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Author Topic: A unified solution for note taking and task management  (Read 13395 times)
vitalyb
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« on: September 13, 2011, 03:06:51 AM »

I've been using notes applications and task management for a long time. However, I always felt that these two should be united. Too often I found myself entering a note that I wished it was a task and vice versa. Also, in the end, when I am looking for something, I end up having to search two different applications to find it.

Here is a basic list of requirements such a solution would require:
  • Proper task management - OneNote has some task management, however, it is very very basic. A proper task system requires recurring task, due dates, alarms, etc, etc.
  • Android support - Since Android is always with me it is critical for me to be able to view my notes and add tasks while I am on the go.
  • Quick task/note adding - I love Remember-the-milk's quick add feature. Basically just by writing stuff like "Call Doctor tomorrow" you create a task with a defined due date. All the other alternatives I've seen require you to do click through too many checkboxes and listboxes for every task you add.
  • Rich text editing - Since it is going to be my main notes application, it must support rich text editing in its notes.

Currently I am trying to use MyLifeOrganized as a solution, however, it is far from perfect. While its task management is superb, it can be a bit TOO complex, has abysmal note management abilities (no rich text editing, no attachments) and its Android support is in early beta.

I'd love to hear your ideas and suggestions on the subject.

Thanks,
Vitaly
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Paul Keith
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« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2011, 07:33:22 AM »

Not a fan of lists and I've been slowing itching away from outliners over the past months but here's an online outliner that on the surface seems to be like a cross between TiddlyWiki and Noteliner:

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxG9iJmWtM4" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxG9iJmWtM4</a>

It's gotten some hype too. The direct link shows some testimonials comparing it to the Dropbox of apps to a Techcrunch quote stating turn your entire life into a list.

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wraith808
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« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2011, 02:43:50 PM »

^ You might want to put a little blurb above whatever you have in the center of your two textblocks with the name of the site; Whatever you have between doesn't show up for me, so your post seems a bit lacking in details. smiley
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vitalyb
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« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2011, 02:55:04 PM »

I tried WorkFlowy and it is indeed nice... But not what I am looking for.
It doesn't have proper tasks, reminders, etc.
It is more of a note taking tool (and imo OneNote & Evernote are better at that)
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Paul Keith
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« Reply #4 on: September 13, 2011, 03:05:00 PM »

^ You might want to put a little blurb above whatever you have in the center of your two textblocks with the name of the site; Whatever you have between doesn't show up for me, so your post seems a bit lacking in details. smiley

Sorry. Come again?

I tried WorkFlowy and it is indeed nice... But not what I am looking for.
It doesn't have proper tasks, reminders, etc.
It is more of a note taking tool (and imo OneNote & Evernote are better at that)

Yeah. It is kind of hard to find a combination of all three. Android + Rich Text editing is really a killer.

By proper task do you mean a check box?

Wunderlist has both the check box and reminders down but while having a space for notes, it isn't a full blown notepad nor does it have rich text formatting.
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vitalyb
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« Reply #5 on: September 13, 2011, 03:07:41 PM »

By proper task management I mean the whole deal, recurring tasks, reminders, postponing, setting a task to be "next tuesday". Think remember the milk smiley

My hands are burning to do the whole myself, but I know this project is a bit too big for me right now Sad
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Paul Keith
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« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2011, 03:20:19 PM »

Full blown RTM is definitely hard to replicate. Outside of the two other similar site in Toodledo and Todoist ... I really have no idea. Sorry.
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Paul Keith
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« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2011, 03:28:44 PM »

Last suggestion: http://www.todolist.co/compare.html

I can't really vouch for this app and all the android apps seem to have one or two star commentors highlighting their problems but outside of rich text editing, this seems to have all the features you want. At least that's the sales pitch.
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wraith808
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« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2011, 03:29:27 PM »

^ You might want to put a little blurb above whatever you have in the center of your two textblocks with the name of the site; Whatever you have between doesn't show up for me, so your post seems a bit lacking in details. smiley

Sorry. Come again?

I see now it's a Youtube video (from the tags).  But youtube isn't always available.  Re-read your post without the video.  It's not really understandable, at least IMO from seeing it in that manner, so I was suggesting to maybe say the name of what you're referring to, as it's not specified in your post anywhere.
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Paul Keith
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« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2011, 03:33:45 PM »

Ahh I see. Actually Opera tends to white out the flash too and it still made sense to me from here but maybe it's because I wrote it so your post really confused me.

For those who can't quite understand the post, we're talking about Workflowy

Btw, these seems to be all of the popular Android productivity apps: http://mashable.com/2010/...ndroid-productivity-apps/

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steeladept
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« Reply #10 on: September 13, 2011, 07:10:52 PM »

If you add a GOOD Calendaring App to this, I am there looking as well.  The best I could find was Outlook, but I keep getting the Outlook database trashed for one thing or another.  I don't have Exchange services available, so that removes what EVERYONE says should make it easy, and kills Android connections.  Moreover, most other options either don't do all three or don't sync with mobile or both.  I don't want a web based solution either.  Give me a real app to access offline so I don't have to waste bandwidth looking up events, todo's etc., or just to create a new task, event, etc.  Let me know if you find ANYTHING at all that works for you! Thmbsup
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criss
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« Reply #11 on: September 14, 2011, 04:47:33 AM »

