TECH TALK: Harnessing Information: Four Views (Part 2)

Writes Ajay Shah, in an editorial on Freshmeat:

We have accumulated three different tree systems for organizing different pieces of information:

  1. The filesystem
  2. Email folders
  3. Web browser bookmarks

This is a mess. There should be only one filesystem, one set of folders.

Email is a major culprit. Everyone I know uses a sparse set of email folders and an elaborate filesystem, so we innately cut corners in organizing email.

We really need to make up our minds about how we treat email. Is email a channel, containing material which is in transit from the outside world to the “real” filesystem? Or is email permanent (as it is for most people), in which case material on any subject is fragmented between the directory system and email folders? If so, can email folders automatically adopt the organization of the directory system? Can email files be placed alongside the rest of the filesystem?

Dhananjay Bal Sathe pointed out to me another source of escalation of the complexity of filesystems. It is Microsoft’s notion of “compound files”, which are objects which look like normal files to the Operating System (OS) but are actually full directory systems. Since the content is hidden inside the compound files, you cannot use all OS tools for navigating inside this little filesystem, only the application that made the compound file.

One solution comes from David Gelernter’s Scopeware which uses time as a basis of organising information. Writes Elinor Abreu in “The Industry Standard” (April 23, 2001):

Putting order into the desktop is the mission of David Gelernter’s new company, Mirror Worlds Technologies. The problem, he notes, is that most PC-related advances of the past decade have focused on the Internet; the 25-year-old desktop, meanwhile, has been ignored. Inboxes are overstuffed, desktops are cluttered with icons, and files vanish. The typical PC is a study in disarray.

“Hierarchies are fundamental to life,” says Andy Hertzfeld. “They are using the most effective way of managing complexity that nature has found.” But they also reflect the time when a megabyte was big. Today’s gigabyte storage capacities require a new organizational metaphor: the index card. Gelernter’s new software, dubbed Scopeware, abandons the file folder in favor of a line of index cards streaming into the distance; a search window parses the information. Browser-based Scopeware creates a searchable index of all textual information on an individual computer; corporate networks can be similarly indexed.

Users can browse through the stream of information (thumbnails pop up as index cards are scrolled over) or search by keyword, topic or file type. Clicking on the card opens the file, eliminating the bugbear of opening different applications for different files.

Scopeware doesn’t replace Windows or other applications; they still run in the background. Scopeware simply combines all the data into one location and eliminates the need to name files, organize them and remember where they are or what they’re called. It meets two basic goals: it uses computer power intelligently and it saves

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.