Keeping Found Things Found

When information needed to accomplish everyday tasks is scattered in too many places -- multiple computers, phones, e-mail accounts, software tools and Web sites -- managing projects can quickly turn into a disjointed disaster.

The Keeping Found Things Found (KFTF) team and iSchool Research Associate Professor William Jones are on a mission to simplify personal information management. Their research works from a deceptively simple premise: Let people describe their projects and the things they wish to accomplish informally and free-hand -- just as they might do in a draft document or a blog post. And then use this description as a basis for organizing all the bits and pieces of information that are needed to make things happen. The project has been supported by two multi-year grants from the National Science Foundation as well as an award from Google.

Through a combination of fieldwork and prototyping, the KFTF team focused on two questions: How do people manage information? How can people manage it more effectively with better support?

The result is a new, free product called the Personal Project Planner designed to bring together all of a user's information for easy access where needed most. At the beginning of May, the KFTF team launched what Jones describes as the definitive version called Planner 7.

Development on the Planner has been driven by two basic principles. The first is that people shouldn't have to organize their documents, e-mail messages and ever-increasing Web references as separate activities. Instead, organization should be an integral part of everyday activities. Second, the Planner doesn't replace a person's current applications nor does it ask people to reorganize their information in yet another special-purpose database. Instead, the Planner is a different way of working with the files and folders users have come to know and trust.

"The Planner works as a document-like overlay to your information," Jones explains. "You type in your thoughts and to-dos - your 'story' for how you would like things to happen -- much as you might in a word processor. But what you type is more than text. It's also 'context' for organizing documents, e-mail messages, Web references and other forms of information needed to 'finish the story.'"

Among the new features of Planner 7 are support for journaling and worksheets for projects such as completing a college course or getting a job. One feature allows users to move across applications seamlessly and switch between different tasks and projects.

"For any document, e-mail message or Web page, click once to see its plan," Jones says. "From the plan, other information needed for your task or project is only a second click away."

"The right information, right now, 'right here'." Jones says "This is a driving vision of the Planner prototype."

For more information about Keeping Found Things Found, visit