Software over the rainbow

desearch and revelopment

Mess Up, Dig for Context, Scatter… and Find Your Stuff

So I bit the bullet and have just opened a tumblr account. I’ve been somehow reluctant to try just another service (despite passionate, reliable recommendations). The way I use delicious (keeping an annotated track of interesting stuff) is pretty similar to what I could get using tumblr, so why should I add another tool?

The main point for storing things (es) is retrieving them. Common sense dictates that to find your things easily (and I’m rather obsessed with that), you should keep similar things in the same place, so the use of multiple services to keep track of similar information might seem counterproductive.

I have the tentative feeling that this is not so:

The richness of our homes results from our influence over their every characteristics and their accumulation of the traces of our activities. This richness is missing from our digital dwellings (by which I mean file systems, application windows, blogs, and mobile phones as well as the virtual locations in online worlds that more closely mimic physical homes).

Exploring personal digital archives for non-functional purposes.
David A. Mellis.

One of the things I’ve learned to love about storing bookmarks in delicious is to forget about being organised at all. Taking advantage of idiosincracies related to personal experience, jokes, fuzzy relationships, ongoing thoughts etc. in titles descriptions and tags helps me find my information more easily. It adds the rich trace of my activities that software usually lacks.

Then, using different services adds, I believe, an additional layer of context. Episodic memory is characterized by having a unique context associated with a learning episode. The context of storing a bit of information is both physical (at work, at home…) and digital (where it comes from, where you store it…). Adding variety at this level might help a bit. You’ll save it in a slightly different way, and to a different place, for a peculiar reason. The little thoughts that you have when deciding to store it in either place will also be part of its context.

So my experimental feeling is that a reasonable amount (it’s not necessary to become francis bacon) of scattering could inject some healthy variety to our experience of digital information, giving us a richer context in which to manage our own data. To put it Mellis words again, we might be making our storage less efficient, but we’d be improving our memory of it.

And after all, the honorable 2.0 tradition of giving outer access to personal data makes scattering a simple problem of aggregation. You can always centralize your traces.

Let’s see how it goes.