We had a couple of starting premises when we set out
to work on this problem.
First, for more than eighty percent of people, text
is more than eighty percent of their information. To
paraphrase the famous bank robber who said he robbed
banks because that is where the money was, text is
where the information is, if for no other reason than
that it can be searched.
Text is also long-lasting. Whatever software you use
now or used to use, chances are good it can save your
data in plain text files. Whatever formats are used
in the future, chances are excellent that they will
be able to read plain text. We decided that you
should always be able to import and export your
unformation as plain text. This means you can
preserve your information independent of our format
and be able use it in other applications.
Second, disk storage is getting bigger and cheaper.
Two megabytes of storage once cost half a year's pay
and it took up the space of half a refrigerator. We
bought a 120 GB drive for a fellow in the office who
once worked on one of those machines. He held it in
his hand and could only say, "thirty thousand
This made us decide to store only text and to keep it
forever. It not only makes for a very stable system,
but also one that uses disk space very efficiently.
When we started out we figured that, like everyone
else, we would have our prejudices. We decided to
make them work for us by facing up to them and then
throwing away the ones that could not be justified by
our own experience. These are what remain:
Old information is inherently valuable. It is more
valuable if you have forgotten it. It is less
valuable if you cannot find it.
Information is far more valuable if you know when
it was created. Seeing it ordered chronologically
reveals how decisions were arrived at or mistakes
Taking care of just your information is not enough.
You need to store information about your
information (the technical term for this is
"meta-information") like a title and time stamp as
well. Moreover, we felt we could not assume that
the meta-information we thought would suffice
actually would be enough for you. There has to be a
chunk of freeform meta-information where you can
store whatever comments you care to make.
Hierarchies do not handle information well.
GREP (all those "ANDs" and odd character you have
to key when searching) was created when you
controlled your computer by typing. Using the
controls of the Mac's graphical user interface is
Artificial intelligence is usually stupid. It takes
control of the situation away from you and gives
you one answer and one answer only. Usually it is
not the one you want. You understand your
information and priorities better than we ever
File systems cannot be trusted. An application that
relies on them to organize storage finds that the
user moved or deleted something when the
application was not running.
Fashionable formats change and die. The same day
someone wanted us to add XML someone else wanted to
know if Boswell could read his old WordStar files.
ASCII is forever.
Databases are too fragile.They start out fine, but
bog down when you give them huge amounts of data.
Because they can so easily be modified, they are
far more likely to become corrupted.
Old ideas that have proven to work in the real
world are worth stealing. Hence we use physical
metaphors like libraries, archives, and notebooks.
We also had our desires.
Store a lifetime's worth of text now that the hard
drives can handle it.
Provide thousands of categories, more than an
ordinary person will ever need.
Cross reference the information automatically so
time is not eaten up "filing things away" or
manually linking every item to its categories.
Whatever decisions Boswell makes for you, you
should be able to see what they are going to be
beforehand and override them if you want.
Always to be able to export as plain text so that
the information can be accessed in the future
whatever happens. As good as Boswell is, give
people the ability to be independent of it if they
ever want to be.
Allow sorting by multiple values rather than just
Handle multiple versions of writings
"I always wanted a minion."
"This would have given me straight A's if I had it
Boswell has be able to satisfy the query, "get me
all the e-mails I exchanged with Fred, but not Joe,
last April about the Harris project that contain
the word 'deadline' and show me the results sorted
by time" because that is the sort of request people
form in their head before they translate it into
whatever their software does.
And we had our hopes -- or maybe they were fears.
No data loss.
Scales up and does not slow down as more
information is added.
Easy to back up.
Store the text only once.
To keep our focus, we wanted to put some faces on the
folks who would wind up using Boswell. We decided to
concentrate on students, writers, researchers, and
pack rats. Others would certainly find it valuable
too, but these defined the boundaries of the
territory we wanted to cover.
One of us knows a fellow who writes film maker
biographies and conducts interviews with folks about
all the many films they worked on and the people they
worked with. When it comes time to write about a
particular person or film, all those words have to to
searched through and the results organized. We kept
his problems in mind when creating Boswell because we
figured that if we could satisfy his needs, we could
satisfy most anybody's.
All of these are what lit our fire. We came up with
them before we started designing and kept them in
mind while we wrote.