Shift Happened - Part 2: Small Apps Loosely Joined

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What are Small Apps Loosely Joined?

There has been a large shift in how many people work today and part of that is in the tools that they use to get work done. This shift in work patterns mirrors the shift that many had in their personal lives around social interactions and productivity.

Late one night many years ago (long before the iPhone), a group of us were talking about web and mobile and opportunities to work in a variety of similar tools that were all interconnected. The mash-up culture was a year or two behind us with Paul Radamacher’s first map mashup HousingMaps and the salient understanding that surfaced from that was the ability to have different interfaces for different needs and uses that could work as a workflow, or even similar interfaces for different personal needs of the users. We talked about Twitter and its heavy reliance on third-party developers to build web and mobile apps and services on top of its services and the Twitter API (the application programming interface, which is a standard data and interaction layer that sits behind the scenes bring data back and forth between the service). This approach allowed anybody to build an interface for seeing and interacting with Twitter or create an interface that provided greater ease of use for tasks. With tongue in-cheek (paraphrasing David Weinberger’s “Small Pieces Loosely Joined”), I said this model was small apps loosely joined.

What joined these apps together was a common data layer that fits a standard data model (or, as is common in APIs, a data model that self describes). The Twitter model allowed people to interact with the service through a mobile app with full functionality of the Twitter site, or to see many different Twitter lists in something like TweetDeck, or monitor and respond through different accounts in something like HootSuite, while tracking follows and drops in other monitoring services.

This same idea is more prevalent now across our mobile devices and the apps and services that they connect to and use. Not only are today’s mobile apps and services interacting with the APIs on the internet, but they are working with standard file formats on the backend and apps that meet the needs of users’ context and workflows. Some of the common app and service types that people have been shifting to the small apps loosely joined model are: Calendar, email, photos, text / documents, and to do lists / reminders (a closer look at these follows).

Who is Doing This?

The small apps loosely joined concept is nothing new in the technical geek and productivity nerd community (as part of both tribes, i use the words geek and nerd lovingly), as well as for early adopters. These uses and patterns with small apps loosely joined started surfacing around ten years on the web and mobile devices, all interconnected to the internet.

We understand innovation and broad adoption can take quite some time, roughly 10 years for innovations and new ideas to take hold broadly. We are about 10 years into this way of working and interacting with information and applications, so it was not exactly a surprise to hear research (done in-house to better understand the mobile market) that 60 to 70 percent of military members and their families surveyed use more than one app for a task types. They used calendars, email, and weather as examples. I checked with others who do surveys of employees inside organizations if they were looking at the question and found that they were. Their responses were also in the 60 to 70 percent range for calendar, to do, and text apps on mobile devices.

So, while this small app loosely joined focus and obsession within technology and productivity communities has been more than a decade old, it is something that is now rather mainstream. Over the last five years or so, when I am traveling or in a dank gym for club basketball, I often ask people next to me what apps and services they like the most on the mobile devices that is in their hand. Their answers often surface apps related to tasks and workflows for a data type (calendar, document, etc.) and the person would qualify how and in which circumstances they use it. Quite often, the app did one or two things really well that others didn’t cover or did not do well in their perspective.

Why are People doing this?

There are a lot of reasons why people started embracing small apps loosely joined. The primary driver has been mobility and looking for small mobile or tablet apps that do a specific, needed task. Mobile and tablet uses often have quite different contexts for use, including a mix of creation and consumption, but the affordances and agency in these apps is a driver too. Having applications work across platforms is helpful, but it is more essential to have open file formats and standards that work with apps that can pick up the file and provide use on another device with the constraints and augmented capability mobile and tablets provide.

There are additional relevant benefits of the file formats and standards working across devices. The ability to easily share files with others with whom you are working or communicating is a great benefit, as the platform doesn’t matter, just the ability to grab an app (often inexpensive and sometimes free) to read and modify the file is key. Being able to easily share files leads to always having needed files accessible, as they can be kept of an internet directory (the kids, okay grown-ups, call this cloud storage).

