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Personal Information: Finding, Keeping, Organizing. From papers in Jones, William and Jaime Teevan. Personal Information Management. University of Washington Press. 2007. The book. The book is a collection of papers on topics important to the subject of Personal Information Management

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personal information finding keeping organizing

Personal Information: Finding, Keeping, Organizing

From papers in

Jones, William and Jaime Teevan. Personal Information Management. University of Washington Press. 2007

the book
The book
  • The book is a collection of papers on topics important to the subject of Personal Information Management
  • They are linked by a common theme or thread, but written by different people and addressing distinct aspects of the subject matter.
  • The book is available through Amazon.
the unifying theme
The unifying theme
  • A set of characters with a need to accomplish a specific activity
    • Characters have distinct characteristics in terms of the way they organize and interact with information
    • The task is to organize a surprise birthday party for one of the characters, with appropriate roles and interactions among the other characters
the characters
Alex, male, 27.

Securities analyst

Very well organized, especially work info.

Takes action immediately on all new information received -- email or other

Brooke, female, 23. (Alex’s sister)

Software developer at startup company

“spontaneous, dynamic, chaotic”

“Job is too unpredictable and fast changing for … much point to filing information.”

Lots of unsorted piles, 2000 messages in inbox

Connie, 58, mother of Alex and Brooke

Prides herself on being organized, mostly paper based.

Has been ill, papers have piled up and organization deteriorated.

Derek, male, 23

Engaged to Brooke

Relies on tablet PC

Would like to banish paper, but it still comes in

Edna, female, 74

Retired, owns a lot of real estate (was real estate broker)

Almost all paper-based information (PC does not work)

Prefers to call or write actual letters to communicate.

No children, close friend of Connie, honorary grandmother of Alex and Brooke

Felicia, 20. Derek’s sister

In college, interested in music, photography

Uses laptop for communication, organizing of digital pictures

Has a lot of older print pictures, photo CDs

The characters
the theme activity
The theme activity
  • Planning a surprise 75th birthday party for Edna.
  • Out of town guests will need hotel rooms
  • Edna’s favorite restaurant will be the site.
  • Maybe they will do a phot album.
finding information

Paper: How People Find Personal Information, in the book Persoal Information Management

Finding information
  • Opening scenario - Alex needs to find the phone number of his grandmother’s favorite restaurant and make a reservation.
    • He is the organized one.
    • This does not fit a category that he uses.
      • If he knows the name of the restaurant - easy
      • Otherwise, knows he has seen it somewhere -- how to find it again
        • REFINDING - a particular category of information finding. Related to “keeping” - a subject to come later
finding a multi stepped process
Finding - a multi-stepped process
  • Importance of browsing
  • Common triggers and stop conditions
  • Users prefer to find information by orienteering -- using small steps guided by their knowledge of the local context -- rather than search -- sudden jump to the destination.
  • Scenario - Alex knows the restaurant name is in an email from his sister. Could do a search in the email client. Instead, goes to a folder, sorts to find all the mail from Brooke, then browses.

Is that what you would do? How do you look for information that you believe is in an email message?

why orienteering
Why orienteering?
  • Quality of search tools?
    • We saw last week that improved search tools did not make a significant difference in people’s method of accessing their files
  • Side benefits?
    • Orienteering (or navigating) provides a broader look at the information space. Not only do you find what you are looking for, you also see what else is around it that might also be of interest in the current task.
  • Distinction between recognition and recall
    • Navigating allows use of recognition within context, which may be easier or more comfortable than recall of the right search terms to use.

Note always that individuals differ.

files and piles
Files and piles
  • Relating approaches to finding in physical spaces
    • Filers -- more comfortable with organized systems, visible structures
    • Pilers -- more comfortable with loose structures, less formal organization.
  • Characteristics carry over to approaches to finding digital information.
  • Direct connection between ways of organizing information and ability to refind.
refinding different from initial discovery
Refinding -- different from initial discovery
  • Finding something seen before is different from the initial discovery activity
    • Know more about it -- meta data that may aid in locating it
      • Author, title, date created, URL, color, style of text, etc.
      • Knowing that Brooke had emailed the name of the restaurant triggers a memory of the subject of the email, for example
    • Particularly important meta information:
      • People associated it, path taken to find it originally, temporal aspects.
        • Some research shows such importance of time, that some argue that chronological ordering should be default ranking
factors related to re finding
Factors related to Re-finding
  • Initial encounter with the information provided some experience that will influence re-finding
    • Elapsed time since prior encounter will influence value of that experience
    • Expected future value will influence how well it is remembered
    • Similarity of initial reason to have the information and the reason for the new access influence the connection between the prior and current experience.
re finding related to keeping organizing
Re-finding related to keeping, organizing
  • Studies about how people re-find information on the Web show preference for strategies that do not involve any advance planning or keeping.
  • Yet, people do spend time preparing for future access.
  • Shown: Pilers prefer to organize with small steps while filers are more likely to us search tools to jump directly to, or close to, the target
judging value
Judging value
  • Information is easier to re-find if it was recognized as important the first time it was seen.
    • What do you do to recognize the potential future use of information
      • In email?
      • In web sites?
      • In Other information sources?
    • Post-valued recall -- recognizing the value of previously encountered information
      • Some people e-mail information to themselves
        • Have you ever done this? What does it accomplish?
      • Lack of knowledge of future importance makes it harder to store and organize information effectively
information fragmentation
Information fragmentation
  • On how many different devices do you store electronic information?
    • Phone, pda, desktop computer, laptop …
    • How do you recall what is where?
      • Do you have any kind of overall index?
      • Do you ever lose something entirely because you cannot recall where it is stored?
      • Do you use online sites such as Google docs to make files accessible from a variety of places?
        • What are the pros and cons of that approach?
        • How do you handle multiple e-mail accounts? (Do you?)
    • How do you know that this version is most recent? Naming conventions help or hinder.
      • How do you name the versions of a file?
        • Cathy Marshall study at Microsoft
information keeping