I was exactly looking for this.
With most of the task management solutions I have the problem that you cannot easily store enough project data within them (you bloat them somehow). With most of the note taking solutions I have problems to get the things done: no reminder, no metadata to get order in the many snippets.
The first kind of software I found that does both well was Taskmerlin www.taskmerlin.com (but I didn't like the used database: Microsoft Access Jet).
IMHO even better is Swift To-Do List www.dextronet.com/swift-to-do-list-software a very capable but very easy (natural) to use application. It seems not to have any bugs and has a very good databse backend (so you can get much data in it), very good export (your data is not locker) and with the new version also the option to put memos into the tree (like a 2pane notes outliner).
The notes I put in it in three ways:
- notes field of the task
- Memo in the task list tree
- attachment

At the moment they seem to beta test an online synchronisation and an web companion for phones: http://www.dextronet.com/...or-swift-to-do-list-sync/
« Last Edit: September 14, 2011, 04:54:56 AM by criss » Logged
urlwolf
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« Reply #12 on: September 14, 2011, 05:42:37 AM »

What I miss on swift todo and many others is a good 'rapid entry' box that I can call with a global shortcut. Only MLO does this, and not particularly well, I must say. But I learned it's crucial to separate collection and classification. Something that doesn't break my workflow is what I need...
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kfitting
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« Reply #13 on: September 14, 2011, 08:35:57 AM »

Quick comment, more from the philosophical side... one of the reasons why todo-esque software struggles so much is because the software is trying to model a hugely complex "organism."  Lists, charts, pictures, spreadsheets, timelines, etc are all awesome ways to present different types of data.  Many programs strive to model these disparete methods of presenting data and some do well in areas.  BUT, despite the huge number of note-taking, todo, etc software already out there people are always looking for something better.

Two thoughts on why this is the case:
1. Incredibly complex system to model
2. (Perhaps even more important) Everyone has their own way of doing things

Add to those two major principles: file format (proprietary vs not), OS choice, etc and you have a dizzying problem.  Just like "productivity systems" Complete Information Management solutions need to match the person that uses them (very hard, especially with more than one user), contain large amounts of data, AND relate that data.  I think this is why you have people preaching everything from simple text files to large all encompassing programs (which may as well be their own OS).

I'm not saying "dont try," and I'm not saying "my way is best."  Just bringing something up that I've noticed over the years I've been searching for the same kind of tool... and failing... time and time again.  I cant even model my own preferred way of doing things, let alone find a program that will do it for me!  Some of them help in some small ways, but I have not found one program.
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Paul Keith
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« Reply #14 on: September 14, 2011, 11:04:47 AM »

Quick comment, more from the philosophical side... one of the reasons why todo-esque software struggles so much is because the software is trying to model a hugely complex "organism."  Lists, charts, pictures, spreadsheets, timelines, etc are all awesome ways to present different types of data.  Many programs strive to model these disparete methods of presenting data and some do well in areas.  BUT, despite the huge number of note-taking, todo, etc software already out there people are always looking for something better.

Two thoughts on why this is the case:
1. Incredibly complex system to model
2. (Perhaps even more important) Everyone has their own way of doing things

Add to those two major principles: file format (proprietary vs not), OS choice, etc and you have a dizzying problem.  Just like "productivity systems" Complete Information Management solutions need to match the person that uses them (very hard, especially with more than one user), contain large amounts of data, AND relate that data.  I think this is why you have people preaching everything from simple text files to large all encompassing programs (which may as well be their own OS).

I'm not saying "dont try," and I'm not saying "my way is best."  Just bringing something up that I've noticed over the years I've been searching for the same kind of tool... and failing... time and time again.  I cant even model my own preferred way of doing things, let alone find a program that will do it for me!  Some of them help in some small ways, but I have not found one program.

As someone who's trying to write up a "productivity system" (i.e. it's not a software program or a method designed for one software), I think you're going at it from the wrong philosophical perspective.

Not saying that I found the absolute correct reply but look at this topic for example.

The OP is not asking for some super program but is simply asking for a RTM/Onenote/Evernote hybrid that can also work with his gadget. He might even be satisfied with RTM + rich text editing w/ outline support.

From a programming perspective that's not a conundrum of wanting something better. It's a conundrum based on the problematic dilemma that many "apps" may just be "apps" rather than full blown software w/ an extended problem that many apps are buggy or have only one design. For example, RemembertheMilk/Toodledo are almost near copies from a casual user perspective. As an analogy, Chrome/Firefox maybe even more different in features and feel than those two.

Yet this huge number of todos that you mention barely even scratch the entire feature list of both of these services. Only RTM currently mimics RTM fully. Only Toodledo currently mimics Toodledo fully.

On a separate note, most people looking for a super program are not looking for a super program. If they were, they would be willing to defy all manner of convenience and make an entire scientific career out of experimenting and drilling down the best apps. They don't. Some would have a mega-test file but that's the rare power user. The primary reason is because 99% of the people out there may be saying they want a super "1" program but in reality they are looking to settle themselves on something closer to an ordinary reliable hybrid storage program or an ordinary hybrid Word processor + spreadsheet + presentation + outliner program or an ordinary application with a personalized search engine.

From this perspective, there's really not a huge list of software out there offering even ordinary capabilities. I can count how many decent clippers there are for example and most people would just use Evernote. Some would cite Surfulator. The rest? You get some names that get far eventually like Springpad and other popular services like Clipmarks slowly die out from buzz comments but there's not a "hundred and one" clones you can cite for basic clippers.

