Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How many objects do we need?

One of the interesting, and potentially invaluable concepts that the Chandler project brought to light (i.e. to my attention ) was the idea of "stamping". The concept of stamping is the idea of defining incoming data by assigning it a type. When someone is simply typing in some information quickly, it by default goes into a note and then allows the user to stamp it as an event, or a task, or whatever else is needed.

A typical (though narrow) implementation of this concept is in the ability to take an e-mail that is an invitation and have the information be put into the calendar at the appropriate time. Microsoft Outlook allows e-mail's to be scheduled this way.

As far as I can tell, the Chandler project does this by displaying different facets of information in different contexts. This implies that the information is stored and "stamped" with several different types.

For example: someone may send you an evite to an event. You respond to the evite but keep the e-mail around as a reminder. If you liked the restaurant that the event occurred at you may decide to keep a note about the fact that you like that restaurant and you may also want to put the address of that restaurant into your contact list. In the Chandler world this is done by stamping the same piece of information twice. The first time it is stamped with the type "note" and the second time with the type "contact".

My apologies in advance if it turns out that I am misinterpreting the design notes for Chandler.

I think, the same thing could be achieved by creating new objects from the initial object and then maintaining associations between them. This would allow someone to create an event from an e-mail and the event would have a reference back to the original e-mail.

Incomplete thoughts on displaying PIM data

Modeling calendars, agendas, projects and so on as views into the data.


A calendar could be considered a view into a timestream populated with events and tasks and anything else that can be located in time allows organizing chronological events in terms of days, weeks, months, years, etc..

A timeline could be considered a view into a timestream populated with the events, tasks and anything else that can be located in time.

A timetable could be considered a view into a timestream populated with the events, tasks and anything else that can be located in time in a tabular form.

The daily agenda could be considered a view into a timestream populated with events and tasks and anything else that can be located in time.

A Gantt chart could be considered a view into a set of actions that can be tracked and have a due date. A to do list could be considered another view into a set of actions that can be tracked and have a due date.

A contact list could be considered a view into a set of information about people, organizations, companies and so on.

So far, so good.

Taking on that there is a view into a otherwise undifferentiated set of data has the potential to give great results. That is effectively what ECCO allowed you to do on a limited scale.

And it seems to me that there are two parts to this. There are the constraints or criteria that gives the list of items to be displayed such as show me all the items that can be located in time and whose date occurs somewhere within the next month. And some of the criteria could be tags and or "all items referenced by the following taxonomy..."

So that gives us some common views that may be of use:
  1. For sets of items that can be located in time => calendars, schedules
  2. For sets of items that can be tracked and/or have a due date there are projects, to do lists, agendas, checklists.
  3. For sets of items that are contact information of various types there are contact lists, mailing lists, and directories.
  4. For communications and messages there are threaded conversations.
  5. For events that have happened in the past there are journals and audit logs.

So if we now look at how those views could be created we start having to pull together all the previous notes and discussions.

Say for example we needed to create a mailing list for a specific community such
as the extended family. Of course the criteria would be something like: please
display contacts referenced by the "family" tag/taxonomy.

Context is decisive

Context is decisive. What ever context you have for piece of information governs
your understanding of that piece of information. So context is decisive.

I have had thoughts about context going around and around in the back of my head
for days now. And since they are getting in the way of my other work I am
putting them into the blog in the hopes that they will leave me alone.

One of the most common requests I have bumped into is for the PIM to take into
account the context in which you are running the application. So, in other
words, if you are at work it would only show you by default the tasks and events
pertinent to you being at work. If you are on the road it would only show you
those items that are pertinent to you being on the road.

The GTD methodology recommends setting up tasks list with tags such as @phone
and @office so that when you are on the road you can simply list those tasks
that you have the resources to perform. Is this something that makes sense to
model in a more sophisticated manner.

In other words, what does knowing the context make available in terms of work?
Should it be modeled and if so how?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

It was Col. Mustard in the library with the candlestick

One of the big questions in any enterprise development project is who gets to muck with the database or data repository.

This is significant even in the case of the PIM.

When looking at how to deal with pushing data out to other repositories such as Google, polling data from other repositories such as Google or RSS feeds, and just the general headaches of synchronizing to and from other devices is clear that who gets to touch the database and how is a critical question.

For now, I am assuming that all of the tools that feed to and from other data sinks/sources will do so by operating against the database rather than having the PIM up and running and managing those operations.

Kitchen sink modeling

The more I work with user stories and scenarios for PIMs the more it is becoming clear that there is simply a sea of information that only the user has any sense of. Most of the things that we are modeling have specific meanings to the individual (i.e. must a promise have a due date?). For some people the answer is yes for others the answer is no.

It is clear that for most people there are clear distinctions between the different types of data they have. In other words most people have a consistent way they mentally model meetings versus tasks versus holidays. And the way they model it is quite closely tied to the way they work. So people work and live in a world of pieces of data that have clear types and clear behaviors.

The collections (i.e. projects, agendas, to do lists, checklists, etc..) people use to manage those different types of data ( i.e. to do list items, tasks, promises, calls, errands, chores, etc..) are just as individualized as the data items themselves.

For example: For some people a task may be committed to to the extent that somebody has said "I will do that sometime next week". And they put a sticky note in their calendar so that when they are looking at that week they know what things they promised to do that they haven't put into "space and time" yet.

Other people maintain tasks on lists that don't count them as real until they are scheduled on a calendar. Until that point they are on the "Not Doing Now" or "Unscheduled" list.

So clearly, the majority of everything to be modeled needs to be customizable. so, after walking through user story after user story this is what I see:

1) Every thing to be tracked in a PIM has one or more behaviors.

The behaviors are

  • Locatable in time (LIT)
  • Can Occupy time (0T)
  • Locatable in space (LIS)
  • Has a lifespan (SPN)
  • Has trackable progress (TRK)
  • Has a due date (DUE)
  • Requires resources (RR)

The different types of items can have the behavior or not have the behavior. If they do have the behavior then they can either have the state of having a fixed value or not having a fixed value.

For example, a promise can have the behavior of being locatable in time, but it may not yet have been fixed in time.

2) Everything is versionable.

There are many areas where tracking the changes to a scheduled item (who generated them and when) is critical to fixing something. This is specially true when you're dealing with synchronizing schedules with multiple calendars.

3) All items tracked in the PIM are associated with a specific type and that type has associated properties and each type has default values for those properties and behaviors.

For example, an event can have the behavior of being locatable in time and may have the behavior of occupying time and the default time it occupies is 15 minutes.
4) Context is decisive: context such as home -- online or home -- off-line or work -- online etc. have resources available such as (phone, computer, Internet, e-mail, etc.)

Many methodologies such as GTD take into account the context in which you were working. For example there are some things that should only be done from home, there are some things that should only be done from work, and there are some things that can only be done when you have a phone available. The user's context governs both what they should be doing as well as what they are capable of doing given the resources available.

5) Taxonomies (hierarchies) go from wider towards narrower ( i.e. Extended Family => Immediate Family)

In looking at all the different ways people navigate through hierarchies and the way they create their own private taxonomies (using file folders, categories, tags, etc.) it is clear that most people navigate from wider and narrower.