XooML. (Pronounced "zoom'l"). Cross (X)-tool Mark-up Language.

The XooML schema specifies the structure of a fragment of metadata as this might apply to any information item addressed by a URI:

  • Fragment-level attributes + 0 or more associations as elements.
  • A fragment and each of its associations have common and tool-specific attributes.

Essentially, a XooML-compliant fragment (or, simply, a XooML fragment) is a bundling of attributes. Some bundles apply to the fragment as a whole; some bundles apply to individual associations. Bundles at each level can be held in common (cross-tool) or tool specific. Work on XooML and a XooML-based middleware layer are guided by a vision of "structural integrity": Many tools, many modes of interaction applied to a common structure for the organization of and access to personal information. XooML-based tools include Planz, QuickCapture, Everyday Gantt Chart and a wrapper for use with the Free Mind "mind-mapping" tool.

Structuring personal information in a world where everything can be saved

Many people are curators, consciously or not, of large and growing collections of personal information. Our hard drives are brimming with gigabytes of email messages, electronic documents, digital music and videos, and various other types of files. We may also have large numbers of references that point to still more information on the Web. And many of us still have large amounts of information in paper form (books, bills, magazines, printouts, etc.), at least some of which we also keep electronically.

Our current NSF-funded study seeks to understand better how people manage these ever larger collections of personal information. We explore strategies that people use to organize their stuff, the kinds of problems they encounter as they do so, and the kinds of support people need in order to manage better — to manage not only the information but the various activities for which this information is needed. Although the focus of the proposed research is primarily on digital information, the research will also investigate the roles that paper and paper collections currently serve and may continue to serve.

To get traction on this large problem, the study focuses on the concept of a project — an activity that usually takes several days or months to complete, and often involves the need to coordinate and manage information from a number of different sources. Most of us have a number of projects at any given time, both in our personal and professional lives. We might be working on an article, planning a trip, or trying to develop an investment strategy. By focusing on projects such as these, we are able to see how information management happens “in the wild” — as people organize and reorganize their information as their understanding and knowledge of their projects evolve.

Making information mine: The role of metaphor in structuring personal information collections

Label This v. Put This Here

Structure — the way we bring together and organize related information within our personal information collections — is one important way that we make our information personal. Structure not only helps us to manage our information, it both reflects and extends the ways we think about our information. Structure finds expression through a variety of external representations, such as the names we give to files, folders, or tags; the properties or annotations we assign to documents; or the folder hierarchies and piles we create.

This project explores two seemingly equivalent metaphors for keeping and organizing information that can help us to create such structure: “Label this” and “Put this there”. “Label this” represents the operation of tagging an information item with a keyword. This metaphor is supported by tools such as del.icio.us and gmail. “Put this there” represents the operation of placing an information item into a named location, such as a file folder on the desktop or in hotmail. Our overarching goal is to explore the ways people view and use these metaphors: Does metaphor matter? Specifically, we will compare individual's experiences with the “Label this” and “Put this there” metaphors in the context of email to explore whether individuals reveal any differences in the ways these metaphors influence how they think about, experience, and manage their personal information.

Project Planner Prototype

Project Planner Prototype

We are developing the Project Planner prototype to explore the notion of using project planning activities as the basis for organizing information. The user manipulates what appears to be a single document, the project document; however the Planner is actually manipulating the underlying folder hierarchy with its collection of files and shortcuts. Essentially, the Planner provides a project planning view into the user's file system.

The Project Planner offers a way to organize and access many types of information including email messages, web pages, electronic documents, and informal notes. The outline view of a plan brings together these various pieces of information and relates them to sub-projects and tasks within the context of a project plan. Drag & link, in-context creation, and XML metadata facilitate this integration.

See a 5-minute demonstration of an earlier prototype called the Universal Labeler.