17 November 2021

Attachments and Bookmarks

(I liked this note so much that I reworked it into the main pitch for Colophon Cards and put it on the front page.)

Why does Colophon Cards need attachments and bookmarks?

Ever had an important document or bookmark, which you know you saved somewhere, and you know was filed somewhere clever, but can’t for the life of you find again?

Ever have a document which you know is somewhere in your company’s shared drive, which is very sensibly organised and structured in a way that you all agreed was correct, but no matter how much you search, you just can’t find it.

You try to search for it but because you either haven’t read it yet (you filed it away to read later) or because you only glossed over it (it’s a contract or something that isn’t exactly pleasure reading) you can’t come up with a search term that seems to surface it. You tagged the file but even with tag filtering your search terms are still too generic and still have hundreds, of not thousands, of results.

But, if you were lucky enough to have gotten it via email in the first place, you always seem to be able to find it with the first search term you came up with or in the first mail folder you looked in.

Why do search, folders, and labels/tags work for email but not for your drives (shared or not)?

Why User-Subjective Information Management Works

The reason why you find it easier to find files in your own, local drive, than in the shared one, and why finding a specific email is easier than finding a specific Google Doc is because local drives and email are user-subjective tools. You are the one doing the organising for yourself.

Any time you do that you automatically create mnemonic shortcuts for yourself. There isn’t any confusion about terms—you know what you meant when you named the folder ‘Project Stuff’. The act of saving and filing can also help you remember even if you don’t remember the reasoning—‘I think I saved it in my GitHub folder for some reason’. If you delegate the act of filing to an automated script or to another person (as you do with a shared folder) you lose that mnemonic device. And you know your folder structure in detail because you made them.

This is why its easier to find stuff in your local drive than on a shared one.

Email, especially emailing something to yourself, adds another, powerful mnemonic device to your toolset:

Writing.

Why writing helps you find things

Constructing search terms that get results is a skill. It’s the flip side to information architecture and, when you’re searching shared spaces, requires a lot of the same expertise: understanding common terms, shared vocabularies, the cognitive model behind the structure, the organisation of the company, and, in many cases, the ontologies used.

Web developers who know what they are doing will construct the navigation and structure of the site to minimise the need for such expertise, but your intranet, wiki, or Dropbox will not have seen such careful design.

In the absence of a designed information architecture you have to resort to constructing the search term based on what you remember about the document.

Which is tough if you haven’t read it yet or only skimmed it.

File names aren’t much help as they are, by convention, very short, regularly generic, and frequently auto-generated in some way.

But an email, especially one that you wrote yourself, is much simpler to find. You may not remember the exact text but you probably have a rough idea and, because you know yourself, you can guess at the words and terms you were likely to use.

Which is why sending an email to yourself with a file as an attachment is often a better filing system than throwing into your shared Dropbox.

Hence Colophonic Cards

All of this is to say that this is what Colophonic Cards are for:

How Bookmarks And Attachments Work

Like a tweet, each card can have attachments. Some of these are references to things stored elsewhere (URLs) which makes them bookmarks. Some of these would be stored in Colophon Cards’ systems, which would make them attachments.

The distinction between the two, how it is made apparent in the design, whether it should exist, and to what degree they should differ, is one of the biggest unanswered questions in the initial design for Colophon Cards.

The potential functional difference between the two should be clearer in the note on reading.