The last benefit that is driving people to the world of small apps loosely joined is the value of non-proprietary files, which isn’t as hippy and give-it-to-the-man as it sounds–it’s really about ensuring that the files will work on any device with an application that handles that type of object. Having to keep two or three versions of the same software around so one can work across file differences, or open files in a different version of the software so it can be saved down into an older version, is silliness we can leave in the inefficient old days. Many of the file structures that are based on around text, including calendars, can be opened in any text application and read and edited there.

Where are People Doing This?

Most people (particularly outside the geeks) started down this path when smartphones and the modern class of tablets entered their lives. They looked for ways to replicate how they worked on laptops and desktops, but often the same apps weren’t there and they had to improvise. Word of mouth also spread ideas and options for getting things done. But, often people go exploring small, focused apps that are inexpensive or free to see what they do. The small targeted apps, often in the “does one thing well” class of app or small app that is does a few things simply and easily, have filled made it easy to try quite a few different apps to find something that works. People often find a few apps that fit into a workflow that targets a few small tasks to get things done while standing in line, stuck in traffic, or sitting at your desk waiting for one’s computer to finish updating and reboot.

As a result, often people find that this small focused app model helps them do the things they need to do, and it can be more efficient than digging around large cumbersome software. Often this can be more efficient as the person is not digging around large cumbersome software. Once this becomes a habit or a way of working on mobile, the expectation is that it should also work on the desktop / laptop as well. People look for similar apps and services that fit their more efficient workflows that started on their “devices that are too small and limited to do any real work on” and want that same type of focussed application where they “do their real work”.

This change is also being driven by more than just shifts in devices–people are trying apps and services in their personal life to help manage their schedules or work simultaneously with club or event organizers crafting an email or newsletter. Our personal lives used to trail our work lives as far as technology and services
augmenting what we do, but now what we’re doing in our personal lives has greatly surpassed the capabilities of many of our work offerings.

The Types of Apps that Often Fit the Bill

The starting place for many people who try a variety of apps on their mobile and tablet devices are weather, text, and calendar. We don’t modify weather apps as they are mostly just a display of provided content, but there are much variety among the offerings, such as <give a good, standard example> and DarkSky, which offers micro-location weather with how many minutes until precipitation starts or stops.

Text apps

Text apps is where many start seeing the concept and value of small apps loosely joined. People want something more than just simple notes application to jot ideas and sync them to other devices. They want to be able to read and do a little editing of text that they or others started writing on their “work” devices, all while standing in line or during other available moments that permeate our day. Soon this “little bit of editing” seems like it isn’t all that bad to do and they start picking up things they started writing elsewhere and knock out more on their mobile device or tablet. Or, they have an idea when they are not near their “work” device and start jotting a few notes in a text app, and soon it has turned into a couple or few paragraphs. The accessibility and convenience of these capabilities has switched on a lightbulb. Talking and comparing notes with friends and colleagues, they find there are apps that are not just simple text, but can add annotations for structure (headers and outlines), hooks for style (bold and italics), and more. This often leads to learning that some apps have more robust writing tools (dictionary, thesaurus, writing analytics, etc.). Those who write with a workflow of first getting ideas out of their head and then working with them to hone them are often most prone to the small apps loosely joined way of doing things. But, others also like the ease of just getting words and ideas out in one app, then editing elsewhere by just opening another app and grabbing the same text file from a cloud sync service or sharing between apps directly. These text apps, particularly when those that are markdown friendly, can take that initial text and turn it into a styled PDF, a Word doc, HTML to post, RTF (rich text format), or more.

Calendar apps

Calendars are another gateway drug, er application type, that leads to embracing the small apps loosely joined way of doing things. The calendar files are a set file type that is easy to move from app to app (except when working across platforms that have proprietary hooks that break compatibility). Smartphones and tables all come with calendar apps, but they rarely fit the full range of needs. Some people want a calendar to have a certain look or layout format that helps them see and evaluate their day, and there is an abundance of options on all platforms for visual display. But, the real gems are the small apps that shine with certain tasks like Fantastical does on Apple products with its natural language parsing that turns spoken words into an almost always bang-on calendar entry.

