 As in Personal Information Management, with Jones as co-author, here there is another a little story and cast of characters displaying their flawed PIM.

P129.1  Keeping things where they need to be found….extra vacuum cleaner bags behind the couch in the living room….Put information where we think well need it again.  Reminds me of stigmergy….  “Stigmergy is a mechanism of spontaneous, indirect coordination between agents or actions, where the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a subsequent action, by the same or a different agent. Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, apparently intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even communication between the agents. As such it supports efficient collaboration between extremely simple agents, who lack any memory, intelligence or even awareness of each other.”  But that’s not really it either.  Mnemonic?  But that’s not really it either.  Here and ideas in GTD and in the paper by Heylighen and Vidal – traces in the environment are left on purpose to aid or stimulate next actions.  How about mowing the lawn?  The mowed parts of the lawn show where to mow next?  But a mowed lawn doesn’t seem all that intelligent.

P132.6 One essential decision is ‘filing’ or ‘piling.’  Filing takes manual and mental effort; filing correctly is prone to failure, and once filed, out of sight out of mind.  As a pile grows the access and visibility of its items are reduced.

P133.1 Less than 10% of information stored on a web or file ever is ever accessed once it is put there….the cost of storage is going down, but the cost of finding rises as desired information is diluted by all the information you don’t want…it’s not  just laziness that causes this buildup of never-used information…it’s lack of information literacy and basic tools to track versions and archive or delete obsolete information…we lack the fundamental information literacy to be able to effectively anticipate what information we are likely to need in the future…we are too afraid to get rid of anything.

P134 keeping options: keep everything, keep nothing, keep automatically. Keeping everything is easier as storage capacities increase, but human capacity to attend is not increasing.  Keeping nothing, since everything is only a Google search away is limited when other people control that information and may label it and organize it differently than we do – or they may delete it or move it.  We can’t find what we forget to look for and we may need to keep a local reminder about information out there.

P137.1 File systems keep track of metadata, like date, application type, size, but if the range of automatically created metadata were more exhaustive, we could better connect disparate information based on this more advanced framework.

P139.5 Personal information collections (PICs) are islands of relative structure and coherence in our Personal Space of Information (PSI).  Important kinds: reference collections and project collections.

P140.4 file naming conventions example…notice that several properties are embedded in article file names…begin with author field, year of publication, abbreviated form or title. Why?  Why not use the file properties dialogs where you can modify many of these examples of metadata?  Naming files this way is fast and easy.  Filling in values for properties is not.  In the example, organization is relatively flat with respect to folders and subfolders.  The organization is in the structure file name; and one property is the key – sorted by author name.

P145.9 Folder hierarchies are more than just the organization of information for re-access.  They can provide information, for example, a summary of the information within… a visible, external representation to a mapping from information to need….a rough representation for a plan to completing a project

P148 “we can’t wait for new tools to help us keep and organize better.  What can we do now? 

·        Reminding/remembering to look.  With the information in hand you’re apt to be overconfident in your ability to find it later: “How could I forget?”  Set reminders, send email messaged, make appointments in your calendar – do what it takes to remember.  Think about the circumstances of need later on…  Where? When? How (in what form) will you need the information later… make use of your attentional surfaces…where do you look, what do you notice?  Computer desktop…drag a copy of the information you need into a special appointment in your calendar….the fridge?

·        Recall.  Pick an organizational scheme and stick to it. Don’t let two inconsistent schemes overlap or coexist.  E.g.  Make the organization scheme and definitions clear and consistent. Don’t use trips and travel tags at the same time.

·        Recognition.  Don’t be afraid to use long descriptive names for files.  Rename web references too if possible.  In group contexts use conventions for subject lines.

·        Repeat.  Group together (by tag or folder) items you are certain to need together again later.  Or group references to these.

·        When making keeping decisions about what to keep, always consider two costs: cost of a false positive and the cost of a miss.  What is the downside of keeping information that is never used?  What can happen if information is not kept but is needed later? If the cost of misses is higher, we may keep information even if we suspect we don’t need to, or the reverse if the cost of false positives is higher.  The more we keep, the harder it might be to find stuff in the noise.

·        Make reference collections, make project collections.  Make collections for items that you use repeatedly.  Make these flat if you can, and organize by properties.  Make folders fore ach of your major projects with subfolder standing for subprojects and tasks.  Do this top-down if you know the structure of the project (like others before it) or simply pile everything into the folder at first, and build a structure of subfolders over time as the subprojects and tasks become apparent.

·        Pick your battles.  Don’t organize everything.

P151 not everything is worth our time and trouble to keep and organize.  …we should give special attention to the creation of reference collections – collections of items we may use repeatedly – and project collections – collections of items relating to a specific project we want to complete.

P155.8 Maintaining for later… digital photos in 30 years, old computers, password protected…Our information legacy is not only for us, but also for those who survive us….

This book’s scope is made clear: “what about?” rather than “how to?”  This explains why much of the book doesn’t give as practical solutions as I hoped.  Bit Literacy provides many practical solutions, but those solutions will become dated quickly, while the issues in this book will remain issues to think about for PIM in general. 

P158 with physical storage, space limitations force decisions about what to keep and what to throw away.  Digital storage may free us from the deletion paradox, where we spend an inordinate amount of time deciding what information items of lowest value to delete.  ‘Old magazine effect’ an old item is difficult to discard because its potential value at the point of decision is literally more visible than are the ongoing costs of keeping the item – costs of space and clutter, e.g. looking through a table of contents we may see a number of interesting articles (Jones 2004) “Finders, Keepers?” First Monday. But keeping track of all that information can create special problems: information fragmentation, increased storage = delayed decisions and lost context, little help or guidance for archival tasks, catastrophic loss.

P160.2 what do we keep and why?  Precious irreplaceable information, e.g. family pictures, extremely difficult to replace information, e.g. legal documents, reference collections, e.g. music, cookbooks, working information, e.g. current projects.  Each type of information has its own lifetime and its degree of difficulty for replacement. 

