If you search for “productivity” or “organization” software for the Mac, you’ll find variations on a particular type of application. These applications claim to be “your outboard brain” or “your digital filing cabinet” or similar. They go by many names: Yojimbo, Together, ShoveBox, Evernote, DEVONthink. There may be differences in their implementation and appearance, but these applications are all of the same sinister ilk. They are Everything Buckets.
An Everything Bucket, since you’re probably wondering, is what I call applications that encourage the user to throw anything and everything into them. They’re virtual scrapbooks, applying a lightweight organization system to (often) unrelated data of varying types. These applications typically employ a proprietary database, or at best, build atop the SQLite database technology that Apple ships with Mac OS X. They usually default to storing information in Rich Text Format (RTF) or Portable Document Format (PDF). They are Not A Good Idea.
Computers work best with structured data. Everything Buckets discourage the use of structured data by providing a convenient place to commingle “structureless” data like RTF and PDF documents. Rather than forcing the user to figure out the rhyme and reason of their data (for example, by putting receipts in a financial management application and addresses in an address book), Everything Buckets cry: “throw it all in here! Search it! Maybe I’ll corrupt my proprietary database, but maybe I won’t and you’ll have the joy of sifting through a mire of RTF documents. Doesn’t that sound great?”
This proposition should not sound great. If you think you’re going to save time in the long run by throwing your data into a big bucket now, then sifting through it later, you are mistaken. There are better ways.
Everything Buckets are selling you a filesystem, and removing the step of creating and saving a new file within that filesystem. That’s their primary value. Whatever organization scheme they may claim to offer, you can replicate on the filesystem. I promise. Even tags (symlinks, aliases – look ’em up).
If you still feel like paying $39 for a proprietary second-rate filesystem, well, bless your heart. You’re the stuff a software developer’s dreams are made of.
We live in the age of search. “Why can’t I just Google for it?” is a common complaint from anyone who’s ever misplaced a file and doesn’t know better. In response to this complaint, desktop search technologies like Spotlight have emerged. How do they work? They sift through your structureless data periodically and build a structure from it. This structure is called an index. Without an index, searching through all but smallest quantities of unstructured data takes ages. Once again: computers work best with structured data.
With an Everything Bucket, you also miss out on opportunities to do interesting things with data. Once data is normalized and structured, finding correlations is faster and easier. Remember the first time you really got a spreadsheet to do something cool for you? You can’t do that with a big steaming pile of RTF files.
The corollary to that rule is: “use software that does one thing well.” When you need to store some data, there are so many wonderful applications to pick from. From recipes to receipts, photographs to music, journal entries to to-do list items, there’s a great application out there for what you need to do. Chances are good that the right application structures your data so that you can get more out of it. Use an application that actually does something more than holding data. You’ll be happier.
Get your brain out of an Everything Bucket and in to an application (or two, or three) that adds some value to your data. Of the culprits named above, at least DEVONthink can claim some intelligence in finding correlations between documents. But chances are good that if you think about the task you’re really trying to accomplish, there’s an application out there for it that will make your life easier. Do some research on a site like I Use This or MacUpdate and find an app you trust.
Your computer wants your data to be structured. Throw it a bone.
9. WHO NEEDS SERENDIPITY?• B2B Sites – encourages businesses to ﬁnd ways of collaborating they may never have thought of.• Social sites – let people discover new friends and new interests.• Collaborative software – ﬁnd projects that could work together in unexpected ways.• Document management – ﬁnd documents that help you look at your work in a different way?• Contact management – ﬁnd new people who you could do business with that might not be in a narrowly deﬁned ﬁeld.
17. GET CONNECTED• Contextually isolated systems only show us information regarding a closed set of data and activities.• Semantically isolated systems only show us information which is similar to other information.• Content connected systems show us data that relates to each other which can crosses weakening contextual and semantic boundaries.• Socially connected systems show us information regarding our friends and their activities, weakening contextual and semantic boundaries.• Highly connected systems show us information with n-degrees of separation and multiple paths across contextual and semantic boundaries.
19. FILE BASED STORAGE SEES THEWORLD AS A SET OF NESTED COLLECTIONS OF ISOLATED INFORMATION
20. LIKE FILING CABINETS
21. OR A WAREHOUSE
22. RELATIONAL DATABASES AS HIGHLY ORGANISED COLLECTIONS OF INFORMATION WHICH INTERSECT
23. LIKE ENROLMENT
24. LIKE BANKING
25. OR AN OCD LARDER
56. WHAT SERENDIPITY ISN’T!• Random; random combinations of information are just noise. putting teﬂon on a dolphin’s nose would not be a useful contribution to society. Don’t confuse unexpected with random!• Accidental; serendipitycomes from an attentive, and often intuitive mind receiving diverse information.• Luck; serendipity is a cognitive process that creates new connections between previously unrelated concepts and realises the value in them.
57. THREE STEPS TO SERENDIPITY• Remove Isolation. Relationships are low cost and can be added to data at any point, so create them and create as many as possible ignoring contextual or semantic boundaries.• UseMultiple Hops. Cross semantic and contextual boundaries when providing relevancy.• Weight and Filter. The value of the information found should relate to the route traversed. Allow users to manually pass on information to others.
58. CODING SERENDIPITY How can we add serendipity into our systems?• Information must be able to travel freely between users.• Information should be able to travel multiple levels of indirection with ease.• Information should have the maximum number of inter- connections across semantic boundaries.• Information relationships should be categorised and potentially contain meta-data required for weighting.
59. HOW NEO4J HELPS• Relationships are created trivially at low cost at any time with no regards to semantic boundaries.• Connected information over many hops can be retrieved quickly using Node#traverse or the Traversal framework.• Relationships can have both types and properties making weight and ﬁlter calculations easy.
60. TAKE AWAY• Create more relationships.• Let information cross contextual and semantic boundaries.• Make sure relevancy is probabilistic, not deterministic.• Serendipity is not accidental, random or lucky!• Themore heterogeneous and connected your data becomes, the more you should consider Neo4j.
64. OTHER EXAMPLES• Research papers are a semantically arranged collection of information and therefore create semantic isolated areas of information.• A lending library is another semantically isolated collection of information.• A project management website creates a contextually isolated set of information.• The internet is a highly connected disorganised information storage system – which leads to a fair amount of serendipity. How many interesting things have you ‘stumbled upon’ on the internet, but it still has a tendency to have semantic or contextual silos. There’s still a lot of room for improvement.
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