Other calendar apps start adding other intelligence and agency (applications doing things on our behalf to ease our work). Donna (rest her digital soul) was a favorite of mine for evaluating time between events and different modes of transport and calculating time to leave based on weather and traffic conditions (and if you were really stuck in a jam, it offered to help you get Uber). Donna was a gem for the space between meetings, but was an incredible help with coordinating kid pick-up and leave times related to their various events. Other apps that are helpful agents are Tempo (it came out of the same SRI lab as Siri), which is one of the fullest featured and most helpful calendar apps around. Tempo monitors your mail not only for events, but pulls the relevant emails, documents, location and contact information, and relevant transportation needs into one simple calendar entry–and all you had to do was place it on your calendar or say yes to an event invite. Tempo offers the ability to send an “I’m running late” notification to those with whom you are meeting, as well as the expected arrival time.

One the the interesting things about calendars in the small apps loosely joined set is that most of these class of apps do something else–they augment and clean-up the calendar entry. Say I open Tempo and it doesn’t recognize the location that is in the calendar entry - say it only has Ray’s Pizza in NYC (oh, you too have gone down this crazy path of meeting somebody at Ray’s Pizza in NYC only to later realize (not soon enough) that there are more than one and nearly a billion permutations of Ray’s, Ray’s Original, Original Ray’s, etc.)… so Tempo offers suggestions to sort out the exact location and then enters the address in the calendar file’s location field. Bingo! We have clarity, but not only does your calendar have clarity within Tempo, but in all other calendar apps that read that event file. Not only does Tempo do this, but other apps may also do this. We learn quickly the apps that don’t play well with others and hoard the clean up information (Mynd app has done this in the past, but it seems to be more friendly after its last update). Additionally, some apps give you the option as to which mapping and directions app you would like the calendar to open when you are actually on your way.

Email apps

One of the things that mobile and tablets reinforce is how painful email is in our lives (on both the work and personal sides). Being able to live in email and work with it easily in some managed way from a mobile device or tablet is critical. The small apps loosely joined concept really takes hold with email for many people. Some tools work as easy, light triage, such as Mailbox, to quickly filter through your email based on importance and time-relative needs. Also, some tools that manage attachments in email (or, more appropriately, files that would have been attachments, such as Hightail (formerly YouSendIt), which stores files and documents for your email to link to securely. The only requirement for most of the email apps is the email account must run on IMAP, which is pretty much the norm these days.

Photo apps

The quality of photos has improved drastically on many mobile devices and even tablets. This along with the adage, “the best camera is the one you have with you” (and most people always have their phone with them), has led to the reality that a lot of photos get taken on mobile devices and tablets. The photos are a common file type and there is an abundance of apps that can take a photo and modify it to improve its quality, add filters to change the look, add text, or turn into something that looks a lot like a watercolor painting. The photos can also be scanned and OCRed, as well as uploaded as a document and later searchable (as many do in Evernote.

Standards and Access

The key to many of the apps loosely joined use types mentioned (and the many not covered here) is that the files passed among apps follow a set or ad hoc standard. Text files that use Markdown (or Multi-Markdown that extends the capabilities to add footnote, tables, and more) are all human readable, but also any text app can read them and edit them. The file sizes are small, which is incredibly important for mobile devices and tablets in limited mobile bandwidth locations (be that Manhattan at 5:15 on any weekday or the outer suburbs of Accra).

Access to the files is the other important characteristic of small apps loosely joined. Working between apps may not require internet access, but working between devices that are not in bluetooth range, or sharing files to collaborate requires data access (most often through the internet). Small file size, which those of us working with mobile a long time know is still an essential for actually getting things done reliably.

Common Use Traits

These apps have a core set of functionality that stem from the capabilities of:

  • Viewing
  • Creating
  • Honing
  • Agency
  • Features / functionality augmentation

Viewing is a common characteristic of all the apps, but the ability to create is where the real difference in these apps start to have real value for people using these apps and working in a small apps loosely joined workflow. The small apps can also provide the ability to hone what has been done in another app or on another device. This honing may be editing or adding data or an element to improve use. Agents that look out for us and do work we would be having to do is quite helpful, particularly when they are getting to the near bulletproof reliability some are approaching these days. The features and functionality augmentation in apps really helps when working with light apps that are focused and easy to use. Adding grammar checks and tools that can improve our work or creations, much like we would at a laptop or desktop, have shifted many people to this small apps loosely joined life.

