Suggestions on PIM applications design

PIM research produced a significant amount of work. Many researchers gave guidelines on how future PIM applications should be designed or what should be taken into account when designing them. These guidelines are based on observations during the PIM studies. Let’s look at some of them.

Henderson [1] argues that there are three groups of users: pilers, filers and structurers. PIM tools should accommodate the following:

  • Piling strategy
    Do not require containment
    Support a time based interface
       Provide optional tagging
  • Filing strategy
        Support containment
        Provide a cleanup interface
        Support reminders
  • Structuring strategy
        Support containment with multiple classification/dynamic containers
        Provide optional relationships between items
        Provide optional tagging and colour coding
        Provide optional custom metadata

Ravasio et. al. [2] looked at the problems users encounter when managing files on computers. She and her colleagues addressed several issues that need to be addressed quickly

(1) ‘Annotations’ as a new type of information. Suitable handling—in programs, storage and retrieval facilities, and so forth—are subsequent requirements.
(2) Store documents in publicly available default formats in order to avoid difficulties when exchanging documents.
(3) Provide a ‘search for content’ feature that includes all file formats that exist in a system.
(4) Simplify the UI of the existing built-in search tools. Do not require users to specify more information than they can possibly know.

In general, She claims that PIM systems should accommodate 3 aspects of file management:

(1) Task oriented—focused on the task to be accomplished,
(2) context oriented—focused on other documents, programs and tasks at hand con- currently, and
(3) content oriented—focusing on the actual information encapsulated in a specific document.

Bergman [3] identified 3 subjective principles that should be taken into account in PIM

  • The subjective classification principle: information items related to the same subjective topic should classified together despite technological format.
  • The subjective importance principle: this should provide a degree of visibility or salience and accessibility. When exposed to new information users determine how important that information is and systems should take in to account the this importance as perceived by the user.

    – High subjective importance: what was dealt with most recently and what was frequently dealt with in last xy time is the most important.
    – Low subjective importance: a cognitive problem or irrelevant information being in a way while searching for important information, users do not archive old information, graphically change items not being accessed for a long time specified by user.

  • The subjective context principle: information should be retrieved and viewed in the same context in which it was previously used. Context should be captured and added to information.

    – External context: items that users dealt with (activated) while interacting with a specific item: like coping and pasting text should create a link.
    – Internal context: relates to users thoughts while interacting with information item, users might write annotations of what they read and search these.
    – Temporal context: this pertains the state in which the user left information item when last interacting with it and working plans regarding that information. Similar happens with unread email that are in bold and web links (change color when visited) so the user knows what has been already done – trace past activities. Users could mark information they plan to work on in the future.

Boardman [4] highlights two perspectives that need to be taken into account (he also defends the idea of separated information by type):

  • From a tool-specific perspective, each PIM-tool is a distinct sub-system to be optimized independently.

    – consider how that tool is employed along with other tools in supporting cross-tool production activities
    – be aware that anything new is added to a set of existing PIM sub-systems
    – careful attention should be paid to potential side-effects in other tool contexts

  • On the other hand, a cross-tool perspective emphasises the need to optimize the combined sub-systems. In other words, the designer is more concerned about how well the PIM sub-systems work together.

    – when investigating user needs, designers should pay attention to current user behaviour across all the tools that will be affected
    – a key implementation challenge is dealing with the sheer range of PIM-tools in use

Voit et. al. [5] addressed different aspects that need to be taken into account when designing PIM tools. They claim that PIM tools should comply with this set of requirements:

  • Be Compatible with Current User Habits: Users are comfortable with their application environment and want to keep it that way. Any new software solution has to integrate into the current environment as smoothly as possible.
  • Minimal Interference: Any new software solution requires some kind of additional user interface. It is essential to keep the learning effort as small as possible. Any interaction step which the users have to make should be absolutely necessary to the process.
  • Support Multiple Contexts: Studies show that over the years users still prefer browsing over teleporting. When browsing a classification hierarchy, users can see the choices available at each level and choose the most promising.
  • No Unnecessary Limitations: Since large numbers of computer files define our everyday lives, any PIM software solution should scale well to a large number of files and should not affect the efficiency of the browsing process.
  • Transparency: User have built up knowledge of their software environment: a set of experiences, expectations, and standard processes concerning file storage and retrieval. For example, an existing backup process should not be affected by a new PIM system. Users should know where their files are located and what happens to them.
  • Provide for Expiry Dates: Providing an expiry date offers the user to explicitly define information as ephemeral, which is an important need as user studies suggest.
  • Add Metadata While Storing: When a file is stored the user should be given the option to manually add metadata and contextual information to the file. Manual and semi-manual tagging can offer an effective solution for a better retrieval method.

[1] Henderson, Sarah, Personal document management strategies, CHINZ ’09
[2] Pamela Ravasio and Sissel Guttormsen Schr and Helmut Krueger, In pursuit of desktop evolution: User problems and practices with modern desktop systems, TOCHI, 2004
[3] Bergman, Ofer and Beyth-Marom, Ruth and Nachmias, Rafi, The user-subjective approach to personal information management systems design: Evidence and implementations, JASIST, 2008
[4] Richard Boardman, Improving tool support for personal information management, PhD thesis, mperial college London, University of London, 2004
[5] Voit, K. and Andrews, K. and Slany, W., Why Personal Information Management (PIM) Technologies Are Not Widespread, ASIST ’09: Personal Information Management (PIM) Workshop