Chandler Project Vision
What is Chandler? (Chandler as a Product)
Chandler is an open source Note-to-Self Organizer. It features calendaring, task and note management and consists of a desktop application, web application and a free sharing and back-up service called Chandler Hub.
Our goal is to serve the way people actually work, independently and together, particularly in small groups, a market segment we believe is underserved. Our belief is that personal and collaborative information work is by nature iterative and that the existing binary Done/Not-Done, Read/Unread, Flagged/Unflagged
paradigm in productivity software poorly accommodates the reality of how people work.
We are also committed to breaking down technological barriers that prevent effective collaboration. Chandler Desktop and Chandler Server are cross-platform and standards-based because we realize that collaboration can't and shouldn't be trapped within a single system. Chandler Server provides web access to shared information that makes it easy for collaborators to hook into Chandler workflows without having to download the Desktop application.
The Chandler Knowledge Worker
Chandler's Target User is more than just a glutton for information. Information is the substance of their work and more information is the output of their work: Research, proposals, priorities, direction and decisions? Somewhere in between, knowledge is gained and shared.
Knowledge workers exist in every industry, at ever level of the organization and in every kind of role. We've narrowed our scope to target a particular brand of knowledge worker, one we believe is under-served by the software that exists today.
Often called a project manager or product manager or program manager, our Target User however is a special breed of PM. They work closely with every member of their team, acting as a communication hub. They know how to ask the right questions to gather input and feedback. They identify problem areas, figure out when meetings need to happen, who needs to be there, what needs to be discussed, and then they facilitate the discussion to define concrete next actions and ultimately drive their team towards informed decisions. They take on the responsibility of defining realistic goals for their team and getting everyone pointed in the same direction to reach those goals. Our Target User has few concrete, repetitive responsibilities and keeping track of 'delegated tasks' is just as important to them as tracking their own tasks. Their to-do list, if they're able to maintain one looks a lot like this:
- Look into...
- Follow up on...
- Pull together an agenda for...
- Figure out who needs to...
A single task may languish for days, weeks or months, not because no progress is being made, but simply because dozens of little questions are being asked and answered as a path is cleared to get to a well-defined concrete task that is oftentimes then delegated to someone else. In reality, though many of our target users don't know it, they don't really have tasks, they have little projects with many, many hundreds of sub-tasks that are almost impossible to define and keep track of. Words we use to describe this usage pattern include: amorphous, fluid, and unpredictable.
In the end, their day-to-day reality overwhelms their Inbox, unravel in to-do lists and are downright silly to maintain in a GANTT chart.
Our Target User works in a small-group of 2-30 people working together towards a common goal. This group could be a family, a work group, a book club, a community center. The group is a 'start-up' style organization with a notable lack of predefined processes and fluid roles and responsibilities. There's a lot of 'making things up as you go along'. Collaboration is high bandwidth and the group is usually too small to have robust IT-support.
Chandler Hub Target User: Our Target User is virtually defined by the people they work with so providing a way to keep everyone in the group focused on the same set of priorities is integral to the Chandler experience. Chandler Hub's lightweight web application allows our Target User to create an easy to access collaboration space for managing group tasks and calendars without needing to cajole or force others to commit to using Chandler Desktop as well.
We wanted to build Chandler around how people actually work. So we went out and interviewed some real people doing real work. We learned (too) many interesting things, but managed to distill them down to two takeaways:
There's something wrong with the way data flows, or rather doesn't flow between the tools we use to manage, process, organize our information. Information is being modeled around software tools, whereas really software should be modeled around information. What's the difference between a proposal you write up in Email and a proposal you write up in Microsoft Word? What's the difference between an event you jot down and email to yourself and an event that arrives on your calendar? A lot if you look at the technological barriers in place that prevent doing something as simple as filing Email Messages and Word Documents with the exact same content into the same container. The symptom? There's entirely too much copying and pasting going on. One person we interviewed had 2 identical sets of two dozen project folders: One for organizing documents on her hard-drive, the other for organizing documents in her email. Who kept them in sync? She did.