Add the fact that one the biggest myth is that "Just like "productivity systems" Complete Information Management solutions need to match the person that uses them" (well it's not verbatim the biggest myth because I'm quoting your words) then you're talking about a situation much more layered than what you are portraying even if you're just simplifying why the search for a more powerful program goes on and on.

Go back right now and look at all the software that are out there. How many productivity systems have married with the concept of software features in such a widespread manner that you can say it's mainstream as far as software choices are concerned? I can only mention one productivity system that got this far: GTD. Yes, there are those rare "Do It Tomorrow" programs or some pomodoro timers but 99% of the time, only GTD has such a wide spread demand among software.

...so think about it. If neither productivity systems are often linked with software, then how can you say there's a real similarity there? You can only rely on the perceived obviousness of people needing a tool that matches their needs. A statement that can literally apply to anything. It doesn't really hint to the issue being people wanting their complex human needs to be packaged all into one software. It simply means that people have different tastes, more so now that we've come to expect programs to sync to multiple devices and mini operating system-like software.

But taste is neither the ultimate goal of productivity systems nor of CIM software. At least that's not how the advertising convinces consumers to acquire and use such concepts describe it as, be it systems or software. Productivity is supposed to be the goal. Some would say P = time management, others would equate it for a demand for a notetaker that doesn't interrupt their flow, others have found and settled in on a CIM except they discovered a new gadget that doesn't support their favored CIM.

To bring this all around to bullet point answers though, here are the key things my post is trying to say:

*Todo-esque software does not struggle because of complex models.

*People are not always out there looking for something better (this doesn't mean they aren't thinking that way but they are not approaching and doing their search that way)

*Many programs don't strive to model these disparate methods of presenting data. If anything the predecessors of these programs are the ones that etched and embed this idea that these are how data should be presented as being productive for you, the end-user.

*Most everyone don't have an individual enough way of doing things. This doesn't mean we aren't individuals but when someone is looking to apply GTD for example. They can say they are trying to apply the system in their own way all they want but really we're all demanding a sort of herd behaviour that states that what we want is an app with this squiggly rules that make us feel like we're using an app that supports GTD or an app that supports to-do lists or an app that supports reminding us via our preferred reminders.

*Most preachers are not preaching inconsistently. Most people preach because they want to feel like they are using a luxury service that is actually utilized by many people especially utilized in such a way where people use it because you or people like you "reminded" them enough times. (This doesn't apply to help threads like this but things like voting for the best apps are often that way.)

*The reason you can't model your way of doing things may not be because your life is complex. The reason is that self-help have over-simplified and lowered our own expectations of what model means. Look at the average model, 99% of the time, that model existed because someone spent their lifetime creating that model. How many authors of productivity systems or software developers can say they spend their entire lifetime creating a model without bs? Especially software developers who 99% of the time create clones not entire systems. Especially authors who sell over-simplified sets of ideas they call systems in order to better sell to the ADD crowd.

P.S. I apologize for the tl;dr post. Honestly I shouldn't have replied as I don't have any success stories/credible references to back up my own reply but lately I've been scouring the archives of productivity reddit and saw this plus I'm recently catching up on the Penn and Teller Bullshit episodes and I just recently watched the season 1 episode about self-help and kfitting's post just scratched an itch.
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kfitting
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« Reply #15 on: September 14, 2011, 02:25:19 PM »

No, not a tldr post... an itch of mine is that people dont argue intellignetly anymore on the internet, and I see your post as an intelligent argument!

I dont have really have a return argument.  As I have thought and struggled with this issue I personally am getting tired of it and also think that, for me,  there is plenty of life outside of it (I think you allude to this type of person in your post Wink I guess I'm one of those!). 

Sorry, cant (or wont) hold up my end of the argument to make it as worthwhile as it probably could be!  But keep going... I enjoy reading the research you've posted on DC in this area (since i'm getting tired of doing it myself!) and even when I disagree you give me things to think about.  So many different angles to consider things from!  Thanks Paul.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #16 on: September 14, 2011, 04:01:56 PM »

One thing I always wonder about with this kind of thing: is it better to try to have flexible software that adapts to the user (assuming they know what they want), or to have software that implements a really good way of doing things and have the user adapt to that? Very often I think the assumption is that doing it the way the user wants is a good thing, but some recent historical precedent has perhaps demonstrated otherwise (I'll get to that in a moment).

I think both are hard problems to solve, the first because trying to account for every possible way someone would want to do things is almost impossible and making those options all work well together is likewise almost impossible, and the second because actually coming up with one really good way to do things requires a lot of thought, experimentation, and intelligence. That being said I think the latter approach might be more likely to succeed.

I think of tools like Gmail that work in ways different from how most people worked, but then caught on and are now indespensible to many, which demonstrate this as a likely reality. The trick then is coming up with a system that "just works" for people to do everything they need to do in this area. Defining scope is difficult given the huge possible number of functions people want to be unified, but doing so is vital to success.

I'm currently looking at MLO and Springpad, both with Android integrations...

- Oshyan
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Paul Keith
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« Reply #17 on: September 15, 2011, 12:51:17 AM »

@kfitting, thanks for the reply. I'm just glad my post added something. I still haven't figured out how to reduce the length of my post and my lack of activity makes me  wary of whether I'm saying something that people here would want to read.

