Tools and services for PIM

This is more of a link dump, but PIM is one of my favourite areas, and a lot of questions that I have explored came up in class today. I thought my fellow students would find these applications, technologies, and concepts interesting. These are all things that I use or have used at one point.

Rescue Time — for passive recording of on-computer activity (active application, with tagging/productivity scoring)
Cluztr — tracking (and publishing) all web pages visited
Attention Recorder — tracking all web pages visited
IPTC tagging — I’d call this one of the most underused technologies for PIM. Various apps available, add-ons for iPhoto, ACDSee, etc. Keep your descriptions, captions, photographer, tags, etc WITH your photos, so they are on your local copy and also added when you upload to flickr (only caveat is that they’re lost on edit).
Google Desktop — index/search of email, chat logs, web visits, etc across multiple computers
ScheduleWorld — an OpenML/Funambol service to synchronize calendar/to-do/contacts across multiple devices/people/apps
Wakoopa — tracking software usage
PhoneTag — voicemail-to-text transcription
EarthClassMail — have all your snail mail go to a central location and get it scanned online for you
RingCentral — virtual PBX to centralize and easily access phone numbers/voice mail anywhere

Also, it’s helpful to use a network attached storage drive, IMAP for email, SVN for file versioning, a scanner that does good one-touch OTR scanning of documents…

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Tags and Control

There has been an inrush of information on how humans deal with feeling a loss of control over the past few weeks, and how the internet has a positive (or negative) effect on our experience of chaotic times. This article from the New York Times postulates that, while people’s tendency is to seek out more and more information in troubled times (and that need is more than handily satisfied by the internet), it actually leads to more anxiety as one tries to keep up with the endless tide. The article follows on the heels of a study that relates feelings of one’s life being in chaos and the adoption of superstition and conspiracy theories.
So what does this have to do with tagging? In the past 8 years, there’s been a huge increase in the importance of internet news and user-generated content, along with the invention of tagging as we know it today and other Web 2.0 technologies. This explosion of content and information consumption coincides with and is to some extent driven by a society concerned with the ever-changing state of war and economic downturn.
I submit that tagging in praticular has become ubiquitous because tagging allows people to exercise control over their own content, and, even better, other people’s content. So much content now exists that the concept of having personal control is particularly attractive, rather than conforming to categories imposed by an outside source.
In terms of an externalized benefit to society, I agree that good machine tags are probably more useful, but I think it’s particularly true that human-generated tags are far more psychologically important to individual humans.

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Gnip: Grand Central Station for the Social Web


GNIP is an intermediary service for interchanging data among different Web2.0 APIs without actually pulling content from the source on every transaction. By acting as both an interchange and a intermediary storage location, the service improves latency, decreases polling, and appears to be working to standardize metadata between the services. According to RWW, “It’s about scalability” and “it sounds like a great idea.”

While I’ll confess to not being fully versed in the backend magic, I can definitely see value in a system that acts as a blackbox and does transforms between non-standard implementations. This seems especially beneficial considering the speed with which new producers/consumers companies are emerging on the scene.

GNIP’s technology allows “data consumers can get complete public data streams for Twitter, Digg, Delicious, Six Apart and others without ever visiting those sites or accessing their individual APIs, subject only to the terms of service of those services. And this data can be gathered via a REST-based API or the newly launched XMPP support.”

A nice bonus is that the service is free for all non-commercial users and commercial users who are “tracking more than 10,000 people and/or rules for a certain data provider”.

Articles @ RWW and Techcrunch

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Information R/evolution

I came across this very interesting short film by Michael Wesch titled Information R/evolution. Information R/evolution reflects Wesch’s views on information management isssues – everything from its creation and categorization, to presentation and retrieval. It shows that as information becomes increasingly digital, our assumptions about its traditional characteristics are no longer valid. The web has fundamentally changed the way we create, manage and use information and so, there is a need for us to “rethink information beyond material constraints.” The video draws on Weinberger and is optimistic about Web 2.0 as it allows knowledge and information to not only be free, but also be miscellaneous.

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Employee Social Networking

A Case Study in Employee Social Networking at Sabre

With the explosive popularity of social networking sites in the last few years, business analysts have been scrambling to find a way to incorporate employee networking into their companies. The task of improving efficiency of communication and building corporate culture for large companies with thousands of employees stretched across the world might be best achieved with these emerging platforms.

In “A Case Study in Employee Social Networking at Sabre” Toby Ward, Founder and CEO of Prescient Digital Media, documents some of the impacts a strong employee social network has made on the airline reservation company Sabre. He notes that while email is still the dominant application for company communication, more value can be delivered when a single employee can communicate “both actively and passively” to all connected employees. Users of “SabreTown”, Sabre’s employee networking platform allows for most of the features any social network platform does: employee profiles, photo sharing, blogs, comments, etc.