P161.6 If we’re no longer limited by physical storage, we are, as human beings, still limited by our capacity to attend. Attentional surfaces, e.g. desktop, inbox, personal website, notes and papers held up by magnets on the refrigerator door (see Notes on Fridge Surfaces I also liked this paper: List making in the Home), needs to be cleared of the old stuff to retain their attention getting power.  Some attentional surfaces are renewed without our intervention like the email inbox.

P162.4 The information we use is rarely normalized in the manner of well-designed databases.  We generally copy rather than reference information. Doing so is often easier and more robust in the short run, especially as we work across different applications on different devices. And why not? Storage is cheap. But updates and corrections later can be extremely difficult.

P162.8 Approaches to maintain information:

·        ‘get someone else to maintain…often a household will have one person that keeps track of medical information while the other keeps track of photographs and videos.  Or workgroups may prompt the emergence of informal librarians: “If my colleagues have this why should I store it?

·        Portable hard drive – USB drives

·        Web-backups

·        Web-email backups


P166.2 IT departments and the policies they create are primarily focused on the hazards of information, e.g. Leaked secrets.  Less well-covered are the opportunities that information can offer….information is poorly understood by most organizations.  If you can’t distinguish valuable information from junk, you have to either save all information on the chance that some of it is valuable, or get rid of it all to ensure it can do no harm.  Greater clarity concerning the relative value and threat of information might provide a balanced policy for keeping, organizing and maintaining an organization’s information.

P167.2 if several versions of a document are created, some mechanism of indicating the ‘official version’ is required.  Using contextual information surrounding a document’s access, e.g. a folder titled ‘latest version’ will not support search retrieval vs. wayfinding.  Our preferred method to finding documents is likely to shift from wayfinding to direct search, and direct search will return several different versions.  Attention should be given at the point of publication a method for indicating which version is the correct one, or methods of deleting all other versions.

P172.6 The maintenance of our information space is done for reasons that go beyond retrieval and use of personal information for either now or later.  Our PSI is a reflection of us….tells a story about us.  Mentions iTunes libraries, and I recall Levy’s The Perfect Thing which describes a sort of ‘perception management’ with iTunes libraries.

P173.7 Sometimes management of information is about removing and forgetting rather than saving and remembering.  There are attentional advantages to moving information out of the way when it is no longer needed.  Old information can distract and get in the way.  Sometimes archives were meant for storage, but not necessarily for retrieval.

P174.6 we use paper…as a very flexible, portable, disposable form in which to present information.  Paper printouts can be bent, folded, stuffed in a briefcase, taken with us to be read on the bus or while we wait for a meeting to start…doesn’t need a computer or a power supply.  And when we’re done we can simply throw the printout away, secure in the knowledge that the same information can be printed out again later if needed.  But paper takes up space, and paper-based information is not in a form that can be used by our digitally based tools.  But when keeping information for generations, consideration must return again to the benefits of paper.  Mentions the Dead Sea Scrolls lasting for millennia…  Just read a similar set of comments in C&EN today: “About 60 years ago, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and scholars have been able to decipher them. What if instead of Dead Sea Scrolls they were “Dead Sea Floppies”? What format would they be in?”  Also, reminded of the great book, Scrolling Forward, by Levy

P175.2 …steps we can take now, without waiting for better tools or better IT support, in order to improve the maintenance of our personal information:

·        Delegate.  We don’t need to maintain everything.  At work or at home different members can agree to maintain different collections

·        Consolidate….all your information on a thumb drive, or at least stop moving information from several computers or gadgets.  Can we simplify and reduce information fragmentation.

·        Back it up!  Send important information between backups via self-addressed emails.  Backups should include email, PDAs, cell phones, as well as hard drives.  Make backups realistic and easy to do – or you won’t.

·        Clean up! But move, don’t delete.  Avoid the delation paradox and the old magazine effects.  Just move old information out of the way with the assurance you could move it back.  Where?  Maybe a folder ‘stuff I moved on <date>’

·        Scrub.  Get rid of projects you will never do.  Get on with life.

·        Adopt a naming convention to highlight the correct version of a file.  Maybe <name of document> followed by ‘current’ and only allow one current.

·        Avoid strange document formats.  Use standard formats like xml, MPEG, JPEG, but realize that these will change too. 

·        Add to this list.

There are more ideas in Bit Literacy.  For example, he suggests a more rigorous filenaming scheme including initials and dates.  And he suggests using text files (for text anyway) to avoid format extinction.  I forget the suggestion for image files.

P177.2 There are concerns that our society may be entering a “digital dark age” for want of a sustainable, coherent policy to guide (and restrain) us in our head-long pursuit of digital conversion of information.  (Kuny 1998).  These societal concerns have their counterpart in the management of our personal information.

P183 “Issues of computer and data security are beyond the scope of this book.”  I don’t remember that Bit Literacy talked about this much either.  Mitnick’s The Art of Deception certainly is a guidebook along these lines as is Schneier’s Beyond Fear.  Referenced a Wikipedia page

P187.2 …young people seem not to care much about privacy…generational shift?  McNealy’s: “you have zero privacy anyway…Get over it.” This youthful nonchalance may fade when age brings careers, families and reputations.

P192.1 …the burden seems to remain with each of us to determine whether the privacy practices of a company or organization provide us with acceptable protection or, at least, acceptable risk when balanced against the services provided.

P196.3 As humans we are wired to attend to the ring of a phone, the appearance of a new email alert, or the blare of a television set.  We can’t easily change our nature, but we can adjust our information flows to create spaces and times when we are relatively protected from these information intrusions. Control of the inflow as well as the outflow….  Attention economy…distractions are attention capture.  We’re wired to attend to movement and “looming” on the periphery of vision, as survival value from predators. Talked about Sesame Street and increased camera cuts… another book I read talked about Sesame Street, Prensky’s book, Don’t Bother Me Mom-I’m Learning?

P.197.4  …as the length of a camera shot goes below a certain duration ca. 2.5 seconds, the memorability and impact of the commercial declines.  Our attention is captured but we remember nothing later.