Gmail did work in a way that people wanted. People wanted a webmail service that did a better job of storing their e-mails and didn't make e-mail checking like a race towards not getting it deleted after a couple of months of inactivity.

The overall product was unorthodox but what made it catch on was neither flexibility nor quality. It was partially branding. It was partially that Google made the gmail account more and more into the first OpenID with hard to resist companion tools such as Google Docs and Google Reader. It was also because their competitors declined and constantly changed the interface of their own system in ways that alienated their users. It was even because there was a lot of continued hooks to it. Pre-Dropbox, it had the first casual online storage due to a Firefox extension. It arguably filtered spam better. It had a GTD-like mentality with Archiving which made some people even switch to it just to see how it's done.

That's a lot of active developments over time to build it's userbase. When you have that consistency, you're pretty much bound to dodge the question of what's the better concept. It's why the startup mentality is to release fast and to release early. Do that enough times and you end up with not so much a flexible software but a seemingly flexible software due to the development team becoming more flexible thanks to the feedback of their current user base. Follow that trail enough times and you get a better sense of doing things for your userbase that you are less required to develop something good and simply develop something that would wow your users that they think came from you but in reality came from their gathered up feedback.

This doesn't mean the question isn't important to answer but I think Gmail is just a poor example to use as far as setting up a clue as to which question is the right answer.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #18 on: September 15, 2011, 01:25:48 AM »

Gmail did work in a way that people wanted. People wanted a webmail service that did a better job of storing their e-mails and didn't make e-mail checking like a race towards not getting it deleted after a couple of months of inactivity.
Sure, just like how people want a task manager that keeps track of everything in their lives for them, prioritizes it automatically, and is easy and quick to use, not taking up noticeable time in their day just for task management. So yeah, Gmail worked in a way that people wanted when you consider it at a very high level, which is almost meaningless (but at least establishes the goals), but in terms of actual in-use functionality it was a somewhat radical departure, a gamble, and one that really worked. There has to be some lessons to learn there, don't you think?

The overall product was unorthodox but what made it catch on was neither flexibility nor quality. It was partially branding. It was partially that Google made the gmail account more and more into the first OpenID with hard to resist companion tools such as Google Docs and Google Reader.
I didn't say it was flexibility or quality, it was in fact a new way of organizing and finding mail. Most of additional, integrated services and "openID"-type authentication management came later. While Google had a good brand, many also saw them as solely a search company and wondered why they were doing mail, not to mention many were hesitant to use a "beta" product (that remained in beta for years).

There are indeed a couple of reasons that Gmail caught on that have nothing to do with its UI or how it handles mail (large amount of free space, ability to use POP and IMAP out of the box for free) *but* if the mail handling ideas and UI had not actually ended up being a good fit for most people, they would *not* have stuck with it, especially as competitors began to mirror Gmail's *other* main stand-out features (e.g. large free storage space). Gmail has only continued to grow in user numbers, despite best efforts by Microsoft, Yahoo, and others, who are now providing large(r) amounts of free space, as many or more integrated services (Windows Live has tons, as does Yahoo with the YID), etc. Why is that? I would argue it is in large part because Gmail "just works", it established a new way of doing things and because it actually was an improvement, people adapted to it and many love it. I've heard countless Gmail users say how much they love how Gmail works, not once have I heard that about Hotmail or Yahoo, and both work in traditional folder-oriented ways and have much slower, more limited search functions.

It was also because their competitors declined and constantly changed the interface of their own system in ways that alienated their users. It was even because there was a lot of continued hooks to it. Pre-Dropbox, it had the first casual online storage due to a Firefox extension. It arguably filtered spam better. It had a GTD-like mentality with Archiving which made some people even switch to it just to see how it's done.
Your last point is exactly mine: it did things differently. Sure there were lots of other smaller reasons, like the ability to use it as a "file locker", but the vast majority of users did not take advantage of that, probably weren't even aware of it. The UI is the one, glaring stand-out aspect of it that no one else duplicates and is, I believe, a big part of the reason for their success.

That's a lot of active developments over time to build it's userbase. When you have that consistency, you're pretty much bound to dodge the question of what's the better concept. It's why the startup mentality is to release fast and to release early. Do that enough times and you end up with not so much a flexible software but a seemingly flexible software due to the development team becoming more flexible thanks to the feedback of their current user base. Follow that trail enough times and you get a better sense of doing things for your userbase that you are less required to develop something good and simply develop something that would wow your users that they think came from you but in reality came from their gathered up feedback.
Hmm, and you think that's what happened with Gmail? Google wasn't doing anything with mail at all and suddenly Gmail came out of the blue with a totally different way of handling it. How does that fit into the picture you've painted of product development?

This doesn't mean the question isn't important to answer but I think Gmail is just a poor example to use as far as setting up a clue as to which question is the right answer.
And I very much disagree, and hopefully I've shown why. cheesy

- Oshyan
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Paul Keith
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« Reply #19 on: September 15, 2011, 02:55:44 AM »

Sure, just like how people want a task manager that keeps track of everything in their lives for them, prioritizes it automatically, and is easy and quick to use, not taking up noticeable time in their day just for task management. So yeah, Gmail worked in a way that people wanted when you consider it at a very high level, which is almost meaningless (but at least establishes the goals), but in terms of actual in-use functionality it was a somewhat radical departure, a gamble, and one that really worked. There has to be some lessons to learn there, don't you think?