Paper: How People Keep and Organize Personal Information in the book, Personal Information Management

Information Keeping
  • People keep things -- including information -- for a variety of reasons
    • Expected future need
    • Reminder of an experience, usually pleasant, but perhaps something significant that should not be forgotten (VT April 16 collection -- see
    • Increasing amounts of information available, but it is hard to know what to keep
define information keeping
Define: Information keeping
  • Decision-making and actions relating to the information item currently under consideration that impact the likelihood that the item will be found again later. Decisions can range from: (1) “ignore, this has no relevance to me”; (2) “ignore, I can get back to this later”… (3) “keep this in a special place or way so that I can be sure to use this information later.”
  • This is the keep or don’t keep decision, not related to how to keep anything.

Quoted from How People Keep and Organize Personal Information in Personal Information Management

define information organizing
Define: Information organizing
  • Decision-making and actions relating to the selection and implementation of a scheme of organization and representation for a collection of information items. Decisions can include: (1) How should items in this collection be named? (2) What sets of properties make sense for and help to distinguish the items in this collection? (3) How should items within this collection be grouped? Into piles or folders?
  • Note the movement from an item to a collection as we talk about keeping and organizing
    • “Keeping” response is triggered frequently by ordinay events.
    • “Organizing” response is less often triggered
      • What triggers the impulse to organize?

Quoted from How People Keep and Organize Personal Information in Personal Information Management

define information maintaining
Define: Information Maintaining
  • All decisions and actions relating to the composition and preservation of a personal information collection. Decisions involve what kind of new items go into a collection, how information in the collection is stored (Where, in what formats? In what kind of storage? Backed up how?) and when do older items leave the collection (e.g. When are they deleted or archived?)
  • A mixed blessing -- the Apple migration when a new machine replaces an old one.
    • Easily obtain an exact copy of the old disk system.
      • Is this good, bad, some of both?
keeping decisions multifaceted and error prone
Keeping decisions: Multifaceted and Error-prone
  • Some sorting attributes for paper items
    • Title, author
    • Disposition (discard, keep, postpone)
    • Order scheme (group, separte, arrange
    • Time (duration, currency)
    • Value (importance, interest, confidentiality
    • Cognitive State (don’t know, want to remember)
  • Heavily influenced by anticipated future use
other approaches to keeping
Other approaches to keeping
  • Collection building, independent of expected future use
  • Packrat
  • Legacy
  • What do you do with something you do not intend to use again? Do you get rid of it or just put it aside? How much effort is required to make that decision?
    • Alex and the business card scenario
decision influencers
Decision influencers
  • Is the information potentially useful
    • Jacket pocket treatment
  • Do special steps need to be taken to keep it for later use?
    • Transcribe or scan something that was on paper, convert a file format to make it more useful?
    • Business card may duplicate information readily available elsewhere
  • How should the item be kept, where? On what device? In what form? To be accessed again when?
    • Separate collections for immediate use or later sorting
    • Adding a note to a business card to remember the context of possible later communication
    • Transcribe the information into a contacts database or cell phone
    • The card itself may provide a visual reminder
  • Weighing consequences -
    • Missing something that should be there vs having to sort through too much stuff to find what is needed
  • Little research on how the same person organizes different forms of information
  • Some results
    • People do not take time to assess their organization
    • People complain about needing to organize separate type of information and the resulting fragmentation
    • People are not consistent about the approaches they take, using different schemes on different days
    • Some people go to great lengths to consolidate types of information -- sending documents by email or storing email in file folders, for example.
  • Making sense of organization includes both internal representations and external representations
    • Internal representation requires a cognitive connection, an understanding of where each information item fits into a larger scheme and how it will be retrieved later
    • External representation is a translation of the internal understanding of the structure needs of organization into a realization that can be seen and used.

My definitions, not from the author

features that would be useful for organization
Features that would be useful for organization
  • A manual ordering of folders
    • People force this by strange folder names (AAA…)
  • An ability to set reminders, due dates, and other tasklike properties on folders
    • Subfolders often correspond to tasks, but cannot be treated like tasks
  • An ability to add notes
    • Some people add a notes document to a folder
  • An abillity to use and reuse structures
    • If an organization of a folder or directory is useful for a variety of activities, it would be nice to be able to reconstitute its structure, ready for new particulars. -- For me, an ABET visit, for example.