MIT Professor Creates Software To Organize the Details of Everyday Life
- By Dian Schaffhauser
Paper-bound humans may find relief from their accumulations of sticky notes, business cards, and to-do lists if an MIT computer science professor succeeds in a new initiative. David Karger, a member of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL), has created List.it, a simple program to capture all kinds of information scraps and to-do lists. The beta version of this Web-based note-taking software allows users to enter, store, and retrieve all kinds of information, from e-mail addresses to Web URLs, to shopping lists. List.it allows users to jot down short notes and search them for later retrieval.
List.it, which focuses on minimizing the time and effort needed to capture information, was developed not by looking at how people organize information, but by analyzing what kind of information they keep and make lists of. The tool resides in a Firefox browser sidebar, which can be pulled up and put away through a customizable hot key. A "quick input box" allows users to enter information on the fly. A synching feature ensures that notes will be backed up; if the user has List.it installed on multiple computers, notes will be mirrored to all of them.
"I would never make the claim that we're trying to replace Post-its," said Michael Bernstein, a graduate student in Karger's lab. "We want to understand the classes of things people do with Post-its and see if we can help users do more of what they wanted to do in the first place."
Karger and his collaborators consider sticky notes ideal for certain problems, but think computers would better handle many of the tasks people use them for.
"Even a simple text capture box and search tool is well suited to a task that is both common and important: managing the small information scraps that fall between the cracks of traditional information management tools," the researchers concluded.
Graduate student Katrina Panovich is also working on the information scrap project, which is funded by the Nokia Research Center Cambridge, the National Science Foundation, Britain's Royal Academy of Engineering, the Web Science Research Initiative, and Quanta Computer.
Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @schaffhauser.