I think from a philosophical perspective, everything has a lesson. The problem is, certain examples, may not be the best for discovering those lessons.

For example, not everyone uses task managers. Most people use e-mails.

Most people who use e-mails would want to use them for e-mails. Most people who use task managers may not want to use task managers to manage tasks. Maybe they want to feel more comfortable putting colored icons to prioritize their tasks. Maybe they are just desperate for something to randomly and omnipotently help schedule their tasks.

These issues aren't semantics for the questions you've raised. Especially since e-mail is a settled concept. It's goal is to ease up communication. Productivity on the other hand is up in the air. Everything from task management to prioritization is an open concept with no clear hard idea to separate the well placed reminders put in by productive users from ways random prioritization might help unproductive users who can't work well with dated reminders.

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I didn't say it was flexibility or quality, it was in fact a new way of organizing and finding mail. Most of additional, integrated services and "openID"-type authentication management came later. While Google had a good brand, many also saw them as solely a search company and wondered why they were doing mail, not to mention many were hesitant to use a "beta" product (that remained in beta for years).

Flexibility and quality here are just my way of shortening this: "is it better to try to have flexible software that adapts to the user (assuming they know what they want), or to have software that implements a really good way of doing things and have the user adapt to that?" - I just assumed it would be clear enough since the keywords are still there and it's just a modification on my part to make my posts shorter. I apologize for the confusion.

As far as Gmail goes, well that's the thing... it wasn't a one night success. It was a gradual process that's why there are as much criticisms as there are positives. Any type of gradual process destroys both the questions you've raised because the question assumes a more static scenario where as Google and it's end users were each playing a game of "should I/shouldn't I use this?".

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There are indeed a couple of reasons that Gmail caught on that have nothing to do with its UI or how it handles mail (large amount of free space, ability to use POP and IMAP out of the box for free) *but* if the mail handling ideas and UI had not actually ended up being a good fit for most people, they would *not* have stuck with it, especially as competitors began to mirror Gmail's *other* main stand-out features (e.g. large free storage space).

I doubt that. For one thing the competitors only tried to mainly fight back with larger storage when Gmail was not only providing enough but Gmail had evolved further and they were playing catch-up in such a way that they didn't consider the wants of their current users. I might have stuck out with Yahoo Mail for example since I prefer Yahoo's folders to labels and the archive thing still confuses me up till today but Yahoo went on to create a slower newer version of Yahoo that turned me off. Worse, there's no Yahoo Docs or Yahoo Reader for me to play around with. I also have to tolerate the newer Yahoo search design. Also at the time, Yahoo had the more annoying sign-up process. I forgot what it was but this was before Gmail required SMS verification.

As far as good fit for the people. Good fit is not just about "good way of doing things that people would adopt to". A bit of that involves modern capabilities. Had other webmail services provided straight up equal upgrades or there was no blogosphere that licked up everything Google and Twitter brings up, then using Gmail as an example for fit might be more valid. The problem is there was alot of external and internal factors manipulating that fit. Even a program that's a great fit for many users but has no Windows XP or 7 version and is stuck with win95 would slowly lose it's userbase.

Not only that, as Apple can attest, there are enough people running around when it comes to software. (Apple products never "just works" for me.) There are still people switching to something other than Gmail. There are just many users, who once they switched, aren't bothered to look at any alternatives unless Gmail starts becoming horrible.

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Gmail has only continued to grow in user numbers, despite best efforts by Microsoft, Yahoo, and others, who are now providing large(r) amounts of free space, as many or more integrated services (Windows Live has tons, as does Yahoo with the YID), etc. Why is that?

See, my last sentence above. Although obviously there's a lot more to the details that I don't know. If businesses discovered the straight up answer to this question, there would be no competition among businesses. Adoption is always a deeper subject and one that goes beyond the two questions you raised.

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I would argue it is in large part because Gmail "just works", it established a new way of doing things and because it actually was an improvement, people adapted to it and many love it. I've heard countless Gmail users say how much they love how Gmail works, not once have I heard that about Hotmail or Yahoo, and both work in traditional folder-oriented ways and have much slower, more limited search functions.

Well you're entitled to that opinion but Gmail didn't work for me earlier on. I know tons of people liked it but I know tons of Apple fans too and yet I'm not one of them.

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Your last point is exactly mine: it did things differently. Sure there were lots of other smaller reasons, like the ability to use it as a "file locker", but the vast majority of users did not take advantage of that, probably weren't even aware of it. The UI is the one, glaring stand-out aspect of it that no one else duplicates and is, I believe, a big part of the reason for their success.

As with the above, the ui really didn't do anything for me. Also there wasn't much of a choice other than Gmail then as Yahoo and Hotmail were either turning me off or were slow to adopt.

Plus the issue with these additional features are not so much for the current users as much as it further increased the curiosity for the product to the point that people just register for it, find they want Google Docs and are now too bored to switch to something that requires multiple accounts.

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Hmm, and you think that's what happened with Gmail? Google wasn't doing anything with mail at all and suddenly Gmail came out of the blue with a totally different way of handling it. How does that fit into the picture you've painted of product development?

I don't really know what exactly happened with Gmail. I mean if I knew, it would be much easier to create a Google model for business. I'm just simply talking about startups in general and aligning it with the two questions you've raised.