App Traits

There are a few core traits in these apps. First off, as mentioned, they work on open document types that are are commonly used as actual or de facto standards.

Another trait is the apps are light (a few features and functionality sets), focus on simplicity, and are easy to use. Mobile devices do not have the screen space for complicated or complex interfaces, and, in reality, given where and how these devices are used, the user’s full attention is not on the app or device. Good mobile and tablet designers and developers understand this limitation very well and understand just how far they can push the limited human constraints that come into play when interacting with the apps.

The last related trait is that the apps are focused. When listening to how people use and interact with their devices and apps, it is interesting how they understand and parse functionality that fits their needs across apps. With calendaring, some people love Fanstastical’s UI for display of the day’s and upcoming events, while other people love how easy it is to input information and create events from a chunk of copied, typed, or spoken text (and getting it right). It was interesting talking with other Donna calendar app users as many of us would open Donna to get just travel-related information and / or honing the address, then close it and open another calendar app for its different functionality. The apps do a few certain things really well and those that live in the small apps loosely joined workflow are quite fine with that.


The small apps loosely joined workflow and expectation has moved from mobile devices to the laptop / desktop world. The small apps that were just on mobile devices are showing up on the more fully powered devices. The output created from these apps have supporting services on the web that can augment this practice much further. Many who work in small apps loosely joined have learned to like the focused task and mindfulness of that targeted approach–they get things done far more efficiently and are more productive more of the time, and, as a result, they can often get more uninterrupted time to focus on living life beyond devices and apps. The goal going in was just to get things done on the device I have with me, but it is not a bad benefit for those whom value it.

Shift Happened Series

Closing Delicious? Lessons to be Learned

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,

There was a kerfuffle a couple weeks back around Delicious when the social bookmarking service Delicious was marked for end of life by Yahoo, which caused a rather large number I know to go rather nuts. Yahoo, has made the claim that they are not shutting the service down, which only seems like a stall tactic, but perhaps they may actually sell it (many accounts from former Yahoo and Delicious teams have pointed out the difficulties in that, as it was ported to Yahoo’s own services and with their own peculiarities).


Never the less, this brings-up an important point: Redundancy. One lesson I learned many years ago related to the web (heck, related to any thing digital) is it will fail at some point. Cloud based services are not immune and the network connection to those services is often even more problematic. But, one of the tenants of the Personal InfoCloud is it is where you keep your information across trusted services and devices so you have continual and easy access to that information. Part of ensuring that continual access is ensuring redundancy and backing up. Optimally the redundancy or back-up is a usable service that permits ease of continuing use if one resource is not reachable (those sunny days where there's not a cloud to be seen). Performing regular back-ups of your blog posts and other places you post information is valuable. Another option is a central aggregation point (these are long dreamt of and yet to be really implemented well, this is a long brewing interest with many potential resources and conversations).

With regard to Delicious I’ve used redundant services and manually or automatically fed them. I was doing this with Ma.gnol.ia as it was (in part) my redundant social bookmarking service, but I also really liked a lot of its features and functionality (there were great social interaction design elements that were deployed there that were quite brilliant and made the service a real gem). I also used Diigo for a short while, but too many things there drove me crazy and continually broke. A few months back I started using Pinboard, as the private reincarnation of Ma.gnol.ia shut down. I have also used ZooTool, which has more of a visual design community (the community that self-aggregates to a service is an important characteristic to take into account after the viability of the service).

Pinboard has been a real gem as it uses the commonly implemented Delicious API (version 1) as its core API, which means most tools and services built on top of Delicious can be relatively easily ported over with just a change to the URL for source. This was similar for Ma.gnol.ia and other services. But, Pinboard also will continually pull in Delicious postings, so works very well for redundancy sake.

