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Quote:
Originally Posted by omniinmo View Post
I don't think I'm advocating an overexpressive form of complexity here but I feel I can see cases where it's difficult to avoid without having to jump through hoops uselessly. What if you have to setup a meeting with, let say, 7 individuals (7 invariants since they are all required to attend), what do you do? Do you create 7 actionable items, one per invariant or do you create one actionable item referencing 7 invariants. For simplicity's sake, I would have a tendency to want to create 1 actionable item with 7 invariants because it otherwise seems like overkill, to me, to create 7 action items if all you need to do is to ultimately create one email to 7 names to then have to check off 7 action items rather than 1.

Then, from any direction across the 7 invariants, I'm able to reconstruct knowledge about who else needs to be at the meeting if I need to remember who all needs to attend the meeting rather than having disjointed actionable items. I'm not saying there's no way to make this work but I am saying that adding expressive power can simplify task creation quite a bit while increasing the available wealth of information.

omniinmo
Your example, again, makes no sense. If you want a meeting with 7 people, you schedule the meeting; you'll have to schedule with each person and find a time (hey, a CALENDARING SYSTEM would work great here!).

It's simply not realistic to have your "7 invariants" and to say "Hey.... hmmm... Bob's here, Mary's here, Dooku is here, Fred's here, Lakeisha is here, Algonquin is here, and Anastasia is here... let's check off all these "invariants," and see if there's anything I could be doing right now. HEY, WE'RE SUPPOSED TO HAVE A MEETING! PEOPLE, LET'S MEET!"
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by omniinmo View Post
For simplicity's sake, I would have a tendency to want to create 1 actionable item with 7 invariants because it otherwise seems like overkill, to me, to create 7 action items if all you need to do is to ultimately create one email to 7 names to then have to check off 7 action items rather than 1.
I'm not sure I understand. If the action is to send one email to 7 people, then the context for the action is simply "Email" and the task title or notes would presumably list those 7 people.

I don't see how multiple contexts would help here.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Case View Post
I'm not sure I understand. If the action is to send one email to 7 people, then the context for the action is simply "Email" and the task title or notes would presumably list those 7 people.

I don't see how multiple contexts would help here.
I understand and agree that the data can be classified under "Email" just as I agree that organisms can be phenotypically classified or classified by genetic proximity; any organization is possible. I'm merely saying that contextual richness is lost and can't be rederived easily ACROSS potential organizations if only a single context is allowed.

I'm not arguing that you can't make it work with a single context, that would be equivalent to arguing that hierarchies can't be used to organize data, but I am saying that, and I think that other proponents of the multi context notion will agree, it is useful to add richness to actionable items, within reasonable limits, for search/filtering purposes and to be more in line with the way humans recall/think about information.

In other words, the non-selected contexts are obfuscated by the chosen one (other contexts which, from a human standpoint, provide useful information to recall and think about related contexts).

Another way to think about this:

Carving a statue out of a marble block robs the artist of other potential statues he could have carved with the same marble block. I contend that my artist would like to be able to overlap carved statues he likes to see in the same marble block so that he doesn't feel robbed too much of the marble block's potential.

Regards
omniinmo

Last edited by omniinmo; 2009-07-31 at 07:10 PM..
 
While I feel like I'm talking to a philosophy professor or something.

Did you play Scrabble a lot as a child? Way too many triple letter scores for an Internet forum.

Not taking the piss, just injecting a little levity ;-)
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by omniinmo View Post
In other words, the non-selected contexts are obfuscated by the chosen one (other contexts which, from a human standpoint, provide useful information to recall and think about related contexts).
I thought that was the point. By focusing on one, you hide the others. OF might not be the software you are looking for.
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by CatOne View Post
While I feel like I'm talking to a philosophy professor or something.
Doh! That's not good :).

Quote:
Originally Posted by CatOne View Post
Did you play Scrabble a lot as a child? Way too many triple letter scores for an Internet forum.

Not taking the piss, just injecting a little levity ;-)
I'm afraid I have a tendency to want to describe my ideas precisely. I'll use slang and obscene language from now on ;0P.

omniinmo
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lucas View Post
I thought that was the point. By focusing on one, you hide the others. OF might not be the software you are looking for.
I think you get me wrong here. OmniFocus is fantastic ;0)

omniinmo
 
omniinmo,

Thanks for breathing some fresh insights into the conversation. I'm happy to read something besides "me too" on the subject. (BTW, I wasn't guessing philosophy professor. I was guessing that you might be a fellow Computer Science professor, perhaps one studying semantic web issues.)

I think its useful to separate your idea of associating actions with multiple identifiers (park, exercise, dog) from the idea of "contexts". A context has a very specific meaning in the GTD parlance and in OF, so using that term brings in lots of ideas about how contexts should work in a GTD system. OF strives to be both a GTD system and more flexible than just a GTD system. Using a term besides contexts helps to separate the issues. You've objected to the term "tags", so I'm going to call your proposal "semantically meaningful identifiers", or SMIs.

