Saturday, March 30, 2002

The register has an interview with two of the engineers that worked on the Be journaling filesystem. One is now working at Apple (cool!).

A quote:


Benoit: Google - I don't keep bookmarks, now. I keep very few bookmarks. I know that with Google I'm going to find it because I know I've got the name. And there's so much data we receive there's no way we can organize the data, it takes too much time.


How true that is. At this point, I find myself using Google for everything from looking up developer documentation to researching how to maintain my collection of house plants. Even though I frequently run across the same sites in these searches, things change over time -- sites restructure, go down, new sites come up, etc.. -- and Google does a remarkably good job of returning the information I need when I want it. In those rare cases where I find some particularly useful bit of content on a dead site, Google's cache has often saved the day.

But Google doesn't help me find things on my local hard drive. For that, I use LaunchBar. LaunchBar is like a realtime Google for your local filesystem. It is amazing. I can access any app, any document, any project, most developer documentation, all of my bookmarks, and just about anything else in the filesystem with a minimal number of keystrokes. LaunchBar is blazingly fast, extremely elegant, totally focused on doing exactly one thing better than anything else on the planet, and an absolute joy to use.

After reading the register article, it struck me that Google and LaunchBar are very similar in how they work. They both treat relatively vast data stores as black boxes from which you can extract exactly what you want very quickly. Whereas trying to organize your filesystem or bookmark everything of interest puts the onus of organization on your head prior to you needing the resource, Google and LaunchBar reverse the equation by providing an extremely fast and convenient means of extracting what you need, when you need it and even if your needs have changed radically over time.

To a lesser degree, Apple's Mail application that is included with OS X can also do the same thing. I keep years of email in various mailboxes under Mail. Mail has conveniently indexed everything such that I can easily search entire messages, the subject, who it is from or who it is to. Very useful. Where Mail falls down is in the organization department. The automatic filters are limited in their usefulness in combination with actually reading the email. As such, it is mostly up to the user to sort things out-- not totally necessary, you could just keep everything in one big mailbox, but that gets to be painfully slow after a while.

With all three examples, another key to their success is that they allow you to slice across the multidimensional information space in many different ways. Example: in Mail, I often do a search where I want the results date ordered because I need a historical view of some random subject. Yet, at other times, I'm looking for all of the messages that are the most relevant to a particular topic and what the results displayed in order of relevance. Not a problem.
10:54:49 PM  pontificate