There are some things I quite like about Pinboard (some things I don’t and will get to them) such as the easy integration from Instapaper (anything you star in Instapaper gets sucked into your Pinboard). Pinboard has a rather good mobile web interface (something I loved about Ma.gnol.ia too). Pinboard was started by co-founders of Delicious and so has solid depth of understanding. Pinboard is also a pay service (based on an incremental one time fee and full archive of pages bookmarked (saves a copy of pages), which is great for its longevity as it has some sort of business model (I don’t have faith in the “underpants - something - profit” model) and it works brilliantly for keeping out spammer (another pain point for me with Diigo).

My biggest nit with Pinboard is the space delimited tag terms, which means multi-word tag terms (San Francisco, recent discovery, etc.) are not possible (use of non-alphabetic word delimiters (like underscores, hyphens, and dots) are a really problematic for clarity, easy aggregation with out scripting to disambiguate and assemble relevant related terms, and lack of mainstream user understanding). The lack of easily seeing who is following my shared items, so to find others to potentially follow is something from Delicious I miss.

For now I am still feeding Delicious as my primary source, which is naturally pulled into Pinboard with no extra effort (as it should be with many things), but I'm already looking for a redundancy for Pinboard given the questionable state of Delicious.

The Value of Delicious

Another thing that surfaced with the Delicious end of life (non-official) announcement from Yahoo was the incredible value it has across the web. Not only do people use it and deeply rely on it for storing, contextualizing links/bookmarks with tags and annotations, refinding their own aggregation, and sharing this out easily for others, but use Delicious in a wide variety of different ways. People use Delicious to surface relevant information of interest related to their affinities or work needs, as it is easy to get a feed for not only a person, a tag, but also a person and tag pairing. The immediate responses that sounded serious alarm with news of Delicious demise were those that had built valuable services on top of Delicious. There were many stories about well known publications and services not only programmatically aggregating potentially relevant and tangential information for research in ad hoc and relatively real time, but also sharing out of links for others. Some use Delicious to easily build “related information” resources for their web publications and offerings. One example is emoted by Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb wonderfully describing their reliance on Delicious

It was clear very quickly that Yahoo is sitting on a real backbone of many things on the web, not the toy product some in Yahoo management seemed to think it was. The value of Delicious to Yahoo seemingly diminished greatly after they themselves were no longer in the search marketplace. Silently confirmed hunches that Delicious was used as fodder to greatly influence search algorithms for highly potential synonyms and related web content that is stored by explicit interest (a much higher value than inferred interest) made Delicious a quite valued property while it ran its own search property.

For ease of finding me (should you wish) on Pinboard I am


Good relevant posts from others:

Getting Info into the Field with Extension

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This week I was down in Raleigh, North Carolina to speak at National Extension Technology Conference (NETC) 2008, which is for the people running the web and technology components for what used to be the agricultural extension of state universities, but now includes much more. This was a great conference to connect with people trying to bring education, information, and knowledge services to all communities, including those in rural areas where only have dial-up connectivity to get internet access. The subject matter presented is very familiar to many other conferences I attend and present at, but with a slightly different twist, they focus on ease of use and access to information for everybody and not just the relatively early adopters. The real values of light easy to use interfaces that are clear to understand, well structured, easy to load, and include affordance in the initial design consideration is essential.

I sat in on a few sessions, so to help tie my presentation to the audience, but also listen to interest and problems as they compare to the organizations I normally talk to and work with (mid-size member organizations up to very large global enterprise). I sat in on a MOSS discussion. This discussion about Sharepoint was indiscernible from any other type of organization around getting it to work well, licensing, and really clumsy as well as restrictive sociality. The discussion about the templates for different types of interface (blogs and wikis) were the same as they they do not really do or act like the template names. The group seemed to have less frustration with the wiki template, although admitted it was far less than perfect, it did work to some degree with the blog template was a failure (I normally hear both are less than useful and only resemble the tools in name not use). [This still has me thinking Sharepoint is like the entry drug for social software in organizations, it looks and sounds right and cool, but is lacking the desired kick.]

