personal information managers (108)

Sun, 23 Apr 89 20:27:42 EDT

Humanist Mailing List, Vol. 2, No. 877. Sunday, 23 Apr 1989.

(1) Date: Sun, 23 Apr 89 17:26 EST (26 lines)
Subject: pim

(2) Date: 23 April 1989 (59 lines)
From: Willard McCarty <>
Subject: personal information managers

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sun, 23 Apr 89 17:26 EST
Subject: pim

I am writing a review essay for Journal of Interdisciplinary
History on Personal Information Managers, and would appreciate
hearing from anyone who has some experience or comments. PIMs are
a new class of software, invented in the last years. They enable
ordinary users to keep track of lots of data. For example, the
humanist who takes notes on a PC will, after a while, have
hundreds of files. One who uses the new library computer
resources--electronic card catalogs and CD-ROM indexes, to
download bibliographies and abstracts--will discover the volume of
material soon escalates. The data base managers, like dBASE, are
designed for highly structured information. For the quantifiers,
the information may include spreadsheets, SPSS files, and all
sorts of things that don't look like text. The PIMS variously
include hard disk searches, indexing, outlining, unstructured data
base manager and editor. Some of the more powerful word
processors include some PIM features. NOTA BENE, for example,
includes FYI3000, an indexing program. Word Perfect has a
rudimentary word search routine.

The PIMs I have seen include Grandview and PC-Outline, Instant
Recall (shareware--still alive?), Agenda and Magellan from Lotus,
IZE, AskSam, and Gofer. Are there others of interest?
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: 23 April 1989
From: Willard McCarty <>
Subject: personal information managers

Personal information management systems happen to be a preoccupation of
mine, although I cannot claim to have investigated all such systems.
I'll summarize here what I do know in the hopes that someone else who
knows more -- and better yet, who has a clearer vision of what they
should be like -- will respond.

Flat-file database programs are a kind of PIM but are really far too
primitive to be considered, unless the objective is to find something
that can be used somehow without any development work getting in the
way. I am thinking, for example, of Notebook II, AskSam, and the like.
These and some others like them are good in kind, but they are based on
a grossly inadequate model of what scholars do with information. Anyone
doubting this should compare what he or she actually does when
conducting research to what the program in question will allow to be
done. I have no doubt that programs such as Notebook are useful; my
claim is that they are far from adequate.

Likely the best thing commonly accessible is HyperCard. Although I know
nothing about the history of its development, I am familiar with a
system that would appear to be its original: NoteCards. To my mind,
NoteCards is by far the best PIM so far, but hardly anyone knows about
it because it was developed at Xerox-PARC for Xerox workstations and has
only recently been ported to something halfway accessible, i.e., Suns.
(The company that has done the porting is Envos Corp., which is now in
serious financial trouble, so the future of NoteCards may be in doubt.)
NoteCards is a brilliant piece of work, although its design is not
completely satisfactory, at least not to me. Anyone interested in PIMs
should spend some time with NoteCards, for there is no use reinventing
what Randy Trigg, Thomas Moran, and Frank Halasz have already done so

HyperCard, having been (as it were) shrunk to such a small compass, is
not nearly as exciting, but it is better that such a thing should have
been released to the world than kept back for want of improvement. A
local graduate student here, Geoffrey Rockwell, has done some
interesting work with HyperCard to make a decent prototype of a
PIM. I hope Geoffrey, who is a Humanist, will discuss his work briefly
in response to this note.

(Geoffrey's program, BIB, will be exhibited at our software fair here in
June, and there is a very good chance that NoteCards will be also. In
addition, there may be other such programs demonstrated at the fair.
NoteCards is described at length in The Humanities Computing Yearbook
1988, pp. 364f.)

I have given papers on the subject of PIMs, most recently at the ALLC
conference in Jerusalem. After the conference and fair this June, when I
will have more time, I would be happy to discuss such software in detail
with anyone interested. Development of an adequate PIM for PCs is a big
project, but it is not impossible, and potentially thousands of scholars
would benefit. Again, think of what mechanical operations you perform
when you do research, and imagine what a computer could do to help you
collect, record, and arrange your notes -- in whatever languages you may

Willard McCarty