Personal Information Management (PIM) as a Science

Posted on August 30, 2009


For a long time, I have been thinking that better PIM will lead to more productive and fulfilling life, since it is about supporting one’s brain in saving, processing and retrieving information, which constantly suffers from oveload in this internet age. This seemed like a very interesting problem which merits a graduate-level study.

After I got here in UMass and started to study and research about it, I noticed several characteristics of PIM as a topic of scientific inquiry, which is mostly due to its ‘personal’ nature. In other others, PIM is different from other research topics because it is deeply rooted in one’s practices and lives.

The first thing is that PIM research should aim at principles beyond idiosyncracies, or a framework (system) that can accommodiate these different needs and practices. While the system should learn from user’s behavior, sometimes it needs to give incentives for the user to follow the right path.

Another thing is that PIM research should overcome the difficulty of getting data. The first issue comes from that personal data is mostly private by nature and therefore hard to get and shared. I tried to address this problem by creating a simulated collection with similar characteristics in my  SIGIR worksop paper. The second issue is that personal data is much smaller in scale, which imposes a big challenge for any supervised/semi-supervised learning approach.

In spite of these issues, I think it is a fascinaing problem with huge impact, since the findings are immediately relevant to millons of people who suffer from information overload. Also, I like the fact that I can test the system with myself and verify the result with my own data before doing a user study, which enables a real-time feedback and a fast iteration.

Posted in: PIM