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Personal toolkit

By Steve Barth

There are basically two kinds of people in the world: those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who have better things to do with their time. Right?

This month I’m talking about two potentially powerful products for personal knowledge management (PKM) that didn’t work particularly well for me. That’s not their fault. It’s because there are two kinds of people in this world: organized people and people like me.

I used to be very insecure about this. I used to worry that I would never be able to improve myself and my circumstances unless I got “organized.” Well, brothers and sisters, I’m here to tell you that isn’t true. Thanks to the tools and techniques of personal knowledge management I have been able to vastly improve my output and income without having to be any more--or less--disorganized.

Which leads me to my patently over-simplistic syllogism: If you are an organized person, you are always looking to be more organized. But if you are not an organized person and you still have achieved a measure of success in your life, maybe organization isn’t the issue.

I’ve frequently talked about PKM in terms of “self-organization.” In one sense, what I mean by that is letting your messes organize themselves. Don’t worry about an intricate personal taxonomy for the folder hierarchy on your hard drive—just keep the data backed up and find a search and retrieval tool that presents the relevant information in categories relevant to the moment (see “Personal Toolkit” January 2002 KMWorld).

This month’s tools didn’t work particularly well for me because they are for organized people—or for companies that need to keep people organized. But they both do a very effective job of bringing order to the chaos of information overload.

Wintility Plus and ProPX Technologies (wintility.com)

With a new version due out this month, Wintility lets users and their organizations create and maintain customized catalogs to all of their unstructured information. These catalogs become portal-like “environments” in which a user can locate and work with his or her documents and messages.

Unlike an indexer, Wintility maps documents according to how they are named and filed. The point is not just to find existing documents faster, but keep your information organized with less effort as new documents are added.

Document attributes such as name, location, content or description can be used as search criteria. The default catalog sticks to the existing structure of your folders and subfolders, turning them into categories like a souped-up file manager. But the installation wizard can also assist the user in the creation of a more practical catalog based on professional activities, such as one it suggested for journalists. In such a case the user adds personal context with keywords that will help the application assign documents to categories.

Wintility users can highlight documents and attach summarized descriptions that speed up recognition, create multiple references to a document and run common e-mail functions such as reply and forward. Documents can also be given expiration dates and users will be notified when the time is up. A viewer lets you check contents without having to activate the program that originated the document, browsing texts, worksheets, presentations, e-mail messages and images.

Extra features in Wintility Pro help keep file catalogs organized. Auto Organization applies user-defined rules to catalog new documents created or received. Auto Doc standardizes the categorization all of the electronic documents and messages handled by the company.

Wintility Plus is aimed at individuals and small businesses, while Pro adds features useful at larger organizations, such as multiple catalogs and document sharing. The WebWintility service makes the catalog and documents available through any Web browser.

In tests, Wintility created a catalog based on my existing file structure in less than 30 minutes. Assembling an environment “customized” for journalists took about an hour to perform the initial scan. But imposed on an existing hard disk full of documents, it left more than 25,000 documents in the “Orphan” category. It seems pretty clear that the application is most effective if implemented early, when an individual or--more likely--an organization is setting up the file structure.

Wintility Plus is delivered online for $59 but can be tried at no cost for 30 days.

eMailBossIncline SoftWorks (inclinesoftworks.com)

Released last October by Incline SoftWorks, eMailBoss is an add-on to Microsoft Outlook meant to organize and prioritize incoming messages according to their importance to the user.

The application automatically determines which messages are urgent, which are for future reference and which are from friends and family. It comes configured to automatically sort the inbox into seven categories and move the messages to corresponding sub-folders. The standard categories include: VIP e-mail from the people designated as most important to you; HOT! e-mail that is marked “priority;” Follow-Up for messages marked by the user or sender as needing a response; Office Mail for e-mails from the same domain as the user’s address; Friends & Family for e-mail from those listed in your contact database; To Be Reviewed for mail sent by someone not listed; and Junk for the e-mail not addressed to you by name.

In addition, AutoSort sends messages to folders based on designated keywords in the sender’s name or subject line, slotting newsletters or correspondence on specific projects. The spam blacklist blocks messages coming from a certain domain name or a spamming individual as specified by the user.

Mail delivered to each folder rings a different sound or even triggers a synthesized voice to read the message headers (“You have a hot message from John Q. Public about Meeting Friday”).

The idea is that by pre-filing and pre-filtering, the time you spend reviewing mail is focused and prioritized. The synthesized voice announcing messages keeps you from having to stop whatever you are working on to see what the incoming message is.

In reality, the system seems to work best if a lot of energy—and time—is invested getting the application configured. eMailBoss is meant to simplify many of the things Outlook’s rules can do (plus some it can’t). But a journalist gets a lot of mail from people who aren’t in my contact list (which is pretty large), and many broadcast messages are legitimate press releases and memos from the boss--not junk mail.

eMailBoss can be downloaded free for a trial period or purchased for $39.95.

Steve Barth writes and speaks frequently about KM, e-mail stevebarth@earthlink.net. For more on personal knowledge management, see his Web site: global-insight.com

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