Logically, SMIs are at least as expressive as the current implementation of contexts in OF. This is because we could implement OF's contexts using SMIs. Just associate a unique SMI with each context in the context hierarchy. An action in a particular context would get the SMI for that context, plus the SMI for every parent context up the hierarchy. For example, my "Call Tree Service" action might get the "Phone" SMI and the "Phone:BusinessHours" SMI. Viewing a single context in the current implementation would be accomplished by showing all actions with the corresponding SMI. Viewing several contexts in the current implementation would be accomplished by showing actions that have at least one of the corresponding SMIs.

But there's more. SMIs are strictly more expressive than the current implementation of contexts. Actions could be assigned multiple SMIs unrelated hierarchically. For example, I could have separate groups of SMIs corresponding to different people, different places, or different times of day. Views in a SMI-based system could use boolean combinations of SMIs, like (Alice AND Bob AND Carol) OR StaffMeeting.

So, if SMIs have so much going for them, why not dump contexts and just use SMIs? A few possible reasons come to mind:
  • Consistently and accurately assigning SMIs to every item is a daunting task. Tagging works for very large data sets, like Flickr, where an infinite number of monkeys are assigning tags and approximate results are sufficient. (Our brains also return approximate search results.) However, when the goal is to show the complete set of actions that could be done at the moment, much greater accuracy and consistency is needed when assigning the SMIs. This makes capturing actions and organizing them a more costly endeavor.

    Bringing GTD back into the discussion for a moment, the Mind Like Water state comes from having everything in a trusted system. If the system instead replicates our brain's capacity for storing lots of stuff but providing approximate search results, then we're back to having incomplete actions and projects intruding on our consciousness.

    Of course, this argument against SMIs is mostly just a straw horse. One doesn't have to create a complex system of SMIs. So, it really comes down to whether the system should guide users or give them all the rope they need to hang themselves. In this case, I'd argue that OF is already in the rope dispensing business. Massive power and a steeper learning curve seems to be OF's niche.

  • Could we get there from here? Substantial portions of the OF architecture seem to be designed around having a single context for each item. (Think quick entry, context mode, context column in planning mode, group by context, and context navigation on the iPhone, just to name a few areas.) Would the additional benefits of SMIs be sufficient to justify the redesign required to replace contexts with SMIs?

    Leaving contexts as is (as are?) and treating SMIs as additional meta-data works around these issues to some extent, but still requires substantial UI and database work on both the Mac and iPhone applications. It sounds like the Omnicians are working on this. I can imagine how this might look on the Mac. Clean querying of meta-data on the iPhone is going to require some innovative UI design. I look forward to seeing the results. (And never mind the computational complexity of querying set-based fields as opposed to singletons.)

  • While philosophically fascinating, are the additional benefits of SMIs practically compelling? Many of the people arguing against multiple contexts on this thread are arguing this point. It's hard for me to say without doing the experiment, but then I'm not paying (much of) the developers salaries. I do know that I mostly gave up on complex tagging in Mail, but I still use three tags there (Personal, Work, and Quicken) and often assign multiple tags to a single message.

  • And finally, SMI is a really dumb name, but I'm sure the Marketing Weasels could come up with something better. Perhaps "tag" or "context". ;-)

(Sorry for the post length. I really should start that blog I've been thinking about.)
__________________
Cheers,

Curt
 
Very nice post, Curt. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it over breakfast this morning. :-)

