Personalized personal information management systems

Don Marti quotes an e-mail from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer:

The productivity software we have today is designed for
everyone, but it doesn’t really map to the specific kinds of jobs
people have.

Sophisticated, feature-packed personal information managers are out
there, but most people use a fraction of the functionality, or even
throw their hands up in despair and stick with e-mail as their
task-manager and calendar all in one. We’re moving towards
simplification. 37signals.com‘s big win
is that they make web-based task managers that are simple enough to do
just what people want and not more.

I think that the biggest win in terms of personal information
management comes when we customize software to the kind of data people
work with—and more importantly, the _way_ they work with that data.
The ultracustomizable
Planner showed
me that even something as small as task sort order could be incredibly
individualized. For example, today I tried sorting my tasks by role
and then by my usual stuff. Other times I’ve sorted it by combinations
of categories. Other people have written code to sort it by importance
and urgency, following Dr. Stephen Covey’s suggestions, and yet others
sort by more sophisticated rules. All of that from something that
traditional PIMs would limit to predefined table headings like “Due
date” or “Category”!

How would this kind of tailoring scale? Boxed software products aim to
satisfy the majority and make their profits on economies of scale.
Customized software takes advantage of the economies of niches, of the
long tail effect of the Web.

When it comes to Planner, I don’t mind spending time writing code for
just one person. Chances are, other people will find that code useful
too. Besides, most tweaks are created and shared by the community, and
that’s ubercool. I learn _so_ much from them, and I’m grateful for the
opportunity to help tailor Planner to become _their_ personal
information manager.

Looking at all the Web 2.0 stuff coming out, I think that kind of
customization is going to be even more important. User-centered design
is front and center. Users take an active role in shaping the features
of an application. Software is turning into a conversation.

That’s cool.