I also sat down with the project leads and developers of an eXtension wide tool that is really interesting to me. It serves the eXtension community and they are really uncoupling the guts of the web tools to ease greater access to relevant information. This flattening of the structures and new ways of accessing information is already proving beneficial to them, but it also has brought up the potential to improve ease some of the transition for those new to the tools. I was able to provide feedback that should provide a good next step. I am looking forward to see that tool and the feedback in the next three to six months as it has incredible potential to ease information use into the hands that really need it. It will also be a good example for how other organizations can benefit from similar approaches.

Exposing the Local InfoCloud

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,

I have spent a lot of time and effort focussing on the Personal InfoCloud, but the past year or two I have been seeing that the interaction between the person and their information resources that are closest to them (the Local InfoCloud) is extremely important. I have gone around the Local InfoCloud looking at ways to best explain it and bring it to life in a more understandable manner. This past November at Design Engaged 2005 my presentation needed me to dig into the Local InfoCloud and it various components. Since Design Engaged I have been using the slide and ideas around it to explain its relationship to the Personal InfoCloud and the "Come to Me Web". I have iterated on the idea and received some good feedback (particularly from Liz Lawley. Are you ready to dig in?

Overview of the Local InfoCloud

The Local InfoCloud started as an idea of information that was physically close. What is stored or accessed by physical location (information that is physically close) as in an Intranet or location-based information accessed on your mobile device. The more I thought about it and chatted with others it became clear it was more than physical location, it is information resources that are familiar and easier to access than the whole of the web (Global InfoCloud) as a framing concept.

As the my understanding began to lean toward familiarity as a core component of the definition of Local InfoCloud, the term began to embrace the social and community aspects (I am working on shying away from the term community as it is a broadly used term and I am trying to be a little more precise). Interactions with people, services, networks, applications, etc. that are familiar are means of bringing information closer to us as people with data, information, and media needs. The Local InfoCloud eases access. It eases the ability to find and refind information. It is information that is closer to us, not necessarily in physical proximity, but in the ability to access, in which familiarity is bread.

I spent much time considering changing the label from local to community or social, but there were elements that did not perfectly fit that either. Location-based services may be created by a service, but understanding the mindset, terminology, dialect, and cognitive frameworks that are germane to that physical location the information can be structured to resemble or mirror the social elements of understanding in that place. I will get to a better understanding of this when I talk about the Location aspect of the Local InfoCloud. As well, thinking in the Model of Attraction framework the Local InfoCloud is that which is attracted closer to us than the Global InfoCloud.

Important Attributes

There are some attributes that are important to the Local InfoCloud and separate it from the Global InfoCloud and ease the ability to integrate or draw the information and/or media in to the Personal InfoCloud.


As mentioned above familiarity is an essential attribute. Familiarity can be through vocabulary and terminology used to describe or discuss information and objects that people are trying to find and use. The taxonomy or germane ontologies are important to understand as they help ease the connection between the person seeking the information and objects and those providing it.


Access to a resource is very important as it is in the ease of access that we rely on the Local InfoCloud. There is information that is in systems or in locations that others can not get to (that would make it in other's Eternal InfoCloud), but ability to get to the information is important. The ability to get back to the information (through password locked systems, access only by location, etc.) that dictates access is a key attribute.


Structure is a key attribute in the seeking, finding, and refinding information and objects. In a physical neighborhood we know that a corner store is on the corner, but in a portal we know that movie reviews have a certain URL structure and/or that we can click on a Entertainment button/link to get to the page that links to the movie reviews. Reading one movie review in a familiar site we know how to get to other movie reviews. These browsing structures allow the person to interact and attract information to their screen easily.

Known Actions

Known actions are the element in peoples lives that provide patterns that can be repeated to get to what the person desires. Many times people know how to get to, or more appropriately get back to what they are interested in through indirect connections. A favorite resource may be on a friend's link page as they have not set a direct means to connect to that source or to even draw that information to them to cut down the effort expended. Applications and location-based information are other environments that depend upon known actions to connect people to that which they desire.


Consistency is a main attribute driver to our use and reuse of a component in the Local InfoCloud. Consistency breeds familiarity as people learn the terminology, can bookmark, use the known actions to get back to information, or guess how to get access to other items of interest. Having URL structures that are consistent provides a means to get at open information as well as permits the person to restructure means to keep that information closer to them (external social bookmarking as an example).

