Finally I had a breakthrough. I found the new way of looking at productivity software I'd been searching for.
Like many of you, I've spent years trying to find a suitable piece of “note-taking” software. There are some established apps and I've really wanted to like them. But each and every one of them failed for me. I always went back to using plain text files instead. There's a popular saying that you should write the book you want to read. Having redefined how to-do apps should work with a previous product, it was clear that I had to work on the solution myself.
Start by focusing deeply on small information snippets. This meant taking the effort to determine what the smallest meaningful pieces of personal information are.
Easier said than done. I called it the “Sea of Information” project. I felt that cosmetic changes to existing approaches wouldn't be enough. I was looking for something more radical. Immersing myself in studies on information management, I stumbled across a research paper that finally gave me the critical idea: start by focusing deeply on small information snippets. This meant taking the effort to determine what the smallest meaningful pieces of personal information are — knowledge items, as we've come to know them. Then create a way to enter lots of these items quickly without making users manage them manually. There was still a long way to go, but I knew that once I had the core of this new idea, everything else would crystalize around it.
I was lucky to be able to assemble a small but incredibly dedicated team. This blog is a way for us to tell our story and, of course, to present the results of our work. More importantly, this blog is also an open invitation to join us on our adventure.
Working on Kards, we haven't just created a new productivity app. We've created a set of new technologies to support the creation of productivity apps. In my previous life as the creator of the Things to-do list app there was one thing I was most frustrated with: the speed at which the app was evolving. This was by no means the fault of the team, but rather the traditional approach to this kind of software. You either throw a lot of money at the problem, or you need to get creative. With Kards we try to do the latter. The idea is to spend more time upfront to be able to act more agile later on.
Working on Kards, we haven't just created a new productivity app. We've created a set of new technologies to support the creation of productivity apps.
Here is a quick overview of the critical technologies we developed.
- Natural language processing. We are using natural language processing for input. This saves us the design and implementation of traditional user interface elements and makes Kards more general than it would have otherwise been.
- Knowledge representation. Instead of an off-the-shelf database we use a knowledge representation system (KRS). A KRS adapts to different types of information without any further programming. While such systems have been deployed on big iron server farms, to the best of our knowledge, nobody seems to have attempted to create a version suitable for use in a personal productivity app.
- New interface metaphors. We also invented new interface metaphors which are flexible enough to support the general nature of the underlying technologies. But even better still, they work in tandem with a custom designed template language, which allows us to quickly adapt Kards to new use cases.
In future blog posts I will be going into more detail, explaining the kind of problem we are trying to solve, the dilemma with current productivity tools and how this dilemma came to be. I am also going to talk about principles for a new category of software and which specific features make Kards an example of this new category.
I have talked to many people about productivity and it became quite clear that I am not the only person dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Alan Kay (one of the founding fathers of object oriented programming) said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. And that is exactly what we are trying do to. Will Kards be the future of productivity? Who knows. But it is time to take risks and start dreaming again.Table of Contents