Defining the Problem...with Personal Information Management
Nowadays, there is no shortage of functionality to throw at your data. There is perhaps a surplus of options. Flag tasks in your Email. Or, track tasks on a separate To-do list. A more powerful to-do list might let you string together tasks as a thread of task dependencies, but you need to discipline to keep your task list updated with the stuff that dumps into email. You could file invitations into an events folder. Or track events on your Calendar. Or you could accomplish all of these things with tagging. But wait, there's more, you could create a rule to automatically file things into a folder. Or you could create a smart folder defined around a rule. (Yes those last two things are different and even Apple's Mail.app offers both.) All of these various affordances for organizing information have their place in life-cycle of any given project, and people have found rather creative ways to work with the tools available to them today.
1.There is a false assumption that information management tasks are binary.
Are you Done or Not Done? Most productivity software fail to accommodate the iterative way people work with information and provide poor support for keeping track of everything in between TO-DO and DONE. As a result, it's incredibly easy to get sidetracked dealing with new information as it comes in, not because the new things are higher priority or especially urgent, but simply because we're afraid we'll lose track of them if we don't do something about them right now. Usually however, before you've had a chance really get anything done, another load is dumped into your lap to process.
2.There is a false assumption underlying most productivity software that information and the organizational structures needed to manage that information are essentially static.
When you start to trace how information comes into people's lives and the path it takes through their various productivity tools, you realize that every piece of information has its own life-cycle: It is born, it grows in size and changes in shape and then it dies, or slowly withers away as it loses relevance over time. But your email, task and calendar applications exist in dumb ignorance of that simple fact. You calendar doesn't know about the note you jotted down about Lunch with Pam next Wed. Your task list doesn't know about the requests coming in via Email. The only way it will know is if you make it known, with Ctrl-C-Ctrl-V and a lot of context-switching.
Organization is not a condition that once attained can be preserved in a fixed state of calm and equilibrium. Organization is a process that is multi-faceted and multi-phased and every single item of information will find its own path through this process. A lone email languishes for a long time in your Inbox and then all of a sudden, blooms into an unending thread which dies down as other issues come in. A few weeks later, the thread is revived and mushrooms into a full scale project that you're spending half of your day processing and managing. Three weeks later, all open issues are resolved or have become moot and you barely give it a thought.
When that first lone email arrives, where does it go? As more stuff comes in relating to that email, how do you keep it all together, create a project archive you can review and search through without also prematurely archiving the things you still need to follow-up on. We seem to be perpetually fighting a two-front war against disorganization and out of sight, out of mind.
In interviewing people and seeing the same workflow hiccups show up again and again, we realized that the real opportunity lay not in coming up with the next, new productivity tool, but instead in creating an information management environment with built-in workflows that mirror what people hack together today.
Processing, Organizing and Managing Information
There appear to be three basic workflows everybody seems to construct for themselves, regardless of what tools they use, to varying degrees of complexity and automation.
- Managing Information Managing Focus and Managing Progress Am I done with this or not? Of all the stuff I'm not done with, what should I work on now? When I defer things, how do I keep track of them so that I don't forget about them?
- Processing Information Defining items What is this? An invitation? A task? Just a note for reference?
- Organizing Information into Projects.
These three workflows however, need to exist independently of each other. You should never have to choose between filing something into a Tasks folder versus a Project folder. You should never have to choose between reviewing all of your DONE tasks in one place versus tracking all of your Tasks by Project. In Chandler, a single item can be on your Task list, in a Project collection and marked as NOW, LATER or DONE. You can see All Task. Or All Tasks in a particular Project. Or All items in a particular Project. Or All DONE Tasks in a particular Project. Or All DONE items period. There is no complicated rule-builder to negotiate. Instead, a push-button interface allows you to define and re-define what you see without having to build or manage rule-based views.
For each of these workflows, always assume a need for iteration and change over time.
Manage Focus and Manage Progress with Triage
Assume that everyone always have more than they can handle and nothing gets done in one shot. As a result, people need a way to de-prioritize and defer things that don't need to or can't be addressed right away. And then they need a way to get back to everything they deferred and make sure nothing falls through the cracks. Today, many people do this by flagging emails or maintaining a task list. The problem is that flagging and task lists are binary. You're either done or not done. To further separate not-done stuff into doing NOW versus todo LATER requires additional personal creativity. Chandler simply integrates the notion of LATER into basic focus management. Chandler also unifies focus management across all application areas. Notes, Messages, Tasks and Events are all tracked with a single notion of Triage status that allows you to:
- Quickly weed out things you can defer until LATER so you can focus on the things that need your attention NOW.