Copy, Point & Tether

Copy, Point & Tether are actions that a person can take to move information from a Local InfoCloud to the Personal InfoCloud. The attributes are germane to the Personal InfoCloud, but also have importance in the Local InfoCloud often the Local InfoCloud embraces these concepts to ease these actions.

When a person finds data, information, or media objects of interest they most often do one of three things: Copy the item to keep it close (hard drive, flash drive, scan to a drive, scrape to a drive, etc.); Point to the location where the information is located (bookmark, link, blog, wiki, etc.); or Tether the item which is desired by copying or pointing, but then setting a means to get notified when that item has been changed, updated, moved, etc. through tools like RSS/ATOM, e-mail, a pinging service, etc. The tethering is insanely important for items that are anything but completely static over the very long-term (think years not shorter) and it will be getting its own long write-up in the future (subscribe to the RSS here to tether your interest to the future content).


Localinfocloud_overviewNow we can look at the components that can comprise the Local InfoCloud. Each of these have one or more of the attributes. The components are digital and physical in nature. Components may or may not be exclusive, as some Local InfoCloud resources may be comprised of more than one component.


Location was the first component of the Local InfoCloud I considered. Location is important as the physical place has characteristics that draw various attributes together. Location often has a familiarity with terms and language that frame the items within it. The structure of the physical surroundings play an important part in how and where things are located in that location. Tools that are implemented by location are kiosks, GPS/location-based information systems, games that use physical space to provide rewards or clues, language translation tools that are needed in a location, physical location can provide, ease, hinder or censor access to information, and access points to get information can be germane to location (mobile devices need local permissions to access services, etc.).

Friends (and Family)

There is one area that is often over looked as friends and family are not always digital resources, but can provide incredible means of information. Knowing a friend (or she has a good friend) who is an expert in the subject that we need understanding of is very helpful. We can call or visit that person, but we can also e-mail, chat, or have a video conversation with the person to get access to the information or knowledge. In social networks it is common that people will use those whom they are most familiar as a resource to get access to stored knowledge or use the person as a ready pointer to how to get the items they need. Access and familiarity are very strong attributes with friends and family. Often we do not have to tap the person to get the information, but the friend will e-mail us a pointer that they believe we have an interest in consuming. We can save e-mail (as that pointer or container of information is structured by a face or name we have known connections and have put them in context, much in the way they do with us.

A person's preferred method becomes a known action for us. We know the times we can tap somebody with a question or what tools they prefer to communicate using. We know friends who love to talk and their best means of interaction is the phone or an audio chat, while others are more apt to respond to e-mail, text chat, text messaging on their mobile device, or respond to a blog post. Over time we learn not only what is easy to get from whom, but the best means to interact to get the what we desire.

Near in Thought

We have resources that we rely upon because we have similar taste, interest, and/or perspectives on the genre or facet of life the resource covers, more directly these resources are near in thought to us. Politics is an easy example as the terminology used in and around the items we are seeking is known to us and we have expectations that we will like or agree with what is provided from that resource. Beyond politics we have resources with similar interests, perspectives and taste that help filter and provide easier access to items we desire. These resources are not only familiar but they often are structured in a manner that we understand the naming conventions for categories and other resource are easy for use to use and predict what will be brought closer to us through actions. These resources may be whole web sites, journals, writers, blogs, periodicals, etc.


In our life we belong to many groups. These groups have their own terminology and structures for things. Some of these affiliations will be easy to grasp how to access the resources at first opportunity, while others will come through enculturation of learning the structures and terminology. Through consistancy of the affiliations we increase our ability to use these resources to our benefit.


Organizations are things we can belong to or join, like a knitting group, local chapter of a national affinity society, etc. These memberships in the organizations allow greater interaction with others with similar interests and/or needs. Organizations can have gated resources that are only access through membership or affiliation with that group.


Work was the initial driver behind the Local InfoCloud as it was information and resources on an Intranet that was the initial understanding of local. But, work also has its own terminology, known actions, and structure. Over time we learn the resources, both digital, physical, and human that provide us access to information and knowledge.