The “availability heuristic”…the human tendency to estimate frequency or probability by the ease with which instances or associations could be brought to mind.  In my notes I wrote that this reminded me of Paulos’ Innumeracy.  But I don’t remember why. Most people are poor at estimating probability.

P198.4 …ah, now this reminds me of innumeracy “the media tendency to focus on sensational events has been linked to a tendency for people to overestimate the likelihood of those events” also reminds me of Beyond Fear by Schneier.

P198.6 Information diet, in footnote, mappings between information and food…what is a balanced information diet, infobese?  Bit Literacy also talked about this.

P199.6 An explosion in the world’s supply of information needn’t cause us personal stress unless we’re a “renaissance” scholar hoping to keep pace with it all.  Scholars dropped any pretense of doing this well before the onset of the Renaissance.

The amount of information is rising exponentially while the amount of quality information is increasing only linearly, leading to a steady decline in the density of quality information….this needn’t be cause of personal distress, because we’re blissfully ignorant of the information we’re missing or we’ve found ways of locating the needle in the haystack.

P200.5 Approaches to consider as solutions to a personal breakdown in the processing of information due to overload:

·        Satisfice rather than optimize (Simon 1957)… search until meeting some minimal level of criteria as compared to optimizing which requires that all alternatives be considered in order to locate the very best one.

·        Triage (sort) candidates into no, yes, and maybe categories.  Then focus on maybes.

·        Sample, then optimize within the samples.  E.g. set a limit on the number of resumes you’ll consider…useful in cases where criteria for selection are not well understood ahead of time and the sample is unbiased and representative of the whole.

Manage the channel not the information itself.  Rather than try to ignore the TV, turn it off.

P205.2 steps we can take now to protect our privacy

·        Stay current with virus protection

·        Forms with phone numbers and email addresses – leave blank or use a number that works for you, not for them.

·        Credit card slips – scratch out all but the last four digits.

·        Shred bank statements, health records, etc. before disposing

P208.8…there is no need to wait for tools to protect privacy or be dependant on someone else’s plan.  Each of us can articulate our own privacy plan….

P215.8 at the core of a PIM practice is the creation, maintenance, and use of a mapping between information and need.  Elements that affect this mapping:

·        Schemes of PIM organization, e.g. Naming, tags, property/values

·        Tools of PIM, e.g. computers, phones, thumb drives, paper-based too.

·        Strategies of PIM tie together schemes, tools, and the daily environment, a plan of action

P217.3 Keeping seems easy, but what about finding later.  Forgetting to look is a common failure of finding.  Jones, Dumais, and Bruce 2002 for a description of the “forgetting to look” problem. Proceedings 5th annual meeting of the American society for information science and technology….ASIST 2002, vol 39, 420

P218.6 good tip: one scheme for organizing paid bills – placing in payee folders takes half an hour filing new bills, but they are rarely ever returned to, but just lumping all that months paid bills in one folder saves time and going back to find a particular bill is only a few minutes on those rare cases when needed.

P219.6 a list of specs for PIM tool/scheme, strategy by PIM activity

·        Keeping

o       Help asses usefulness of information

o       Support tagging or filing

·        Finding

o       Help me to remember to look later

o       Help me craft my search

o       Support my recognition

·        Organizing

o       Consolidate or leverage existing organization

o       Support reuse of organizational structures and templates

·        Maintaining

o       Make it easy to move or archive items no longer in active use

o       Backups easy and automatic

o       Preserve usability as formats migrate and change

·        Managing flow

o       Provide controls for incoming and outgoing information

·        Measuring and evaluation

o       Collect useful measures of use of PIM practice

·        Making sense

o       Help me arrange my information in new ways that make useful, new patterns and relationships more apparent.

P223.2 Peoples subjective assessment of a tool may not align with objective measures of their use of it.

P224.1 Usability dimensions

P225.1 Critical incident technique- analyze a failure in PIM immediately

Experience sample method – interruptions throughout the day to gauge PIM

P228.5 the preference of options changes dramatically depending on the framing of the choices.  Same topic in Innumeracy.  Given a choice between number of people dying or number of people saved, even when numerically the same, ‘number saved’ is chosen over ‘400 will die.’  Prospect theory…when choices are framed in terms of relative loss we’re more likely to take a riskier option rather than accept certain loss.  But when choices are framed in terms of relative gain, we’re more likely to take the certain gain over the riskier option that could leave us with nothing.

P232.9  Personal project planner within the KFTF project.  People plan and often express their plans in external representations that range from to-do lists to planning documents, to intricate nestings of folders and sub-folders. Even a simple to do list whether expressed on a scrap of paper or in an electronic document serves as a powerful complement to a person’s often fallible internal memory of a situation

P233.7 Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues.  He kept a book with a page for each virtue with seven columns, one for each day of the week, then all thirteen virtues on the page.  He’d attend to the one virtue letting the other fall as they would, but keeping note of them and marking faults, then he’d move on to the next virtue trying to keep two columns free of spots.  Available as a page on!

P235.1 The basic table in all its many variations is a very effective way to make sense of certain kinds of information.

P238.2 community of PIM

P239.5 echoes of Rush: There is no such thing as not deciding.  Even a decision to postpone or not decide is itself a decision.

4 precious resources: money, energy, attention, time

6 senses of personal information: controlled by me, about me, directed toward me, sent by me, experienced by me, relevant to me

7 kinds of PIM activities: keeping, finding, organizing, maintaining, managing flow, measuring and evaluating, making sense

P246.5 part of sense-making – consume encodons?  Wha? “An instantiated schema. In a sensemaking task, a sensemaker fills out templates or schemas to capture information. For example, he may fill out elements of a table or fill out forms. The filled out items are called encodons.” From

P250.5 Making sense characteristics: breath of focus, items are assessed in the context of their collection.  Depth of focus, understanding underlying relationships and structure, senses are involved – try to ‘see’ things, the bigger picture, manipulation is involved  shuffle…our manipulation of digital information items is mediated by our tools

P252.5 Mendeleev’s periodic chart an example of making sense, asked chemists to send him atomic weights they had obtained, he arranged the cards, looking for patterns, pinned them to the wall, made changes, pinned them to the wall again.