-Dennis
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
omniinmo,

Thanks for breathing some fresh insights into the conversation. I'm happy to read something besides "me too" on the subject. (BTW, I wasn't guessing philosophy professor. I was guessing that you might be a fellow Computer Science professor, perhaps one studying semantic web issues.)
Glad to be able to provide a different perspective :). On the other hand, I would like to dispel the impromptu professorship attribution. I'm merely a verbose enthusiast. Analyst by trade in the software industry business but, not a professor. I certainly wouldn't mind spending all my time reading and studying but my life took a different turn. Teaching isn't entirely ruled out though; maybe in a few decades ;). On the other hand, semantic web issues are always interesting to me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
I think its useful to separate your idea of associating actions with multiple identifiers (park, exercise, dog) from the idea of "contexts". A context has a very specific meaning in the GTD parlance and in OF, so using that term brings in lots of ideas about how contexts should work in a GTD system. OF strives to be both a GTD system and more flexible than just a GTD system. Using a term besides contexts helps to separate the issues. You've objected to the term "tags", so I'm going to call your proposal "semantically meaningful identifiers", or SMIs.
A good start. SMIs will provide a good platform to more forward :). My objection to "tags" was partially arbitrary in that I haven't followed the discussions pertaining to them. In any case, "tags" or "contexts" are a means of implementing the core idea of associating semantic information to *something* and the current "context" implementation under OF seems to be a prime candidate for expansion under the richer SMI coupe.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
Logically, SMIs are at least as expressive as the current implementation of contexts in OF. This is because we could implement OF's contexts using SMIs. Just associate a unique SMI with each context in the context hierarchy.
Agreed with the below mentioned caveat.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
An action in a particular context would get the SMI for that context, plus the SMI for every parent context up the hierarchy.
I beleive I understand what you're exposing but I perceive a slight hitch in that the current implementation of "contexts" under OF seems to be a superset of SMIs (SMIs + Non-SMIs). So I think that we could generalize the superset to be that of Semantic Identifiers (SI). The reason why I make the distinction is that it is very possible, under the current implementation of OF contexts to have hierarchies of non meaningful semantic information as well; although useless to human beings who would generally have no use for it since sane individuals try their very best to attribute meaning to their hierarchical constructs. I will plug a potential avenue for discussion disaster by saying that one could probably argue that all constructions can be considered meaningful given a particular context (not an OF context but a context in the generic sense) but I think that this would take us down an arduous path. Back to the main point.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
For example, my "Call Tree Service" action might get the "Phone" SMI and the "Phone:BusinessHours" SMI. Viewing a single context in the current implementation would be accomplished by showing all actions with the corresponding SMI. Viewing several contexts in the current implementation would be accomplished by showing actions that have at least one of the corresponding SMIs.
Agreed.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
But there's more. SMIs are strictly more expressive than the current implementation of contexts.
I perceive something slightly different, see comment regarding SI above.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
Actions could be assigned multiple SMIs unrelated hierarchically. For example, I could have separate groups of SMIs corresponding to different people, different places, or different times of day. Views in a SMI-based system could use boolean combinations of SMIs, like (Alice AND Bob AND Carol) OR StaffMeeting.
Absolutely.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
So, if SMIs have so much going for them, why not dump contexts and just use SMIs? A few possible reasons come to mind:
  • Consistently and accurately assigning SMIs to every item is a daunting task. Tagging works for very large data sets, like Flickr, where an infinite number of monkeys are assigning tags and approximate results are sufficient. (Our brains also return approximate search results.) However, when the goal is to show the complete set of actions that could be done at the moment, much greater accuracy and consistency is needed when assigning the SMIs. This makes capturing actions and organizing them a more costly endeavor.
I would generally disagree here. I would not necessarily encourage the systematic or excessive use of SMI*s* in all cases. One can always overdo anything. Too much cake or no cake at all can lead to disgruntlement :).

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
  • Bringing GTD back into the discussion for a moment, the Mind Like Water state comes from having everything in a trusted system. If the system instead replicates our brain's capacity for storing lots of stuff but providing approximate search results, then we're back to having incomplete actions and projects intruding on our consciousness.

    Of course, this argument against SMIs is mostly just a straw horse. One doesn't have to create a complex system of SMIs. So, it really comes down to whether the system should guide users or give them all the rope they need to hang themselves. In this case, I'd argue that OF is already in the rope dispensing business. Massive power and a steeper learning curve seems to be OF's niche.
Bingo.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
  • Could we get there from here? Substantial portions of the OF architecture seem to be designed around having a single context for each item. (Think quick entry, context mode, context column in planning mode, group by context, and context navigation on the iPhone, just to name a few areas.) Would the additional benefits of SMIs be sufficient to justify the redesign required to replace contexts with SMIs?
As mentioned earlier, I really think that contexts are an implementation of "SIs" rather than "SMIs", but that aside, I do understand that a lot of thought would have to be placed into a redesign using the more flexible concept. In the end though, I beleive that the ensuing expressive power and extreme semantic flexibility would be most welcome by many.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
  • Leaving contexts as is (as are?) and treating SMIs as additional meta-data works around these issues to some extent, but still requires substantial UI and database work on both the Mac and iPhone applications. It sounds like the Omnicians are working on this. I can imagine how this might look on the Mac. Clean querying of meta-data on the iPhone is going to require some innovative UI design. I look forward to seeing the results. (And never mind the computational complexity of querying set-based fields as opposed to singletons.)
It would also provide more flexibility in the direction we are discussing but I have a tendency to think, from a puritanical standpoint, that the design would feel less integrated if SIs were implemented separately from OF contexts which seem, to me, to be the ideal candidate for a makeover.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
  • While philosophically fascinating, are the additional benefits of SMIs practically compelling? Many of the people arguing against multiple contexts on this thread are arguing this point. It's hard for me to say without doing the experiment, but then I'm not paying (much of) the developers salaries. I do know that I mostly gave up on complex tagging in Mail, but I still use three tags there (Personal, Work, and Quicken) and often assign multiple tags to a single message.
Without excess, I beleive that the feature is undoubtedly very useful and powerful. Interestingly, I also think that given that anybody would be able to assign secondary or tertiary, etc., meaning, more efficient systems could potentially be devised where a lacuna seems to exist in the software. Think of it as a dream-catcher. One such example is the @Waiting context and leaving action items where they are but "flagging" them as "waiting" without having to displace them from their current contextual tangle. See How do I use "Waiting For" or "@waiting"?.

Quote:
Originally Posted by curt.clifton View Post
*snip*
Regards
omniinmo

Last edited by omniinmo; 2009-08-02 at 09:45 AM..
 
 


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