Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Personal Information Management, revisited

We have a few milestones in the PIM landscape, namely the various ARIST review articles. But what has been done since? Let's look at some of the citing articles. I have a significant availability bias in this review since I'll look at basically whatever Google can easily find.

First off, we have a dissertation by Kyong Eun Oh from 2013 called "The process of organizing personal information", completed under Nick Belkin. The proposed model has some standard steps: initiation, identification, temporary categorization, examination/comparison, selection/modification/creation, and categorization.

The lit review starts with Aristotle, who apparently stated that "every object of human apprehension" can be filed by: substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, condition, action, and passion. Categorization, however, is never easy. Wittgenstein, for example, articulated the notion of "families" of resemblance.

The review goes through the standard stuff about filers, pilers, non-filers, etc. It points to research that indicates that people organize personal files by task, topic, source, form, or time. Replication work basically indicates that these facets are quite stable but that people often create ad hoc categories to attain particular short-term goals.

One of the issues that emerges is that people are socialized into particular categorization efforts.

The research indicates that people often use a temporary filing location or tool. Sometimes stuff never emerges from this temporary place! Part of the issue might be fuzziness, that is, individual documents might belong to a variety of different categories so filing can be exceptionally difficult. Of course, members of a particular epistemic community might get socialized into different category interpretations.

Massey, et al. "PIM and Personality: What do our personal file systems say about us?"

People aren't completely rational in how they organize their files. Personality plays a role, particularly Openness and Conscientiousness.

Oh "What happens once you categorize files into folders?"

Spoiler alert: people keep things in the folder, move them to other devices, re-categorize them, or delete them... but what else could you actually do with files?

The decisions seem to be based on the particular use for a file and temporal condition. Basically, information curation is an ongoing thing particularly as people engage in ongoing sense-making activities.

Oh and Belkin "Understanding what personal information items make categorization difficult"

Categorization can be tough. You either force things into an existing category, put them into "miscellaneous", or revise the structure. Again, what else would you do?

Wilson "The full report of a study of IV in PIM: The applicability of instrinsic value in personal information management"

Interesting. The study really deals with the question of whether or not we should retain on original. In 1979 the US National Archives and Records Service (NARS) created a committee on Intrinsic Value based on a GSA mandate to microfilm all records and destroy originals. Intrinsic value is indicated by:

1. Physical form that may be the subject for study if the records provide meaningful documentation or significant examples of the form;
2. Aesthetic or artistic quality;
3. Unique or curious physical features;
4. Age that provides a quality of uniqueness;
5. Value for use in exhibits;
6. Questionable authenticity, date, author, or other characteristic that is significant and ascertainable by physical examination;
7. General and substantial public interest because of direct association with famous or historically significant people, places, things, issues, or events;
8. Significance as documentation of the establishment or continuing legal basis of an agency or institution;
9. Significance as documentation of the formulation of policy at the highest executive levels when the policy has significance and broad effect throughout or beyond the agency or institution.

Zhang and Twidale "Folders as workplaces and the impact on relationships between files"

The authors found that people tended to keep either "genre folders " -- collections of one type of document such as a tax form -- and "project folders" containing disparate collections grouped together for a purpose. Project folders are challenging because identification and membership are largely a function of context (i.e., every folder seems to operate under its own set of rules). As a result, users create ad hoc file naming conventions to convey that context. Sometimes names are about document status (e.g., the FINAL suffix) or about topic or about document type.

And then my browser died so I lost the rest...

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