P256.1 making sense is a messy business

What can an IT group do to help…bad IT group: “those people should just decide once and for all what they mean:” believing some final taxonomy of terms that the organization can create once and then use forever.  Good IT group understands there is no such taxonomy…terms that are more stable and those that are in flux….savvy IT group neither building nor delegating navigation, but rather constantly harvesting organizing, and presenting (in the navigation) the vocabulary that users need to find information.

P259.6 When a goal is made more real through planning we are better able to recognize the relevance of encountered information

P260.9 Making sense of things…is inherently rewarding in a way that pays for itself

P261.5 Programmable web:, lists of APIs and mashups

P263.5 Post-it notes meetings are called “affinity diagramming method”: 1. make a bunch of cards – easily manipulated information items 1. place all on display so that all can be viewed in a single glance 3. sort items into related groups, form clusters 4. create a header or summary item to stand for the cluster = emergence of shared understanding and a basis for collaboration…bottom-up process for making sense of things: start with a lot of items, relater these to each other, cluster, repeat,. Looking all the while for a structure that might help you make sense of the whole.

P265.4 mindmapping works top-down

P268.5 graduate student who took notes but rarely referred to them later.  The act of taking notes helped her understand the lecture better and also made immediately apparent the points that she didn’t understand in time to ask questions.

P273.3 email is used for task management, document management, contact management…we send emails to ourselves…used as a diary to record memories before they fade, to include reminders of tasks, attach documents as a backup and transfer from place to place

P279.3 we may under estimate the extent to which the interpretation of email information depends on the supplemental information on our own head – memories that were strong at the time of the email conversation but fade with time.

The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate – Priestley

P279.9 getting things done, Allan, is mentioned.  The first time?

P294.8 email advice from

  • Craft your subject line.
  • Limit your recipients.
  • Don’t write in ALL CAPS.
  • Keep it short. The ideal length for an email is five sentences.
  • Quote back
  • Use plain text
  • Control your URLs
  • Don’t FUQ (Fabricate Unanswerable Questions),
  • Don’t FUQ, II. There’s one more type of unanswerable message: the open-ended question that is so broad it should be used in a job interview at Google
  • Attach files infrequently.
  • Ask permission. If you must ask unanswerable questions or attach a file, then first seek permission
  • Chill out.
  • add a good signature. That is, one that includes your name, title, organization, email address, web site, and phone.
  • Never forward something that you think is funny. The odds are that by the time you’ve received it, your recipient already has too, so what is intended as funny is now tedious. However, I do have the Neiman-Marcus recipe for cookies…
  • Turn of the auto-notification – when you lose focus it can take a while to get back to what you were working on.
  • Read the most recent message first
  • Get a spam filter
  • Use the phone for sensitive exchanges
  • Write messages for your enemies.  Never leave a digital or paper trail that can be used against you.
  • Use the subject line
  • One message/one subject
  • Wait.


P301.99 Desktop search Cutrell, Dumais, Teevan 2006 “searching to eliminate personal information management” communications of the ACM, 49(1) 58-64

P306.5 memory is not usually anchored to a specific time but a memorable event…remember the art of memory by Yates

P308.2 search needs to be fast – slow searching is an entirely different experience.


P309.9 in languages that reliably use “white space” characters, words are easily identified. 

P314.1 file folders can be regarded as an expression – very limited selective, and imperfect – of a person’s internal categories.

P325.1 a notebook as a book of paper on which notes may be written it was invented in 1920 by Birchall…in all our discussion or high-tech gadgetry we should not forget the everyday notebook as a very useful gadget in its own right for PIM on the go.  Or the Excel version of the pocketmod.

P329.99 the act of taking the note is often enough to remember the notes content

P353.9 information about us on the web never, ever goes away

P356.5 [web]pages provide not only good content but also an organizing structure….people see out useful structures as well as content…can help a reader organize and understand not only the topical content on the page itself, but also related information that is found elsewhere.

P362.3 making sense of information…read, make notes, highlight, and annotate (with margin notes or the digital equivalent), arrange, rearrange, and summarize… both the act of writing and its visible results help us to think through the plans to be made…RSS brings together information from several sources and mashups as a further integration of information obtained through RSS and other APIs.  This was the first mention of RSS.  RSS was not mentioned in PIM?  A common use of RSS readers as provided by web portals such as Yahoo is to create a customized newspaper….the unix pipe of the internet.  Interesting that RSS is mentioned positively here and negatively in Information Anxiety 2, Wurman.

P365.9 The internet is like alcohol…it accentuates what you would do anyway.  If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone.  If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect. Esther Dyson

P371.2 …challenge of keeping current information in anticipation of a future need like throwing a ball into the future toward an anticipated need…our throw must be aimed at time place, relevant information device, organization and form.

P395.4 Teaching and learning PIM…In a world where success at school, work and all aspects of life depends critically on an ability to manage information effectively, is it time to think of teaching PIM as a basic skill (in much the same way we talk about teaching the “three Rs” or reading writing and arithmetic?


June 30, 2008 at 1:33 pm 2 comments

Personal Notes from Personal Information Management

Personal Information Management, William Jones, Jaime Teevan


1. Introduction

 Part I. Understanding Personal Information Management

2. How People Find Personal Information

3. How People Keep and Organize Personal Information

4. How People Manage Information over a Lifetime

5. Naturalistic Approaches for Understanding PIM

 Part II. Solutions for Personal Information Management

6. Save Everything: Supporting Human Memory with a Personal Digital Lifetime Store

7. Structure Everything

8. Unify Everything: It’s All the Same to Me

9. Search Everything

10. Everything through Email

11. Understanding What Works: Evaluating PIM Tools

 Part III. PIM and the Individual

12. Individual Differences

13. Personal Health Information Management

 Part IV. PIM and Other People

14. Group Information Management

15. Management of Personal Information Disclosure: The Interdependence of Privacy, Security, and Trust

16. Privacy and Public Records

17. Conclusion





I requested that our library purchase this book.  They did and I became the first borrower.  I couldn’t bear to use my standard annotation method of dog-earing the book and instead folded a piece of paper in half so it would hang on a page and made notes there while reading.  I usually read while working out on an elliptical/treadmill machine and dog-ears are easy…. this new method required one non-contextual tool, a golf pencil, and though I wasn’t sure it would work out, it wasn’t too bad.

