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February 26, 2006

My name is Paul and I'm a PIM user

I've had a love/hate relationship with Personal Information Managers (PIMs) over the years. I haven't used what I would consider a "real" PIM in years, but I recently found myself back in the sway of this enticing breed of software. But before I talk about my latest flirtations with PIMs,I want to remember some of my old flames.

Lotus Agenda - first love

I think the first PIM to catch my eye was Lotus Agenda. It was so powerful, no one really understood what you could do with it .. but it sure seemed like it would do anything you wanted. I was fascinated by it. But instability was its downfall for me; I gave it up after one too many corrupted databases. (The last release of Agenda was made available some time back.)

InfoSelect - fast and responsive

For quite a while I was quite taken with InfoSelect; I used it on and off for about 8 years. InfoSelect works on unstructured chunks of text, which makes it very flexible. The overhead for adding information is very low: one keystroke creates a new node. What makes InfoSelect interesting is its search feature. When you start searching, IS shows you matches with every character you type. There's something seductive about how it responds to your every keystroke, not waiting for an Enter key or an OK button.

InfoSelect doesn't have any built-in categories, but you can use the trick of tagging a note with your own codes. I used "*ps" for personal items; "*td" for to-dos. By including several tags in an item, you could effectively put information into multiple categories. I loved that ability. I was never happy with a strict hierarchy. Most information naturally falls into multiple categories.

Unfortunately, InfoSelect fell victim featuritis. Each release added more and more features, but made the interface more cluttered. It didn't help that each release was another $99. I stopped upgrading with version 6. It's now up to V8.

Ecco - Misunderstood

I tried Ecco for a while. Everyone else raved about it, but I never got it. I didn't like the strict hierarchy, and I never really warmed to the interface. I stuck with it for a while, but never saw the charms that others (still!) claim for it.

Eventually I started using Outlook. Outlook wasn't good at handling random information, but it was a whiz at contacts, tasks, and calendars. That's what I needed most at the time, so I let go of trying to keep track of everything.

Wiki Wiki!

I was still looking for a way to handle random information, and in 2001 Wikis caught my eye. Wikis had that ability to create random nodes and link them together. Further more, as more and more of what I wanted to remember was on the web, I could use Wiki to keep and annotate various links. Eventually I set up Wikis for work, too, at CNN, Georgia Tech, and EarthLink.

Weblogs, del.icio.us, and who knows what

I came across Radio Userland in 2002, which introduced me to weblogs, and to RSS for watching other weblogs. I soon startedcapturing interesting links into my blog instead of my Wiki.

All during this time, the rise of search engines made it easier and easier to not bother with keeping track of information. You want find something again? Google it!

I finally gloomed onto del.icio.us in late '04, and soon I was putting all of my useful links into del.icio.us

And so that's where I was up until two months ago - a mishmash of Outlook for contacts, del.icio.us for links, and occasionally sending email to myself to capture other information.

But once you're a PIM user, you can never really give it up. And so I've fallen off the wagon again. More on that in another post.