Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

In my previous post I talked about how often users adapt to the PIM rather than the reverse. And no matter how intelligent the developers are the end result of their designs often seems to come up with eerily similar results (Chandler and Ecco being a somewhat notable exceptions). Most PIMs seem to end up with some variation on Tasks, a Todo List, one or more calendars, some events and some categories....

But the domain that we are all trying to model doesn't seem to be that clean cut. When I started out modeling the domain I discovered that very little appears to be set in stone. Most clear statements I can make about the domain are of the "may" or "can" type.

Here are some of the objects that I believe need to be modeled (in no particular ordering):

Events, Meetings, Appointments, Promises, Tasks, Birthdays, Anniversaries, People, Organizations, Checklists, Todo lists, Schedules, Calendars, Communities, Projects, Conversations, Goals, Journals, Directions, Notes and references to resources.

And here are some example statements I can make about some of these objects:

  • Events may be located in time.
  • Events may occupy time.
  • Events probably will be located in space (have a location)
  • Events may have participants
  • Events may have an owner

  • Actions may have an owner
  • Actions may be located in time.
  • Actions may occupy time.
  • Actions may have a location.
  • Actions may have participants.

For almost every object in the domain there is some ambiguity about what its behaviors and attributes are. The ambiguity seems to come from several areas. Some of it comes from the context you are working in at the time: the "Honey-Do" list at home may be managed and tracked differently than the project todo list at work. Some ambiguity comes from the fuzziness of the words themselves: What is the difference between a Task that is scheduled in time and an Event? And some of the ambiguity comes from the precision the user expects from the word itself: One user may consider Tasks very important objects to be managed in priority order with due dates and other users may expect Tasks to be simple entries in a list that you mark off when you are done.

So it seems inevitable that there will be significant mismatches between the model that a PIM uses and the worldview of the user. I think the key thing I see here is that the PIM's domain model needs to be tailorable to match the user's world view.

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