Further, with dog-ears I typically indicate if the point of interest is in the top or bottom half by which corner I turn over.  Here, I sort of started that way, e.g. P3B for ‘bottom-of-page-three’ but then realized I could get way more precise using a decimal-like mapping of the page, e.g. P3.2 is near the top of page three, P3.8 is near the bottom and P3.9 is the very end of the page….with all the moving around I’m doing while reading though, I’d say my attempt to map locations on the page are valid within a tenth of a page or so.

P3 Ben Franklin “Order…with regard to places for things, papers, etc. I have found extreamly difficult to acquire.”

Concerns about PIM have probably been with the human race since our ancestors first began to make drawings in the walls of caves….the modern dialog…thought to have begun…with Vannevar Bush’s description of a “memex” ….

P7 Basic PIM activities: Keeping, Finding, Organizing.

An ‘information item’ is a packaging of information in a persistent form that can be acquired, created, viewed, stored, grouped, moved, [my rephrased] named and annotated, copied, distributed, moved, deleted, and otherwise manipulated.

P9 Personal information: information a person keeps for personal use, information about a person but kept and controlled by others, information experienced by a person but not necessarily controlled by that person, information directed to a person.

Information directed to a person can distract the person from a current task, consume attention, time, money, change opinion, or take an action.

Personal space of information = PSI.  A person has only one PSI. At its center is information under a person’s control, at the edges, information controlled by others. Personal information collections, PICs, are subsets of the PSI and are self-contained set of items, maybe sharing a technological format, e.g. email.

P13 PIM is easy to describe and discuss: we all do it.  It is hard to define.  Examples:

  • The ordering of information…that makes it easier to retrieve when needed
  • Information stored so it can be used later. 
  • PIM activities establish, use, and maintain a mapping between information and need.

PIM activities: Finding/refinding, keeping, meta-level organizing, maintaining/organizing, managing privacy and information flow, measuring and evaluating, making sense

P19  Information is a means to an end.  We manage information to be sure we have it when we need it.  Information is not even a very precious resource.  We usually have far too much of it.

P23 Searchers are unable to find what they are looking for over 50 percent of the time and knowledge workers are estimated to waste 15 percent of their time because they cannot find information that already exists.

P24 Refinding is a complementary action to keeping. …There is often a trade-off between investing more time during the initial encounter to keep the information or more time later to re-find it.

P26 Several studies…reported that users prefer to find their personal information by orienteering via small, local steps, using their contextual knowledge as a guide, rather than by teleporting, or jumping directly to it using a …search.

P27 People find and re-find in both physical and digital spaces.  There are similarities.  Spatial location helps support the finding of physical information.  Similarly the location of a piece of digital information is important when orienteering for information. …robust keyword search has not been available until recently and folder navigation is the primary access method afforded by a file system.

P28 –tion words as opposed to my –ing words – I wish I could find that website that had lists of –tion words.  Maybe it was a PIM site….  Initiation, selection, exploration, formulation, collection, and presentation…..  Also mentioned some –ing words re-finding, reusing, and managing.

One of the primary reasons that people invest time in organizing information is to make it easy to refind and reuse it…the way a person keeps and organizes their personal information can influence the way they refind it.  Changes to the information space can cause problems in refinding.

P29 One distinguishing feature of re-finding is that the searcher may know a lot of meta-information about the target… author, title, date created, ….  Search failure during re-finding appears to be particularly frustrating in part because the information sought has been seen before and is known to exist.  Witness my frustration trying to find the –tion words above.  I know I’ve seen them, it was a wiki. It was probably media wiki….

P30 …users have strong patterns for information access and they are likely to use these patterns when refinding….using the same starting Web page that they used to originally find the information.  High frequency tasks were completed more quickly, involved fewer ULRs, and involved less use of Web search engines….as for information finding, keyword search is not a universal solution for re-finding….instead a variety of methods including use of waypoints, and path retracing.

P31 Often the value of encountered information is not realized until well after it is… encountered…post-valued recall.  A fear of forgetting…information can even lead people to  behaviors like emailing information to themselves….  Just as it is hard to decide what information is important to keep, it can be difficult to organize and classify information…because the future value and role is not fully understood… People had difficulty retrieving information when they were forced to group their information into categories that were not necessarily relevant for retrieval…..can lead to information fragmentation.

P37 Key points concerning keeping and organizing of personal information:

  • People vary greatly in their approaches to keeping and organizing.  The same person may be organized in one arena and disorganized in another.
  • Keeping and organizing are related but distinct activities
  • Challenges of keeping and organizing are greater when several devices and applications are involved.
  • Information isn’t always kept with a purpose in mind.

P38 LISTS!  …keeping activities are triggered when people are interrupted in the midst of a current task and look for ways of preserving a current state so that work can be quickly resumed later….  People keep good ideas or lists of things to pick up at the grocery store by writing down a few cryptic lines on a loose piece of paper.  Organizing activities occur less frequently.

P39 Keeping and Organizing are related but different.  Keeping entails actions and decisions about an information item when it is encountered so that it may be found again, organizing entails actions and decisions regarding a collection of information items.  Maintaining is similar to organizing except that it deals with the preservation of collections.

P42 One essential decision…across forms of information is between filing and piling the information at hand.  Both have pros and cons for both physical and digital information items and collections.  Piles of paper are accessible and visible, but keeping track of a pile’s contents can be difficult.  Piles of emails remind us to respond, but out of sight out of mind.  Filing can keep related items together, but can be difficult and error-prone; if items are filed incorrectly or the scheme is forgotten, items can be lost.

