Book Review – Personal Information Management (1)

Posted on September 2, 2009

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If you’re looking for a overview of current status of PIM research, the book titled ‘Personal Information Management’ by William Jones and Jaime Teevan is definitely the best (and maybe only) choice.

I have known William Jones and his PIM research group in UW for a long time and they have pioneered the research efforts on PIM. Jaime Teevan is also a renowned researcher in the field of re-finding and search personalization. In this and following posts, I intend to provide my perspective on the key ideas of this book.

First off, it’s worth pointing out that they provide several working definitions regarding PIM such as:

  • Information Item : a packaging of information in a persistent form that can be acquited, created, viewed, stored and so on.
    (e.g. paper/electronic documents, emails, webpages, etc.)
  • Personal Information : the information a person keeps, about a person, experienced by a person, directed to a person. Persoanl information is substantiated in the form of information items.
  • Personal Space of Information (PSI) : personal information combines to form a single personal space of information, which is a collection of information items related to a person.

The definition of personal information management (PIM) naturally follows: the practice and study of the activities people perform to acquire, organize, maintain, retrieve, use and control the distribution of information items, in other words PIM encompasses all the activities regarding one’s PSI. In addition to this definition centering around information items, they suggest major activities of PIM like:

  • Finding / re-finding activities : move from need to information
    (e.g. I need to find a good restaurant for dinner)
  • Keeping activities : move from information to need
    (e.g. Where should I save the paper he sent me?)
  • Meta-level activities : evaluation, management, organization and making sense of the PSI itself

Among these activities, the authors point out that meta-level activities are often put off because they are important in the long run but are rarely urgent, while finding and keeping activities are constantly prompted by events in a typical day.

In overall, I think they provided an excellent job providing the structure by which one can think of the problem of PIM. I’ll often refer to these definitions again in the future.

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