I am BARRY HESS > Blog

Wrestling With Your Personal Information

Previously I discussed the next iteration of personal information management. There are several types of information many people deal with on a day-to-day basis and it sure would be nice to centralize some of the management of this information. Unfortunately there are still no silver bullets, regular bullets, or even slingshot rocks to attack this problem with.

This leaves it to the individual to solve the problem for himself. The options at hand are somewhat labor intensive and exceedingly technical. There is one alternative that is much more palatable. Unfortunately this alternative does not exist yet.

The first option is to cobble together various solutions to the individual problems into a personal suite of applications. These apps would be hosted on a one’s own server and all technical know how would be “in house,” so to speak. One would then need to write a search front-end that tunnels into each application’s data store to gather results and serve them back in a nice format, hopefully binned by content type (blog, photo, feed, etc).

I’m not going to mention possible applications to fit into the above solution. Researching all of the possibilities is a job unto itself. Another similar option would be to solve several of the issues using a content management system (CMS). Most likely one would need to write his own plug-ins to make the thing work as desired. Those plug-ins could be offered back to the community. Isn’t open source nice?

A second option would be to write the damn thing oneself. Bite off a chunk at a time until it’s done. The search front-end would also need to be written, but it would probably be less complicated as data storage would be more consistent over the breadth of the application. Everything could be made to look like part of a whole - a non-cobbled together whole.

This is all fine and dandy. Writing a blog and a one-man wiki can’t be that hard, right? Everyone’s doing it. But one would also be writing photo manipulation software, grabbing data from XIF information on JPG’s. Those RSS and bookmark problems haven’t really been solved by anyone. So one would really be onto something if one solved this whole problem. Definitely another opportunity for open source. The ol’ career should take off after solving these problems.

My final option is an unavailable alternative. Of course, this is the option I want. Right now I can use Google for the following activities: blogging (Blogger), notebook, email, calendar, photos (Picasa), documents, and RSS reading. The only thing missing is wikis and bookmarks.

Remember, my goal with the blog is to store one off HOWTO information. Quick notes are the norm, though longer entries should be possible. My goal with the wiki is to gather multiple blog posts (HOWTO’s) into a single unified thought process. I see this workflow being possible with Google’s cuurent toolset. The notebook could be used for HOWTO information and the blog could be used for large-scale information gathering. You can see how this may translate nicely into one or more themed blogs for public consumption, which would be a wonderful side-effect.

(In reality, Google does have a Wiki solution: JotSpot. But JotSpot’s doors have been closed since acquisition back in October. Side note: JotSpot was probably in our top 3-4 most desired names for Scrawlers.)

A bookmarking app is something I expect Google to releas at some point, perhaps as part of a broader goal. Yet even without native Google bookmarking, I can imagine a scenario where bookmark data could be folded in from del.icio.us or any other service one may use.

So it seems like most of the publication parts are there. At the least, one could get 90% of the way to the goal without the bookmarking feature. Yet several hurdles remain.

Picasa has an excellent feature (I’m speaking theory, I’ve never tried it) that syncs one’s localized photo album with one’s web photo album. I imagine this also synchronizes any captions and tags you entered into the Picasa client on your PC. This solves a lot of my issues with photo sharing among family and friends.

Not only do I want to share my photos with my family, but I want them to be able to conveniently order photos from my archive. My family has ordered countless photos from my Shutterfly account over the years, whether the photos are for projects, frames, or wallets. Preferably Picasa would allow ordering from multiple services, but I’m willing to accept one reasonable service. I suspect this feature is soon to come, or maybe it’s already there. Ultimately, it is not a requirement, but something I’d really like to have.

Google Reader is an excellent feed reader. It has a lot of snazzy features. But what I really want is for the King of Indexing to keep track of the content of every article I’ve read and allow me to search on that history. This is what I need to manage my personal information.

Ironically, the biggest sticky point is search. Before any of this can happen, Google needs to implement a personal search that crawls over the one’s entire personal portfolio. It surprises me greatly that this has not yet happened.

When I load up Gmail, there are a few items in the upper-left corner of the screen directing me to the other personal apps I use: from Personalized Homepage to Notebook to Calendar. The logical tie has been made. This is “MyGoogle.” As a search company, one would think that concept would have involved searching MyGoogle from the very beginning. I suspect this is an unfortunate byproduct of the nature of Google app development. To this point there has been no display of hegemony to direct these apps into a space under the umbrella of MyGoogle. (Note: I am not intending to say Google’s app development technique is wrong.)

A while back there was a rumor that Google would be coming out with an OS. My guess is Google will continue working toward the integration of a personal productivity suite on the web. Though not technically accurate, this suite will be your personal Internet OS, accessible everywhere. There is no product, per se, to release in this area, though I imagine it will be marketed as such (to the extent that Google markets anything). A true MyGoogle will simply take these related apps, put a consistent frame around them, and most logically allow the user to search within her personal data as a powerful means to finding what she needs to find.

Which way will I go? With my current commitments, I think it’s safe to say that Google can not work fast enough. I’d also like an easy means to get my data in and out of a Google suite. I’d like the search to be extensible so I can fold in personalized searches across other web services. I can only hope my speculation borders on reality.