On Personal Information Management

As web and other databases grow larger and the amount of non-web info (email, chat, spreadsheets, etc) in our lives continues to proliferate, managing the content in our personal storehouses of data, will become even more of a challenge. The Seattle Times article: UW ponders how to best store and retrieve electronic information, reports about the “Keeping Found Things Found” (KFTF) research project at the Information School at the University of Washington. The project’s home page to plenty of excellent reading about what’s going on at UW.

“There isn’t yet an identified field of study called personal information management,” said Harry Bruce, an associate dean for research at the Information School who organized the conference with Jones. “I would like to see this as one of the signature programs of the Information School. The momentum is building on this.”

Easier said than done. Just as people have their own methods of sorting the stacks of papers in their homes or offices, computer users have different ways of tackling electronic information.

[Professor William] Jones said, studies have shown people will not use separate computer programs designed to help them stay organized; they want to use the programs they already have. Or they’ll fall back on tried-and-true tools: posting sticky notes on their monitors or sending e-mail messages to themselves.

I think these comments are not only be accurate for personal information management but also for web search in general. A library professor called it the hometown syndrome. You use (in this case search) using the tools you know and changing tools and behavior is a challenge for both the individual but also for the companies who want you to try something new. If you talk to lawyers, you’ll see that many are either dedicated LexisNexis or Westlaw users.

Another challenge in getting people to try different databases is the lack of standards and the thousands of different interfaces. This is why I believe invidualized, federated search appliances, will become commonplace in the future for many types of searchers. Tools to help a searcher select which database(s) will also help. Dialog, a very popular “supermarket” of databases has offered this type of tool for years.

These days there’s also lots of interest in folksonomy development as seen at del.icio.us and Flickr. They’re great ideas for personal and even small group info management. However, I’m still not sold on the idea for larger public services. I shared a few of the problems I see with them (for group usage) in a comment on Searchblog yesterday.

Btw, if you’ve never read Vannevar Bush’s July 1945 article, “As We May Think” that discusses his take on “future” personal information management, have a look and read about what he calls the Memex. Fascinating.

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