New: Book Report: Keeping Found Things Found

This book's title is misleading: it make sense. This book's preface is misleading: it makes sense, too. It took a while before I realized that the book was noodling all over the place but not actually saying much.

It's tragic. The book is about personal information management. Everyone cares about personal information management: everyone has personal information. TODO lists, emails, schedules, articles, ... I'm a writer. As an information provider, I care about other people's PIM. It's not enough that I keep track of my own info. When I distribute the technical documents I write, I want to make sure that other people can keep track of them--this desire affects my choices in my publishing medium. (I'd love to distribute my documents on Hello Kitty stationery (It smells like bubble-gum!) but my customers couldn't track paper documents easily.) Alas, this book is no help. Or maybe it's some help, but I ran out of patience trying to slog through it.

Early on, it tries to define "information." When it comes to personal information management, spending more than a couple of paragraphs on the definition of information is philosophy. Where by "philosophy", I mean "not useful".

What is information? This question has been a repeated topic of discussion in its own right. Buckland provides an analysis illustrating that the word "information" alternately denotes a process (...), a result (...), or a thing (...). In reaction to the definitional inclusiveness of "information" and the many senses in which the word is used, Buckland concludes "we are unable to say confidently of anything that it could not be information".

I can't believe someone asked me to sit still for a paragraph like that--a paragraph that included the phrase "definitional inclusiveness"--just to tell me that some guy named Buckland pointed out that it's hard to nail down the meaning of a hand-wavy term like "information". But we go on for a chapter rambling on about what can be considered "information".

Let's keep going.

A wiki can be likened to the field in a public park after a snowfall. We can write what we like in the snow but others can too.

This is a pretty image. I appreciate the fact that he didn't compare a wiki to a palimpsest. I am so frickin' tired of people comparing wiki pages to palimpsests. On the other hand, we're already on page 39 and I have been slogging through this book for quite a while without encountering any insights. Why make me sit through a paragraph of simile about a wiki? Why not cut to the chase? Does this book have a chase?

I gave up on this book. There might be some insights buried in here somewhere, but extrapolating from the first 40 pages, I project it's a waste of time.

Maybe I'll just flip ahead. Angry technical writer challenge: choose random paragraphs; reduce each of them to a sentence.


Planning--whether planning a party, a vacation, or even a weekly meeting--can be fun and, anyway, it needs to be done. Chapter 5 considers the possibility that, given the proper tool support, an effective organization of information (based on file system folders, even) can emerge as a natural by-product of the planning we must do in any case. Chapter 9 generalizes by considering various activities that help us to make sense of our information. These activities help us understand and make better use of our information. These activities can alse be a way of managing our information.

Sentence: You can use information that you capture and organize while planning, but I won't say anything concrete about this for a few more chapters because I'm wordy.


It is time to consider a single, unified, and smarter auto-complete facility that can be accessed from all our machines and that works consistently across multiple applications. At the core of this would be a database such as "person" and "budget" and associated properties such as "cell phone number" and "current budget amount." Email applications, word processors, web browsers, and other applications could access this either to store new information or to retrieve information.

Sentence: Omnipresent strong AI would be awesome, but I would still be wordy.

We might hope that somewhere--perhaps at the Library of Congress--legacy applications will be preserved that are capable of rendering and supporting the manipulation of information kept in legacy formats, although support for legacy applications, in turn, may require preservation of legacy operating systems and even legacy computers to run all of the above. Better for most of us might be a web-based service to which we could submit information items in legacy formats--especially photographs and videos--and have them returned in a current format of our choice--in a manner reminiscent of the way we once sent exposed film to a film development lab for processing into prints or slides.

Sentence: It would be awesome if someone figured out legacy formats, but I would still be wordy.

Oh, even the individual paragraphs make me mad in how they waste my time. I need to put this book down. I think the root problem is that this book was written by an academic for other academics. But the title made sense, so I thought it might be written for human beings. That title tricked me into reading forty pages + three paragraphs, but no more.

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Posted 2008-05-24