Social Software

Social software can be device-based or network-based (web, internet, intranet, etc.) and the software builds consistency, structure, and known actions over time. If the software is built well the hurdles will be low to understanding how to get at the items we want and need. The software connects people and provides individuals the ability to contribute content and connect with others with similar interest and needs. Social software may connect people over time in an asynchronous manner as a person can leave an answer to a question at one point in time, but everybody with that same question or interest will have the capability to get to the same answer and potentially connect with that person as a known expert/resource through time.

The software becomes the conduit for connecting people and the data, information, and media the people share and/or discuss and augment. It also provides the means to connect people who are near in thought. It is one means for us to share things we would like feedback on. Social software mitigates distance for connecting people around common interests and can mitigate time as we do not need to be on at the same time to interact. Some examples are online discussion groups, listserves, social bookmarking, social networking, blogs, chat software, etc.


Portals in this meaning are the large aggregation sites that collect information and media into a familiar interface. Tools like AOL, Yahoo, news sites, aggregated shopping sites, etc. are portals with familiar structures that are consistent. Portals make a learnable interface to a variety of data, information, and media objects. Some are interest-based, while others are extremely broad. Similar to a newspaper or magazine the portal has one set of structures to grasp and access remains constant over time. We will easily know where to find movie reviews, car sales, discussion lists, various genre of news, etc.


This is still a work in progress to some degree. Feedback on these attributes and components is always welcome. There may be some editing to this page, but more than likely the modifications will be in pages and posts that follow-on under this Local InfoCloud category.

Two Sides of the Local InfoCloud

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,

The Local InfoCloud (one of four clouds, Personal, Local, Global, and External) focusses on access to information that is based on location, as well as membership. These two elements are related, but also can stand on their own.

The Local InfoCloud often uses the Local Area Network (LAN) as an example of its properties. The information on the LAN is open to all that are connected to the network and in many cases have rights to access the information. The information is not organized by the user nor categorized by them. The need to be connected in an office to the LAN is not as important as folks can access by Wide Area Network (WAN) or through an Internet portal that will securely provide access. The Internet portal then allows a mobile user to access the information, which breaks the need to be in a certain location.

Conversely, a mobile user may have access to information based on their location. Projects like Urban Tapestries show what is coming with location-based information. Commonly location-based services have been tied to GPS navigation services in cars that explain with the closest ATM, parking garage, restaurant, etc. are located in relation to your current position. Interacting with digital repositories to provide a review of a restaurant that is accessible in front of the restaurant, or the history of a building when standing in front of the building is also part of the Local InfoCloud. It too is not user organized or user categorized.

The two most important properties of the Local InfoCloud are location and membership. Location is obvious, but membership is less of a obvious relationship to the local moniker. However, membership is often associated with joining with others that have a common interest, bond, or goal. Membership can be framed as a nearness of interests and exclusive of those that do not have an interest. The members have drawn together as they have that common attraction. The Internet connection easily allows this type of grouping to occur.

A Look at iPIM and Chandler

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,

There are two articles that are direct hits on managing information for the individual and allowing the individual to use the information when they needed it and share it as needed. Yes, this is in line with the Personal Information Cloud.

The first article, The inter-personal information manager (iPim) by Mark Sigal about the problem with users finding information and how the can or should be able to then manage that information. There are many problems with applications (as well as the information format itself) that inhibit users reuse of information. In the comments of the article there is a link to products that are moving forward with information clients, which also fit into the Personal Information Cloud or iPIM concept. (The Personal Information Cloud tools should be easily portable or mobile device enabled or have the ability to be retrieved from anywhere sent to any device.

The second article is from the MIT Technology Review (registration required) titled Trash Your Desktop about Mitch Kapor (of founding Lotus Development fame) and his Open Source project to build Chandler. Chandler is not only a personal information manager (PIM), but the tool is a general information manager that is contextually aware. The article not only focusses on Mitch and the product (due late 2004), but the open and honest development practices of those that are building Chandler at the Open Source Application Foundation for Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. distribution.