For one thing, at the time, Gmail didn't just come out of the blue for everyone. There was an invite model that was slowly building up hype. This was a time when I mostly ignored Gmail. Then there was a little of a buzz from people getting invites. Google was starting to be seen as a service that got products correctly due to their success with search. It was like the underdogs finally catching up to the man and showing them how many innovative things you can do to multiple "thought of as impenetrable" services. (and anyone who is familiar with major open source products knows how big "underdog" adoption can have)

I'm not a heavy e-mail user though and even prior to this I only know of Yahoo mail with some trials of hotmail and I particularly didn't care for webmail other than well..."it's e-mail, you have to have a service to send e-mails." and I mostly used e-mails to register for forums.

What made me really stick with it was that my account wouldn't get deleted due to inactivity. There really was nothing Gmail did on it's own that appealed to me. It was just like an annoying tick that "itches" everytime I whiffed up the buzz. (Thankfully I have outgrown that w/ things like Windows 7)
 
As more Google related news started appearing, it just became a matter of annoyance to be constantly bombarded by news without knowing what it is. What eventually made me stick with Gmail though was due to Google Reader. Google Docs was also not a bad word processor as I hated installing MS Office until OneNote. (although sadly the Ribbon has invaded things by then) I'm not the target demographics though but just saying in terms of the questions you've raised, Gmail didn't suddenly answer it so it's a poor example. Interface is another tricky thing to nail down. If you're wowed or many of your friends are there or you found the product first and it works well enough, it could seem unfathomable that it wasn't as great a concept as you thought it was.

I apologize if many of my counter points appear to be looking down on your own impressions. I know less than anyone here but from the outside looking in, I'm just sharing my impression as to why Gmail appears off as an example based on my own experiences and my observation of how software gets adopted. Gmail to me is like using Evernote to try to clue in on both questions. It would fail simply because Evernote didn't just grow "more powerful". Instead Evernote "degraded" and "alienated" it's users in order to get the wider adoption. An adoption that was below being a flexible software and below implementing a good way. An adoption that was propelled by emerging technologies like cloud syncing and for Gmail, webmail stabilization. (No more wondering if I should delete this e-mail, no more worrying if I can leave this account inactive and lose my contacts, no more secret payed jargon like POP, one account that logs me into different services.)

Edit:

Ok, I'm reading something basic about Game Design so maybe a shorter way to illustrate this would be to compare the Mechanics-Dynamics and Aesthetics in relation to the two questions JavaJones raised as well as how it goes with e-mails.

I don't really know game design so I'm just throwing up words based on my own interpretation.

Gmail:
-Mechanics: e-mail (makes users adopt)
-Dynamics: e-mail w/ search, e-mail that lasts long, webmail (doesn't make user adopt)
-Aesthetics: labels, themes, filters, stars (flexible - allows users to adopt)

Task managers:
-Mechanics: Unresolved (productivity enhancing? task speed-up? bulk organization? scheduler?)
-Dynamics: Unresolved (life coaching connector? check box to cocaine simulator? colored priority addictiveness? to-do print template? Leave it at your home software but don't worry about it's content during office hours suite?)
-Aesthetics: Lists, graphs, etc. (good way of doing things that make users adopt except when freeform is allowed)

The 1st is a settled concept. (Users don't have to calculate their needs between using webmail and Outlook)

The 2nd needs to still be separated with freeform vs. non-freeform variations.
« Last Edit: September 15, 2011, 03:23:30 AM by Paul Keith » Logged

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urlwolf
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« Reply #20 on: September 15, 2011, 04:29:22 AM »

I guess what we are discussing here is: is the human race unable to produce a task manager they like?
Facts:
  • The todo list app category is bigger than all other categories together, with new entrants daily.
  • Mostly everyone I know has huge problems to use a todo list app beyond the first week. They don't stick to it. People find txt files or even paper superior.

Why does the situation sucks so much? Why do I have to spend hours every now and then checking to see if anyone has made a tool for this that is half good?

/rant off
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« Reply #21 on: September 15, 2011, 06:31:52 AM »

I disagree with the statement that this is what we're discussing but as far as why the situation sucks?

I think that's easier to answer. It sucks because to do lists are an unnatural way of doing things. Most people who ever need a massive lists of items under their to-do lists are not only often part of corporate settings, they are often part of group settings where they are not responsible for a perfect active to-do list.

To compound this problem, most productivity guides who rely on to-do lists are written in a way to sell, not to help. In addition to this, most quality to-do lists are much more complicated but many rely on simpler designs. The supply for this is so bad that a productivity system based on Outlook can gain vast positive reviews.

Of course all this is trying to encompass a general concept of why the situation suck. In this thread for example, I would assume the OP finds the situation problematic simply because many to-do lists shy away from rich text editing and not many applications are cross-gadget.
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JavaJones
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« Reply #22 on: September 15, 2011, 03:05:38 PM »

Paul, it sounds like a lot of your argument is driven by your own personal experiences with Gmail (while you argue from a more generalist perspective, the actual points you're making exactly mirror how you describe your personal experience). To me the simple fact that you kept using Gmail "despite" not being into its UI and mail organization metaphor means it is *at least* not so bad you had to switch, and does enough other things right to be worth keeping. In the end adoption is a (though not *the*) critical measure. Granted in a situation like with Gmail there are many factors affecting adoption, but many that you point out only became relevant later in its life, or were - I think - secondary to its core functionality and appeal. I maintain that if the underlying mail handling metaphor were unworkable for people, they would leave.