P44 As costs of search and storage decrease, people consider keeping everything (storage is cheap), keeping nothing (and search again later), keep automatically and keep smarter (both with some sort of filtering technology, perhaps)

P47 Does organization really matter for digital information? Some suggest that…organizing information is no longer necessary…  Folders in particular, as an organizing construct, are targeted for obsolescence.  Death to folders!” 2005

P48 Keeping Found Things Found site:

P49 Functionality that typical Windows explorer views don’t offer: a manual ordering of folders based on the information context, an ability to set reminders, due dates, an ability to add notes – to annotate the directory, the ability to use and reuse the structures, e.g. the directory tree.  [All of these are available when you use SharePoint]

P52 People attempt to reuse organizing structures… even though tool support is minimal.  A good organizing structure deserves to be reused.

P54 techniques of information visualization [mindtrail to Tufte’s books and presentation] will provide increasing support for people as they try to make sense of their information….the ability to directly manipulate the items in an information collection plays a critical role in facilitating a person’s understanding of this collection…..the right diagram can allow one to make inferences more quickly.  The way information is externally represented can produce huge differences in a person’s ability to use this information in short-duration, problems-solving exercises.

P60 Benign neglect will not be sufficient to keep our digital things safe for a lifetime.

P63 Archiving digital material requires attention to context…not just the photo but the date and the tags, the metadata the photographer adds….preserving a large, distributed, linked structure and its metadata is a daunting problem.

P74 …people demonstrate the worth of their belongings much more reliably than they declare it.

P91 Mentions Vannevar Bush and his memex.

P94 A personal digital store is only as useful as the information it has available to it.

P100 The more data and kinds of data that is automatically captured, recording as much as possible, the better the chance of having the memory hook that will help users find what they seek.

Regarding web-page capture….The Internet is constantly morphing, and having a cached personal copy of the particular version viewed is essential.  In fact, this is true of much of the information we deal with, even locally.  [My search for Johnson’s book was slowed down when I lost my way on his newly (to me) designed site.]

P101 more and more traditional content is being ‘born digital’ [mind trail to Kurzweil and The Singularity is Near, as everything becomes information]

P102 With recent advances in technology, we are making it easier and easier to create, receive, record, store, and accumulate digital materials.  However, it is still extremely difficult to manage and use them in a sensible way….

P103 When the MyLifeBits project began there were about 30,000 named items placed in about 1500 folders.  Retrieval was principally by folder location and file name.  This quickly turned out to be unwieldy…. One alternative might be to store everything in one large folder and retrieve items using a search engine…, however, many items require other attributes in order to be found.…unfortunately, with the quantities of information we are dealing with, users are not just unwilling to classify, but are also unable to do it….  To avoid having to become professional curators constructing our own personal classifications…we are experimenting with hierarchical classifications that will be developed by others to be downloaded by the user….

P108 Keyword search engines are limited in that they only return documents that contain the keywords mentioned in the query…unless you labeled the document with the appropriate keywords you won’t find what you’re looking for.

P109 …gave some definitions for some terms….

Ontology. Attempt to formulate an exhaustive and rigorous conceptual schema within a given domain, e.g. a hierarchical data structure containing all the relevant entities and their relationships and rules

Taxonomies.  Hierarchical structures for classifying a set of objects.  They are less expressive than ontologies as a means for expressing structure of objects in the world.  They only allow subclass relationships, and cannot represent relationships between concepts.

An example that this book is not written for the lay-person…”a string or a tuple of strings.”  What the heck is a tuple?  Ah, an ordered list as in single, double, triple, …, n-tuple.

P112,116 approaches for structuring a PIM store – the data integration approach, or the digital library approach.

P118 a discussion of data layers in a PIM system architecture reminded me of Lessig’s discussion of layers in The Future of Ideas: a. the physical layer, files or physical objects, b. the first wrapper layer representing domain independent objects from the physical layer and c. the second wrapper layer representing domain specific objects…?

P122 Semex – semantic explorer – has two main goals.  First, to enable browsing of personal information by association automatically creating associations between data items.  Second, to leverage the associations to increase user productivity.

P123 The key impediment to browsing personal information by association is that data on the desktop is stored by application and in directory hierarchies, whereas browsing by association requires a logical view of the objects and the relations between them.

P125 We need to build systems to support users in their own habitat, rather than trying to fit their activities into traditional data management.

P127  Information fragmentation is a pervasive problem in personal information management….the information is fragmented by the very tools that have been designed to help us manage it…. applications often store their data in their own particular locations and representations….  Data unification offers many benefits to end users. The general motivation is that users often need to work simultaneously with several information objects in order to complete a given task.

P129 …recent work highlights users’ preferences for finding information by orienteering.  Rather than jumping directly to needed information, users often try to locate it by starting with a known object and taking repeated navigation steps to related objects, aiming to home in on desired information, e.g. navigating the web, or when seeking files in our directory hierarchies.

P131 Visual unification aims to place multiple data objects in view side by side…lets users see and relate the multiple objects that are relevant to the task.  This reminds me of Tufte’s books and his talk, and his directive to present information within a viewing area rather than split it up on several PowerPoint slides.

P133 a user can simultaneously view and manipulate all the information objects they care about….On the downside, it often seems that each application wants the entire display to itself….leading to window clutter, a desktop filled with tens of windows…to get at it, users must continuously locate and rearrange windows to find the fragments they need…but this significant investment in effort is lost when the applications are exited…and this is only a convenient view of the information.  Since only the display and not the underlying data is unified, each piece of information is still managed by the applications responsible for it…without machine-usable linkages between data from multiple applications.  [This is my worry about eBooks.  How to leave several books lying around on your desk to refer to at a glance while writing?  And I am reminded of Tufte’s point, that newsprint and paper texts are still superior forms of information display compared to computer monitors when you consider display resolution capabilities.]

