I just came back from two intriguing talks from this month’s BayCHI meeting. The first talk was about Chandler, the open source PIM that seems to have been under development forever. Mimi Yin talked about Chandler’s design philosophy and how it’s different from typical e-mail/calendar programs (her slides are online). For example:

  • There is a universal inbox, called the Dashboard, that can hold anything: e-mail, calendar, documents, etc. These go into one of three categories: Now, Later, and Done. Stuff moved from Now to Later can be “tickled” so that it moves into Now at a specified time. The idea is that things go back and forth between Now and Later, picking up more information about how they get done, until they are actually Done.
  • Stuff can go anywhere. An e-mail message can go directly into the calendar or a to-do list, and it also stays in your Dashboard.
  • Tags are used for bottom-up organizing (so that you can find it later), while categories are used for top-down organizing (putting stuff in collections). They have somewhat different affordances, but tags can easily become categories and vice-versa.

This all sounds good, but I asked how much of this was driven by user observations. Mimi said the biggest source came from looking at people’s e-mail folders to try to figure out what their organizational schemes were. So I’m still not sure how much of Chandler’s design is driven by what people actually do versus the Chandler team guessing. I hope it’s more the former.

Chandler is particularly interesting to me because it’s trying to address many of the same issues as the IBM research project I’m in, Unified Activity Management.

The second half was an absolutely hilarious talk by Merlin Mann about modern life in general and dealing with the deluge of information. In fact, he manages a whole web site about this problem called 43 Folders. One organizational framework that he discussed in particular is called Getting Things Done (which Mimi also touched on in her talk). Instead of rehashing what Merlin said, take a look at his intro. Suffice to say that geeks seem to have gravitated to it, so I’ll have to take a look.