- Automatically re-introduce DEFERRED tasks into your FOCUS when the right time comes.
Peeling the Onion: Process information iteratively. Define what an item is over time
A single item can show up in as many application areas as you want. Scheduling a Task on your Calendar doesn't mean it disappears from your Task list, unless you want it to. Chandler lets data flow wherever it needs to go regardless of how it came into being. Notes can be addressed and sent out as Email, they're not copied and pasted into email messages. Tasks are scheduled on the Calendar, not linked to an event. Events are sent out as Invitations, not attached to an email message. All of these ever-changing bits of information are managed in Collections that span all application areas: Mail, Tasks and Calendar and can overlap with each other as you add events from a public calendar onto your own and put a task on your personal task list and shared household task list.
Allow Organization to Change and Flow.
Consciously or subconsciously, we all ask ourselves a lot of questions when new bits of information come in and we have to decide what to do with it. However it is all but impossible, when we first receive information, to figure out which organizational tool to apply. So, many of us leave it in the Inbox and hope for the best.
- Am I going to want to review this every day? 3 times a day? 3 times an hour? Once a month? Never?
- Is this just an archive, or something I'm working on actively?
- Am I going to need to organize this stuff in a particular order? What does that ordering mean? Are there dependencies? Implied importance? Implied urgency?
- Is a lot of stuff going to end up in here?
- Is it stuff I want to hand-file? Or should I define some kind of rule? If I define a rule, will I regret it? What if there are exceptions?
- Is this always going to be important to me? Or will it die off after a little while? How much effort should I expend in organizing this?
Often, by the time you've decided which tool to use, the time for that tool has passed and it's time to move on to something else. As a result, Chandler's organizational affordances flow into one another or exist side by side so your organizational structures can change as quickly and as easily as your most fickle project.
A single item can show up in as many collections as you want. You never have to choose between competing organizational schemes.
When Chandler does get around to providing the entire gamut of organizational affordances people are used to today (Tagging, Custom Attributes, Filing, Rules, et cetera.) you won't ever be asked to decide between them. Instead, they will flow into each other in the same way Notes flow onto the Task list and Tasks flow onto the Calendar. Tag items to search for them later. Add semantics to a Tag and turn it into a Custom Attribute. (Raymond Chandler becomes Author: Raymond Chandler or Project: Raymond Chandler) Order items and you have a Cluster: a way to thread items together, a way to reflect dependencies. Drag a Tag or a Cluster to the sidebar for easy access. Remove it from the sidebar when it's no longer something you're actively working on. Define a rule to automatically Tag or Label items with Custom Attributes. Drag and drop items in and out of the collections in the sidebar if there are exceptions to the rule. Tags, Custom Labels, Clusters, automated rule-based organization and explicit drag and drop filing all flow into one another.
Defining More Problems...with Collaboration
Collaboration is central to knowledge work, yet it is often tacked on as an afterthought or worse, completely cut off from personal information workflows.
1. Group collaboration systems exist in parallel with personal communication tools, namely email.
2. Collaboration systems are modeled for enterprise-scale organization, which does not scale down to work for small groups.
Chandler's Approach to Collaboration
Chandler attempts to build workflows that cut across and converge public collaboration and private communication as well as build a sharing model tailored to the informal, more intimate social dynamics of small groups.
Iterative Information Management as applied to Collaborating over Email
We realized that the majority of the significant emails we send are sent while still in a draft-state: Lists that are incomplete, write-ups that await several rounds of heavy editing and half-baked proposals. As a result, email in Chandler is designed to function more more like sharing. Address items and send them via email. In Chandler sender and recipients can edit Sent messages and send them again as Updates. Repeat as necessary.
Collaborating within and with-out Chandler
Chandler's collaboration workflows are built around small group social dynamics. Unlike corporations and institutions, small organizations often can't and won't dictate what software people use. Individuals in small groups also have stronger trust relationships which make most enterprise-scale security models feel cumbersome and an obstacle to using the software.