So I still feel strongly that Gmail is a good example of what I'm talking about and nothing you've brought up really makes me think otherwise. You don't need to use Gmail to have a Google Account and use Docs for example, but you chose to for some reason. I'm not up to going point-by-point on your arguments at the moment, but for just one more example, you say something like " in terms of the questions you've raised, Gmail didn't suddenly answer it so it's a poor example", when in fact it absolutely did. Gmail started from day 1 with a novel approach to organizing mail. *That* is the point I'm getting at - they came up with a new idea and put it out there and it's hard in my view to argue that their mail organizing system did not at least contribute to Gmail's success. Yes, it was invite only for a long time (nearly 3 years), but anyone who started using it obviously had no investment in it beyond initial novelty; the fact that many continued to use it says something. You almost seem to be arguing its success was *in spite* of its biggest stand-out feature. That just seems like a willful desire to avoid seeing labels-and-search as the breakthrough it was for email at the time, simply (I gather) because you personally don't like it.

I think MLO is an example of someone trying to do something differently in the task management space, so maybe more directly relevant here. Maybe there are other examples. Rather than trying to tear down my Gmail example, why not come up with some better ones? You seem to be open to the idea that novel approaches to task management that enforce rules on a user *may* in fact be better than highly flexible systems that give no direction. So let's focus on that.

- Oshyan
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Paul Keith
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« Reply #23 on: September 15, 2011, 03:45:51 PM »

Quote from: JavaJones
(while you argue from a more generalist perspective, the actual points you're making exactly mirror how you describe your personal experience)

It's impossible to avoid this. After all, it is one of the issues you're raising and counter-raising. Does Gmail fit your premise?

To avoid personal experiences would be to insult your counter-points. After all, had my non-personal views been enough, you wouldn't have also countered with your personal views of how Gmail just works. Once it's gotten to that level, part of respecting your viewpoints is to also share my more personal experiences especially since I've already raised the more general points prior to your counter-points.

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To me the simple fact that you kept using Gmail "despite" not being into its UI and mail organization metaphor means it is *at least* not so bad you had to switch, and does enough other things right to be worth keeping.

...and this is why personal details are necessary sometimes. This is one example of an impression I wanted to avoid and there's no debunking this unless personal experiences are brought up.

If it wasn't clear in my previous post, I didn't continue to use Gmail. Maybe I should have been clearer and said I opted for Yahoo after trialing gmail just like I tried hotmail. Gmail though had several aspects that would later bring me back. Most of that is not due to the interface but things like Google Reader.

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Granted in a situation like with Gmail there are many factors affecting adoption, but many that you point out only became relevant later in its life, or were - I think - secondary to its core functionality and appeal. I maintain that if the underlying mail handling metaphor were unworkable for people, they would leave.

...and this is once again why it was important to share personal experiences. To avoid directions like this.

Not only that, a good fit is different from whether something is unworkable for people or not. It goes back to the mechanics-dynamics issue. Of course any product should get the mechanics down and that means it should work for many people. It doesn't mean they would consider it a great fit though.

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So I still feel strongly that Gmail is a good example of what I'm talking about and nothing you've brought up really makes me think otherwise.

As I tend to say, you are entitled to your opinion. I just brought up my points to highlight where I disagree. I'm often one of the worst at communicating those points but I mostly share my observations and if I notice a flaw I bring it up.

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You don't need to use Gmail to have a Google Account and use Docs for example, but you chose to for some reason.

err... I kind of did because everyone needs webmail unless they know how to work things like Outlook or have a company e-mail that they have to use.

Especially back then when a Twitter or Facebook account can't be used to register to new services.

Not only that, Gmail today has prioritized inboxes and with the death of Syphir which has become TaskForceApp - that's kind of the only service that exists out there that auto-organizes incoming e-mails somewhat.

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ou say something like " in terms of the questions you've raised, Gmail didn't suddenly answer it so it's a poor example", when in fact it absolutely did. Gmail started from day 1 with a novel approach to organizing mail. *That* is the point I'm getting at - they came up with a new idea and put it out there and it's hard in my view to argue that their mail organizing system did not at least contribute to Gmail's success.

In order for this to be valid, it would have to assume a static scenario. A single incident like say Dropbox where once it was released and people found out about it, if they liked it, they used it.

This doesn't mean Dropbox wasn't also a gradual process but see Dropbox as a concept is closer to a static scenario which applies somewhat correctly to the philosophical nature of your first two questions.

On the other hand, Gmail simply isn't. Maybe the tech crowd pushed for that impression because of all the buzz but that's like saying Firefox suddenly appeared one day. It didn't.

Firefox was Phoenix first and even though for many middle adopters it may seem like it came from nowhere, fact is - both to early adopters and later adopters they would know that it was a gradual easing up on using Firefox. Be it from the popularity of open source or from an Adblock extension, Firefox didn't became a one night success.

Gmail is the same. It may not have a name change but like FB, it was incubating itself within closed invite-only beta.

Remember you weren't originally arguing for Gmail's newness as an idea.

This was the questions you were raising:

One thing I always wonder about with this kind of thing: is it better to try to have flexible software that adapts to the user (assuming they know what they want), or to have software that implements a really good way of doing things and have the user adapt to that?