P135 In this discussion of unification of views and aggregation of data, there is no discussion of RSS or tools like, or

P137 …using the now-standard model of hierarchical directories or folders…a user may gather into a single directory all the files necessary for accomplishing a particular task, regardless of which applications manage those files.  Working inside that directory gives the user immediate access to all of those files.  The file system lets users name individual files and list the names of files in a directory an important aid to organizing and searching….on the negative side, the semantics of files are so weak that, unlike text, they offer relatively little opportunity for data sharing….one application is generally unable to construct meaning from the bits it reads out of a file written by another application…any significant manipulation of any file requires launching an appropriate application.  This will take a user away from the directory view of all files relevant to a given task and back to an application view that shows only some of the information they want to work with. [SharePoint can access some of the data from the file, especially if a document is published in a SharePoint directory that requires certain metadata to be filled in, using InfoPath even more data is extractable.  SharePoint becomes an Uber-Explorer that can allow multi-faceted organization of the documents within a given file-share.]

P138….software unification…XML…does not solve the unification problem….Someone must still take responsibility for unifying different schemas that talk about the same information.

P139 The database community has argued for decades that we would all be better off storing all our personal information in (personal) databases.  This clearly has not happened, most likely due to the apparent complexity of interacting with a database. No one has come forward with applications that hide the complexity of installing and maintaining a database, designing the schemas for the data to be stored and creating the queries that will return the desired information…And people seem general allergic to having all their information presented to them as lists of tuples.  [Tuples again?!….but wait!  Wikipedia sits on top of MySQL as does countless other outboard brain applications like blogs and discussion boards.  I’m not sure I understand the argument here.  We don’t want to interact with database tables, but every time I keyword search my blog, I’m using a database, aren’t I?]

P140 unification by metadata…ignore the complex structure of objects themselves and instead record the metadata that talks about the objects from the outside…..grouping related information objects together (as in file directories), annotating objects with interesting attributes and values (title and composer in ID3 tags of MP3 files), and linking complex objects to each other (as we do on the web)

Unification by naming objects is already available, in that users can use various text fields in their applications to refer to objects by names that make sense to them.

Grouping with or flicker lets users tag objects with text terms germane to those objects.  Users can then navigate to the group of objects with that tag or perform queries to locate objects with all of a set of tags (intersecting groups).  This provides a unified mechanism for grouping arbitrary information objects, it requires consensus on the name of the tag.

P144 RDF, Resource descriptive framework.  Central to RDF is the perspective that anything, not just web pages can receive URN so that it can be referred to elsewhere. From Wikipedia: A Uniform Resource Name (URN) is a Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) that uses the urn scheme, and does not imply availability of the identified resource. Both URNs (names) and URLs (locators) are URIs, and a particular URI may be a name and a locator at the same time.

P145 the web as a unifier of information…with this appealing unification tool already present, we can ask why it has not been adopted as the primary environment for personal information management.  Hypothetically a user could create a separate web page for each email message, each directory, each file, each calendar appointment, each individual in their address book, and so on.  Editing these pages, the user could indicate arbitrary relationships between their information objects.  Feeding these web pages to a tool like Google would give users powerful search capabilities, and combining them with the orienteering opportunities offered by user created links would surely enhance users’ ability to locate information.  [SharePoint? Meeting workspaces, document workspaces, etc….The web browser is certainly a good tool for browsing, but limited for manipulating data…  [but SharePoint, wiki, blogs, you know the whole Web 2.0 thing?]

P153.7 “…Saving and organizing all personal information is one thing, and browsing that stored information is nice, but being able to search and find it when it’s needed is critically necessary for successful use whenever personal information storage becomes even slightly larger than whet short-term human memory can handle.”

P 155.2 …a single misfiled note can be difficult to re-find if there isn’t a competent search mechanism robust enough to find the object in the face of small errors….a physical filing structure is a hierarchical category structure.  Putting an object into a tree structure is a process that is exquisitely sensitive to choices made while descending the hierarchy.  An error made in choosing the category can result in an object being very far from its “correct’ file location.

P157.9  …people often use email as a mechanism to capture their personal information…email is ubiquitous, easily available, and most email systems have search…often the repository of content since email attachment permit the user to associate arbitrary text with a file.  Email, as the great common denominator, has become the personal information manager for many.

P161.1  “ …without displacing too many of the possible organic Web search results.”  What the heck does organic mean in this context? And what would inorganic mean?

From Wikipedia: “An organic search is a process by which World Wide Web users find web sites having unpaid search engine listings, as opposed to using the pay per click (PPC) advertisement listings displayed among the search results.”  So dynamic search results might be a more appropriate description, in that position in the search results is variable and changes, sometimes frequently?

P166.1 “But the future path is clear – a single user “data cloud” will be accessible and searchable from any personal device, with synchronization happening automatically in the background.

P167 people tend to live in email…with 71% of people stating that it is essential for their everyday work…email serves as an information conduit…a delivery channel for documents, slides, contact information, and schedules…use in-boxes as to-do lists to manage current tasks…a repository for archival information, and email address books to find contacts…significant problems with email.  Users complain about feeling overwhelmed…and arw concerned about processing incoming messages effectively….difficulties organizing and managing archives, severe problems using email to manage tasks, leading them to forget tasks and obligations

P168 email is hard to process and organize because it is a mixture of different types of information (task, documents, FYIs, meeting scheduling) some of which are important (work tasks) and others unimportant (jokes).  And most email is generated by others-making it harder to understand, evaluate, and organize than personally generated information….most email systems have no inbuilt support for PIM aside from folders, so that users have to devise ad-hoc ways to manage task, find contacts, and organize useful information.

P176 People use email to manage tasks…new messages related to a task serve as reminders.  Copying into a separate application requires additional effort and bookkeeping….setting up a separate to-do folder containing reminders about outstanding tasks is abandoned by 95 percent of users because it requires an additional cognitive step….people have to explicitly remember to open the to-do folder….the most common strategy is to respond or forward the original message to relevant others, leaving the original message in the inbox as a reminder about the task….Users know they will return to the inbox and they hope they will see the reminder and recall the task. Keeping messages in the inbox makes it easier to collate or assimilate disparate information needed for the task.

