In a previous post I wrote about a blog post claiming to find the ultimate solution to syncing your personal data. Now I want to follow up on it, because their solution only addressed a small amount of what can be considered type of personal data. The system only touched on e-mail, contacts, calendar, etc
First, lets take a step back to the PIM problem from a more general perspective. PDAs claimed to have solved this problem many years ago, and I think everyone took this at face value. They must have thought to themselves "we have these great little portable computers, now we can store everything we could ever need". No one pushed the issue, or took it much further (untill recently with the rise in GTD). There was simple synchronization with a few desktop clients (palm, outlook, etc), and for the really advanced users, they looked to bloated CRM types systems (think ACT, or Goldmine).
Since this period in the history of personal information management, the only developments have been that people have come up with even more information that they really want to store. Some of this information is stored "just because" it can be (yes, i fall victim to this compulsive activity), and some of it is done under the belief that they will use this to get more things done in less time, to get the most of their lives professional and personal. One issue, which I will touch on later, is the difficulty in actualy choosing which data to store, because you never know what you'll need and you end up thinking like a pack rat and storing everything.
Now, even more recently, to store all this new data, a million different specialized web2.0 apps have emerged. These little micro apps claim to store our data in a more efficient way, and then get even more power from this data by sharing it. The problem is, now with so many apps, i spend more time trying to figure out which one will actually solve problem, and no time worrying about how storing this data will actually make my life better. On top of that, I don't think the individual is really reaping the benefits of having their data shared (its very powerful, but I dont think its been refined enough to be a clear value-add to the people at large). Rather than just swimming in the data we managed to aggregate, we are now swimming in the data of many others, some of which are even less qualified than us to be generating useful information
Here's a list of some different types of apps, and the data they store:
Delicious - webisite bookmarks
Flagr - locations
Yelp - locations and restaurant reviews
Book Library, the other one i like - books, dvd, music, etc
Bloglines/Rojo - rss feeds
Studicious - notes for students
Tada - todos
SoapBox - reviews
Each one accommodates only one small portion of the personal information an individual hopes to store. This works should you plan to focus on one, but many people need more than that and those types of people are driving the demand for all these micros apps.
The point being, I think there is a more elegant solution. I dont want to have all my data/notes in many different specialized silos (this article somehow disappeared on 43 folders). Every piece of personal data i want to store has a different web application online for storing it, and to share this I have to re-invite my friends all over again essentially recreating my social network each time. My friends will eventually get sick of me inviting them to the 10th social network, just so we can keep track of who has who's pens.
By writing this post, I am trying to uncover an outline of the problem and eventually some possible solutions. This solution will probably come as a process that potentially involves a variety tools and two distinct steps:
1) Mental habits - to develop a usable process some discipline will be needed
a) categorization and hierarchy - this needs to be a quick decision on the users part of where to put the data. Given existing systems It can be stored as a contact, calendar event, task, or notes. These notes can then be categorized by a series of tags for easy maintenance. Developing this list and sticking to this is very important for keeping each system usable in the long run.
b) filtering - this is the most important, and is a decision on whether or not to actually store the data. More and more I am convinced the long term solution will be not what you store, but what you choose to ignore and filter out. I read an article here discussing the idea that many intelligent people excel more in knowing what information they can ignore, rather than focusing on learning more new information.
2) Tech solution - for you to store and access relevant data it has to be simple and it has to be with you at all times
a) Your mind typically looks for a technological solution to a problem that addresses every single aspect of that problem. This leads to bloated complicated software that doesn't interact with anything else. Companies like 37 Signals have taught us that you don't need all of these features, and that with a small adjustment in our thinking about these application we can get even more benefit from simple apps with a few functional flexible features.
b) Another critical feature to developing the right technological solution is that it needs to be with you at all times. As we walk about the real world we receive data from all sources; word of mouth, advertisements, internet, magazine articles, tv shows, etc. If you don't have your system with all times you can never expect it to be reliable or relevant, whether its a notebook or a Treo.
Overall this is just brainstorming on paper. I've been using the treo for a while, and though I initially bought several additional full-powered apps to go on my treo I realized that this was a mental trap, and I've been slowly returning to the simplicity of the basic applications. I'm putting more emphasis on categorizing this data, cutting out the clutter and not storing data i don't need, and then the process of getting the data to where it will be most used. More on this to come.