I am BARRY HESS > Blog

Personal Information Management

In the past, personal information was considered “the stuff you store in outlook.” “The stuff” typically encapsulated emails, contacts, notes, tasks, and calendars. Getting a Palm Pilot would put all that stuff in the palm of your hand. I believe the coined acronym was PIM (Personal Information Management). To that I say “big deal.”

What I want to discuss is real contextual information that can be a catalyst for critical thinking: detailed notes, processes, or documentation. The Brother has been talking about integrating his vast collection of personal information. He speaks of this as the Valhalla to his personal information management battle. The concept is to collect everything from his vast sources of personal data into a single user interface with a single search box. Ideally, this would account for the following:

(I realize that calendar and photo search is not quite the “real information” I described above. Deal with it.)

The power of searching all of this information at once is incredibly enticing. If you’re like me, you now have 1 bazillion RSS feeds that you sift through every day. My mind typically logs a few key words about what I read, but unfortunately the details are gone in short time. One of the missing details is where I read the damn thing in the first place. Wouldn’t it be nice if the articles that you actually read, or at least that came through your feed reader, were indexed for you to search at a later date?

When I listed “blogs” above, I probably did not have in mind the same thing you had in mind when you read it. Sure, it’d be nice to have this blog as part of a larger search tree, but I’m thinking of a more personal blog. Let’s say you came upon a nice three-step filtering process to use in Photoshop. It’s nice to have an electronic notebook of sorts where you could write down this HOWTO for posterity. A blog is one medium. Others have used ongoing Word documents (ick!) or even vast amounts of little TXT files in a HOWTO directory on their hard drives. The architecture of the solution, while an important consideration, is less important than the content.

The concept of “wiki” is a personal one, which runs counter to what a wiki typically represents. Say you were to find that 10 of your HOWTO entries really combine to form a larger concept that you’d like to centralize in one place. A personal wiki is the perfect space to pull all of these threads together. The wiki technology is merely a medium.

Email and documents are pretty obvious needs.

It’d be nice to have a bookmark search that was as robust as the RSS feed search I’ve listed above. More likely, though, a bookmark search would be limited to the bookmark title and any descriptive text you choose to include with the bookmark. (It should be clear that I am thinking of bookmarks in the del.icio.us vain rather than the Internet Explorer vain.) I suppose I should not rule out the idea of an indexing algorithm actually visiting the bookmarked site and archiving the text therein.

In reality, a calendar can have more information than simple times, dates, and places. If you worship at the alter of GTD you may very likely have searchable details in your calendar. In search terms, it’s possible that more calendar items could be found by analyzing the search results from other personal information areas.

Photo search would be broad as well. The system would ideally search things like photo location information, captions, tags, etc. Of course, the system would need to provide a means to create that metadata as well.

Search is a powerful thing. Quickly pulling up information when you need it could be the difference between keeping you in the flow and distracting your mind from the task at hand. I’m not aware of a psychological term for it, but when I have an issue and I know I have seen the solution somewhere it is more draining mentally than having zero knowledge of the solution.

Later I will discuss a couple options to solve this problem.

[Update: See] Part 2: Solving the problem.]