Chandler collaboration workflows extend beyond the bounds of Chandler itself.
- Collaborators can view and edit collections without having to download Chandler Desktop via Chandler Hub on the web. Collaborators don't even have to sign up for a Hub account, all they need is a sharing URL to access the share.
- You can send Chandler items out via email. Recipients won't be able to participate in the Chandler workflows outlined above, but they can see the contents of what you send as text.
- Collaborators using other calendar applications can subscribe to your Chandler Hub shares. Similarly, you can subscribe to Google, Apple iCal and any other iCalendar share.
Converging Shared and Personal Information Managing
At the same time, Collaboration in Chandler is anchored in personal information management workflows. The sharing experience has an inward focus that integrates personal and shared information management in a seamless experience where data can flow between the two and live with no effort in both worlds.
We've integrated sharing with other Chandler users and communicating with everyone else you need to work with by providing a single focal point for sending, editing and updating items. Other Chandler Desktop users receive your items in Chandler and can edit and send them back as updates. At the same time, everyone receives the contents of your Chandler item as text via email.
Our goal was collaboration with a low barrier to entry, both for the person managing the collaboration process and their collaborators.
Chandler as a System
At the end of the day, Chandler's success or failure will be measured by usage. How many people are able to get on the wagon and of those, how many are able to stay on the wagon.
Our hope is that by modeling the user experience around how people work today and the substance of that work, we can be more than just another software tool and instead aspire to be a system for information management: A smarter way to work. A better environment for collaboration. And an addictive habit that's hard to break.
Chandler as a Project
Chandler isn't just a desktop and web application, it is also a living, open project. Our ambition is to create well designed software with a big vision in an open community. What do we mean by open
? We embrace participation from a wide variety of contributors. We want to collaborate with users -- what problems are users trying to solve, what rough edges do people bump into, what bugs and features should be on Chandler's immediate roadmap? We also want to collaborate with skilled people who are inspired by the vision and want to contribute to realizing that vision. This could mean writing code, participating in the design process, writing user or technical documentation, testing and finding bugs, localizing the applications into other languages, etc. To build a project with a thriving community, we know we need structures in place that support an attractive environment for participation:
- License Our software has an open source license, which means that anyone can download, use and modify the source code. The license is a prerequisite to having an open project, but not the only important piece.
- Transparency We discuss our work, solve problems and make decisions on public mailing lists and in irc chat rooms, and track progress in a public bug database and on a public wiki. People who contribute to the Chandler project are not all geographically in one place, and are not all employed by OSAF. Doing work in public is one way of creating an opening for new people to join the project.
- Open Processes Our process for including software developers from the community is an amalgam of the processes used by the Mozilla Foundation and the Apache Software Foundation. We are working to develop an open design process, to allow people from the community to participate in the design of Chandler. It is our goal to to enable people to contribute to the full extent of their interest, motivation, and ability. This means granting them a voice in the direction of the project in addition to the ability to contribute their expertise.
Chandler and other Applications
We want Chandler to be able to talk to other applications, which is one of the reasons that we've tried to make Chandler use existing standards whenever possible. Today, due to standards like iCalendar and CalDAV, Chandler has support
for talking to several calendaring applications. We'd like to expand that list significantly, and also provide support for talking to to-do list managers and so forth. As we make Chandler's end-user information model richer, the number of interesting applications to talk to will increase. This is one of the many areas where we hope that people in the community will help increase Chandler's ability to talk to other applications, whether than means writing documentation and tutorials, reporting bugs, or writing data format converters.
Longer term, we will continue to work towards enrich our PIM workflows with contacts and relationship management and take on the challenge of integrating documents, resources and large catalogs of data into the core information management workflows we have today. We hope to do this while maintaining the integrity and coherence of the design by creating a solid conceptual foundation for extending Chandler. This includes a well-defined end-user information model for Items, Stamping, Attributes, Collections and clear workflow templates for our core information management and collaboration workflows: Triage and Tickling, Stamping, Tagging / Collecting, Clustering, Edit/Update and Sharing with Chandler Hub. For an overview of the end-user information model, see: NutshellCartoons#ChandlerModel
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