P178.8 Filing is a cognitively difficult task…highly dependent on being able to anticipate future retrieval requirements.  It is hard to decide which existing folder is appropriate, or, if a new folder is needed, how to give it an appropriate and memorable name.  Users may not file messages because failing to remember where information has been filed could be disastrous…another reason for not filing is to postpone judgments, in order to determine the value of information – avoid archiving useless information.

P179.1 Even when users do decide to file, folders may not be especially useful… unable to remember folder names…have to remember definition of each…careful not to create new folders that are redundant.

P184s several studies of workflow are mentioned – the dates are all in the 80s and 90s!  Basically pre-web.  How relevant is much of this discussion for today?

P186.2 IBMs Activity Explorer?  Clumsy implementation of alerts replicate the original problem by increasing email volumes.  What I’ve been calling Alert spam with SharePoint alerts.

P201 Flow = activities challenge and require skill; concentrate and avoid interruption; maintain control; speed, and feedback; transformation of time.

P203  …improvements to an individual’s ability to access information can create difficulties for group information access.  For example giving keywords to search for would give different results for each person, if search results are personalized (e.g. Google personalized search)

P 228.1 …we found that people use paper…for personal health information management.

P228.8  Reasons for not using web-based, computer-based information management systems, related to time-consuming data reentry “would be like rewriting my recipes…” “I don’t want to be sitting in front of a computer all the time…”

P239.9 difference in group information management due to varying incentives and motivations…partners in a consulting firm wanted everyone to share expertise and knowledge, the staff advanced in the firm as they become recognized experts – so they had no incentive to share their knowledge with others.  Different incentive structures.

P241 with group governance of data, establishing levels of trust, and which source is more authoritative, up-to-date, settled or definite is an issue…they quickly evolved a curator role to alert and fix classification problems (wiki gnome?)

P241.4 relatively few people customize their software or vary from default settings so developers make it easy to customize but few people take advantage of that; default settings can be very important to design well.



P242.1  Group adoption patterns of group information tools – no single adoption pattern could fit every group….Top-down: mandated use might be necessary to reach critical mass, or bottom-up, peers may feel more pressure from peers to use something than from management.

P244.4 many of these group-level issues, such as group categorizations, indexing, and information styles are not one-time problems. Categories will shift over time as groups change their needs….devised a curator role to alert the group to classification issues….these classifications are political, carry assumptions about the legitimacy of certain activities and work (Bowker and Star mentioned)….it may be difficult to find consensus around contested categories – or some users may resist sharing or using data.

P246.9 the most successful group information technologies in the home are those that are infinitely reconfigurable.

P246.3 Notes of refrigerator surfaces Swan, Taylor. …primary activity center for coordinated action.

P247.3  Group information tools mentioned Google Calendar, MySpace, Flickr…so-called web2.0, …I think he’s just dropping names here.

P248.2 as more and more data becomes digital, the opportunities for visualization and new representations will become even more important and interesting

P249.6  If security aspects of a system are so complex that users cannot understand them, errors will occur and security is compromised.

P252.8  Privacy education is important for both the internal users or employees in an organization and for their external users or customers.

P253  in the networked world in which we live it is our right and responsibility to be active participants in choices regarding policies governing the use of our personal information by our own passive devices and the systems and organizations with which we interact in our daily lives.  Badly designed functionality may put users at more risk than if they used less-sophisticated solutions.  Users need to be able to update security and privacy settings…different domains (health, home, business, …) have unique requirements.

P261 public records for your county online?


P270 Finding and keeping… work in opposite and complementary directions.  Finding activities takes us from a current need to information; keeping activities take us from information at hand to a consideration of needs for which the information may relate.  A good deal of a typical day is consumed in activities of finding and keeping.

P274.8 the “personal” in personal information management: “there’s a fundamental difference between searching a universe of documents created by strangers and searching your own personal library.  When you’re freewheeling through ideas that you yourself have collated…there’s something about the experience that seems uncannily like freewheeling thought he corridors of your own memory.  It feels like thinking (Johnson 2005, Tool for thought)



April 25, 2008 at 4:12 pm 1 comment

The Humble List

 A brief history of lists 

List-making has been suggested as one of the foundational activities of advanced human society.  The first written records are lists used to keep accounts in Mesopotamia around 4000 BCE.  Lists are a practical tool for coordinating activity distributed in time and space, for organizing work, and for the division of labor.  Empires are controlled at a distance with this simplest of tools.



Why do we use lists?

Lists are a basic way of ordering ideas.  They condense complex information into a simple and familiar (comforting?) form.  Lists help emphasize and clarify key points and make for easier reading than walls of words.  They help us get organized and save time.  They can be helpful, not only because they help us remember things, but because they allow us to forget them.  We use lists to make sense of things, and when we create a list, the act of writing and the mental effort of organization help us to think through the plans to be made.

A ‘how to make a better list’ list

  1. Use lists to get everything out of your head. 
  2. Organize your list.  The most basic forms of organization are by location, alphabet, time, category, and hierarchy.  Other complex forms of organization must be clear and consistent.   

  3. Don’t include ‘miscellaneous’ headings; items worthy of inclusion in the list can be sorted by some criteria.
  4. Use numbered lists.  People have a strong attraction to numbered lists. ‘Top ten’ lists are somewhat artificial, while lists shorter than five may not contain enough information.   Seven might be the magic number.   

  5.  For to-do lists, detail Next Actions using specific actions verbs.  Instead of ‘clean the garage,’ break projects down into smaller, bite size tasks like ‘sweep the floor.’   

  6.  Review your to-do list and keep it current to ensure that you are on task, and to squelch that anxiety-producing little voice in your head saying ‘did I remember to …?’   

  7.  Keep your list short so that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Resources and background reading

History of lists

  • Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences, Geoffrey C. Bowker, Susan Leigh Star

Online list tools 

Online articles about lists 

Books that discuss lists 

April 14, 2008 at 3:46 pm 1 comment

Companion wiki tags