SabreTown and other platforms might just be more than another excuse to ride the Web 2.0 and social networking wave. As users complete their profile; write, comment on and edit blogs; ask and answer questions, the platform engine compiles and categorizes relevant information in order to improve employee search and helps “members find the right people with the right answers.” Sounds a lot like Google’s quest to display the exact result the user wants at the number one spot by collecting as much data about the user as possible.

Somewhat obvious is that these emerging platforms will become increasingly useful in industrial and public service domains. When I was teaching, I had my students complete MySpace profiles for characters from Romeo and Juliet. They had to fill out their profile according the specific details of each character as well as comment and send messages to other characters. As oft-nebulous Shakespeare characters began to have personalities they could relate to, my students became more engaged and enjoyed reading the play much more.


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An Army of Ones and Zeroes

“An Army of Ones and Zeroes: How I became a soldier in the Georgia-Russia cyberwar.” by Evgeny Morozov via

As it stands, no one can really dispute that the last decade has brought significant changes to our societal definitions of warfare. Most obvious among these changes is the shift from the nation-to-nation principals of the Clausewitzian era to a new 21st century battlefield of non-state actors and Radio Shack enhanced IT tactics. Meanwhile, our military schools and strategists redefine their tactics and goals as they struggle to keep up.

In Morozov’s journalistic experiment, the author channels Matthew Broderick’s cheekiness from “Wargames” while signing on to act as a cyber-soldier against Georgia in its recent military face-off with Putin’s Russia. Experimenting with simple page-reload scripts and DOS attacks, Morozov describes his exploits against Georgian government information sites using widely available, pre-built tools that made joining the ranks so easy that he was left with “concerns about the number of child soldiers who may just find it too fun and accessible to resist.”

Given that warring countries have always had very different “calls-to-arms” for their citizen militias, I wonder how technologically sophisticated societies will harness the power of their citizens in information warfare over the next decade. While it’s somewhat hard to imagine the United States asking its general population to militarize their home computers for an information assault on China, it’s not unrealistic to envision a war between the Korean states or between China and Taiwan being fought in-part by thousands of teenage, or even elderly patriots recruited and trained in advanced cyber-warfare using an advanced social network that uses internal feedback systems such as quests, rankings, and rewards to promote its soldiers . Warfare 2.0 FTW. Kinda scary.

What struck me about this article is that given the expanding toolkit of tracking and surveillance hardware installed throughout this country, Morozov mentions nothing about nation vs. civilian reprisals. If Georgia discovers you are attacking its infrastructure, how can it strike back? Is this perhaps why he didn’t choose to attack the Russians despite his statement that his “geopolitical sympathies…lie with Moscow’s counterparts.”

I think it is valid to make correlations between this article and concepts discussed by Vannevar Bush and “Operation Clean Data.” When your information is centralized, is it not also weakened from a security standpoint? How are government information systems designed to provide data unification, internal transparency, redundancy, modularization, and useability all at the same time? How do cyber-warfare techniques exploit these systems with automation and retrieval? Surely these issues are being weighed by information and security experts to anticipate the many changes in the future of information warfare.


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Lines and Bubbles and Bars, Oh My!

New York Times, Aug. 30, 2008

Many Eyes is a web service much like YouTube and Flickr, only instead of being able to share and tag photos, users can create, share, and tag visualizations of data. The tools used to generate graphical displays of data organization range from text clouds highlighting words most frequently used in a document or speech to creating more traditional circle and bar graphs, but the coolest part is how users are able to discuss the data and representation of the data in comments and how they can post their data representations to their own blogs or websites.

The part that struck me most in the article was the example of how a discussion in the comments lead to the data in question being represented in a different way, thereby leading to a slightly different conclusion.

Relevant lectures: Classification; Documents and Data Models… and Modeling; Social/Distributed Categorization

And as a bonus link incorporating cool data visualization: Debunking myths about the “Third World”

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Mozilla Ubiquity

Mozilla Ubiquity is a new Firefox extension which adds a command-line interface to Firefox–for instance, you can email the current page by bringing up the command line and typing ’email this to Joe’, insert Google maps in emails without leaving the page, and eventually hopefully ‘post this page to i202 blog with tags mashups, web 2.0, integration, folksonomy’. New commands can be developed by anyone and subscribed to as you see fit. I think it’s compelling in the same way as Launchy—it’s fast and it enables you to work with basically any web service from any page without using the mouse. I’m also interested in natural-language search, which Ubiquity uses. Basically, their goal is to allow information retrieval with verbs, not nouns.

Class session: 21. Search Models and UI for IR

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