You can't suddenly go from the above and suddenly switch it to an argument of whether Gmail is a good or bad gamble. Both of our points replying to the above quoted subject would lose it's context if it were applied this way.

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You almost seem to be arguing its success was *in spite* of its biggest stand-out feature.

I'm not. For one thing, we were not originally discussing Gmail's success. Why would I then shift topics? I'm only adding to your impression of Gmail with my own impression, observation and experiences. Not because I'm arguing for anything about Gmail but simply to expand on what I early felt about how Gmail might be a poor example.

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That just seems like a willful desire to avoid seeing labels-and-search as the breakthrough it was for email at the time, simply (I gather) because you personally don't like it.

Sorry, you lost me. Why would I avoid seeing labels and search as the breakthrough it was? More importantly, why would I even bring this point up? It has only mildly to do with this:

One thing I always wonder about with this kind of thing: is it better to try to have flexible software that adapts to the user (assuming they know what they want), or to have software that implements a really good way of doing things and have the user adapt to that?

...more importantly it would go against the context of my post as to how I feel Gmail is a poor example.

To address something even in willfully desiring to avoid it would be to admit that Gmail is a good example.

Not only that, it's simply a stance I never took in this thread.

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Rather than trying to tear down my Gmail example, why not come up with some better ones?

For mainly two things:

1) This isn't the main topic of the thread so I'm keeping it light.

2) I still did brought up some counter-analogies though I didn't expand on it due to point 1.

3) Because I wasn't trying to tear down your Gmail example, just merely pointing out some basic observable flaw from my perspective. If by simply doing this could be interpreted as tearing down your example, imagine how you would react if I claim "my example is better. Discuss this! Discuss this!".

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You seem to be open to the idea that novel approaches to task management that enforce rules on a user *may* in fact be better than highly flexible systems that give no direction. So let's focus on that.

I would if I was a developer or if I felt the conversation could lead me to improving a system.

I just don't think the premise can lead to anything. For one thing, this isn't the main topic of the thread so it's borderline thread hijacking to discuss it here.

The second is that, as I know more about programming (not the howto, but the process and the ideal), the more I realize how important implementation is. Sure, from time to time, I would chime in with what I observe as seemingly clear flaws that aren't brought up but my main goal is to produce something helpful. Not to win over my point.

This 2nd point also happens to coincide with the core question of productivity. We have people doing mostly to-do apps because they have felt that the argument was won a long time ago. Sure the question can be re-raised but fundamentally it's not just important to raise a better example, it's important to be able to produce a better example. Ones that would legitimately push people away from the conceptual into the actual. Kinda like how Gmail's appearance, while not sudden, made many adopters (especially casual ones who can't develop an e-mail prototype) forget what their preferred e-mail design is and simply switched to the more mature product especially as the alternatives are few and far between and Gmail constantly grew. Not literally forget but mentally act like they forget and that this was the service and design they want to adopt for near eternity...unless the service starts sucking or an alternative totally blows the service out of the water with a new but also implemented, rather than conceptual, idea.

Just to lay it much more clearly and succinctly, I don't really have a problem with conceptual discussions. After all I am participating in this conversation. I just feel that if I were to sink further into this conversation, I should be able to contribute more into the actual goal of producing a better system or software. I currently can't and a big reason why I can't is that the conceptual discussion if went down further would eventually lead to a need for providing an example and I'm not the most charismatic at getting my coding requests to be done for me so we could verify which are the good sounding examples and which are the truly good examples.

« Last Edit: September 15, 2011, 03:56:46 PM by Paul Keith » Logged

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JavaJones
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« Reply #24 on: September 15, 2011, 04:31:40 PM »

I'm sorry, I really don't get your arguments. They seem all over the map.

Dropbox was invite-only to start as well. I don't see the distinction from Gmail.

When I said "is it better to try to have flexible software that adapts to the user (assuming they know what they want), or to have software that implements a really good way of doing things and have the user adapt to that?", it was implied in my mind - though I now realize not stated clearly enough - that we needed a *new* "really good way of doing things", and Gmail then is a perfect example of that to me. I still maintain that a large part of its success was the fact that it did things totally differently from other systems, and this is based not just on my own experience and opinions but those of many, many people, both personal acquaintances and online, from average people to techies. Many, many people say similar things, something like "I used to worry about carefully filing all my mail into folders, how to deal with something that belonged in multiple folders, etc. Now I just use Gmail, labeling things when it makes sense, and using search for the rest. I find stuff way faster just by remembering a few things about it." So Google had a good idea (IMO) and also a new idea and that, combined with a clever way of marketing it and making it available, made it successful. It has continued to be successful built largely on the solid base of its unique mail organization metaphor.

I guess reading your reply(ies) in full, maybe you just misunderstood my original argument. If that's the case, maybe you don't disagree with me at all. Or, if you do, I really can't understand it. Wink So that being the case I still think we should just drop the Gmail discussion and look for other examples so we can discuss the original question! I think the lengthy tangent on whether Gmail is a good example is much more thread drift than addressing my question which, while philosophical and not directly on topic of the original post, could still lead to relevant info and answers. I personally feel that we have a better chance of finding real solutions if we first figure out whether we're looking for something to adapt to our desired ways of working, or are instead willing to adapt to a theoretically better way of working that is embodied in a particular tool. I am saying that I think the latter *may* be more realistic...

- Oshyan
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