Why care about PIM?

Posted on November 7, 2009

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Days ago I had a chance to have dinner with an executive of a big internet company. When I mentioned that PIM is my research interest, he told me that it’s not very interesting in any sense and I’d better give it another thought.

To counter his argument and as an sequel of my earlier post on major concepts of PIM, I want to write about why one should care about PIM, from the perspective of business and research.

From business perspective, PIM matters because it’s the best way to understand the user, and the businessmodel of most internet companies critically dependent on this.

It’s not a coincidence that most of Google’s core services are managing personal information such as emails, schedules and so on. And having that many people manage their information by Google is its competitive advantage. Bing may follow Google in terms of index size and ranking algorithm, yet it won’t do the same without all the user information Google has access to. It’s like a comparison of a teller and a private banker.

From researcher’s view, PIM provides a venue for interdisciplinary research where Database, IR, HCI and many other fields in CS should make a combined efforts. It starts from storing heterogeneous information items, then choosing a relevant items based on user’s expression of information needs and finally presenting the result effectively. The challenge here is that a system should provide a seamlessly combined experience.

A perhaps less obvious reason is that one can easily experiment with PIM research by solving one’s own PIM problem. You cannot (and may not want to) build a web-scale search system, yet you can index your own documents and see whether you can do better than existing solutions. Once you can make it work for your problem, you can probably persuade people around to have it applied for them as well.

Although my previous work builds on the idea of building a reusable test collection for PIM (desktop search) research, I believe that PIM research should be done with real users and the best way is to build something useful for you and later see what happens to other people.

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Posted in: PIM