Initial thoughts…

iido is a graphical to-do list application, or at least that’s the intention at the moment (these things have a habit of becoming more).

As a software developer for over a decade now, one of the most useful skills I’ve aquired (or put another way become better at) is being able to organize my projects and tasks. Any developer who has ever worked on a medium to large project will have used some form of project/task management.

There is a labyrinth of good project management tools out there, both commercial and open-source, many of which specialise in specific areas of project management.

Even though there are all these tools available, the tool I use everyday is the mighty pen & paper (or if I’m feeling patient a plain text document and Dia). Why? Well, from a personal stand point it’s purely down to speed, freedom and convenience.

When I first started to think about writing a to-do list application, I first wrote down a list of things that I like about using a pen & paper.

  • Speed – It’s not just that I can write faster using a pen (my writing is barely legiable to me), it’s that I can write, draw and visually associate various items on one or more pieces of paper, quickly.
  • Freedom – All of us have a different ways of documenting our planning process, alot of the time this means drawing (rough) flow diagrams, tearing or folding paper, writing at an angle, etc.
  • Portability – I can pick up a piece of paper, tear off what I want, put it in my back pocket and take it with me.
  • Collaboration – Whenever I discuss an idea with a colleague I use a piece of paper to explain my idea, and usually in turn they will use the paper to amend my work, and so on and so forth.
  • Unstructured associations – I often write down related information on a piece of paper like, contact information, reminders, ideas, etc.
  • Unobtrusive – My favourate thing about a piece of paper is I can look at it instantly (no load up time), without switching my application.

Obviously there are also a lot of things to dislike about pen & paper, lack of consitency, poor accessibility for other users, no backup or version control systems, etc. This project is about trying to produce an application I’ll want to use instead of pen & paper, and in doing so provide the benifits of an electonic format without (where possible) comprimising on the benifits of paper.

Over the course of the next few weeks I plan to discuss and present ideas for the project on this blog, I’d much appreciate any feedback people have. Currently the team for this project will be myself and my father Andrew – and hopefully a little help from some of the talented friends I’ve been lucky enough to make over the last decade in software.


6 Responses to “Initial thoughts…”

  1. 1 John Blackshaw June 9, 2008 at 12:18 am

    Hey Ant,

    I like the idea but i think your crazy for taking on a task like this. If you find a solution, that hasn’t already been done i’ll be surpised.

    Personally, if i want to make notes i generally use ultra-edit, this is because it’s usually already open, easily accessible, quick to open and i often only need to make text notes. Therefore, the only advice i’ll say for this is that it needs to be an easily accessible background task/program on the computer. Also it cant require or need a drawing tablet because that is very impracticle and annoying.

    Good luck dude


  2. 2 antsdev June 9, 2008 at 9:15 am

    Cheers for the feedback mate.

    The fact you use Ultraedit is kind of the point, I know why you use it (I commonly use it myself, or build lists in the notice board area of the Air websites).

    But there are of a limitations to a simple plain text document including the inability to draw, and the limited possibility for layout and structure (basically your limited to a tree style structure).

    As for Human Input Devices (or HIDs) the intention is to support for mouse, tablet/pen, and touch screen. Though mouse first and foremost. There has also been some discussion of using gesture recognition and providing an interactive surface. I intend to cover this area as a separate blog.

  3. 3 Nick Snell June 9, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Sounds like a good idea to me, although there is some stiff competition – personally I have used remember the milk as a to-do list. It’s worth having a look at as it’s pretty comprehensive and does all sorts of clever integration, including using google gears for offline support. It’s really just a to-do list though, not a project management tool. Check out Basecamp by 37Signals (they do a to-do list app too – ta-da list) for an app thats more project management orientated. I think those are really the choice picks of the bunch, but there are plenty about.

    It’s tough to say what I would want from one, in the end I stopped using remember the milk purely because it was too much like hard work compared to just using my text editor, like John mentioned. I think anything that you build will have to focus on having the actual input as a local service that syncs online (but still works offline too), as the pure web apps are a bit limiting.

    But if you need a hand at all give me a shout.

  4. 4 antsdev June 10, 2008 at 12:34 am

    Yeah, I agree having looked around there are lots of package that try to solve this problem, and same as you they’re all too much work for me to use on a day to day basis.

    iido would be a desktop application, probably a Python & QT based project (though this is still under review, I have some early prototpes up and running using the QT GUI framework but I want to do some further investigation). As you mention, the web at the moment is too limited for the sort of real-time application I invisage.

    Again, similar to you, Andy and I both felt that offline/online support (through synchronization) was the best approach, as this provides portability as well as a good basis for collaboration features.

  5. 5 andyjb June 10, 2008 at 1:51 am

    I think Ant and I were both hoping this app would provide a some features were which are not necessarily present on most text editors or existing ToDo/Project tools.

    It should have a scratchpad feel when in day to day use, whatever the pointing tool used, with easy visual linking both between list elements and to external media. Usually there should be space, to allow you to quickly jot a new note, annotate an existing entry, or rearrange lists without being confined to a formal grid structure. A little like having a card file strewn across the desktop except that there are links and tags, and where appropriate a project context to allow you to find and order things easily. A problem with many tools and particularly with using a standard text editor is that only a single list relationship between elements is possible. The Leo outlining editor addresses some of these issues, especially external associations and multiple views of content (documents may have multiple parents), but it has quite a steep learning curve to get the best of which makes casual colaborative use difficult, and visually it is too much a conventional text editor for presentation use.

    That leads to two other requirments. Intuitive visual interface so that not just colleagues but clients can quickly pick it up and share the workspace. Visually attractive so that the project lists can be easily organised into a presentation without having to rely on an external tool such as powerpoint – and the presenter would retain the flexibility of the scratchpad to for example annotate with audience feedback in real time.

    All the above, whilst remaining as quick to type as you think, as your favourite programming editor. Only time will tell how feasible that is. But Ant and I work quite differently, and yet when we discussed it there was a huge overlap in what we were looking for, so we hope we are not the only ones who would find it useful.

  6. 6 Nick Snell June 10, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    I do like that kind of ‘Post-it note’ feel to the whole thing, it certainly sounds like the sort of thing I would use. It will be interesting to see how you guys formalize what is essentially rather informal data though. One of my main problems with existing services is that they make you work to a set structure, which starts of fine but the second its not flexible enough it’s back to good old pen & paper! It’s obvious why they work like that but when you just want to jot something down it’s a real pain. If they did let me scribble something down though I’m not sure how relevant that would be to anyone else from a collaborative point of view. It’s difficult to see how that can be done as they are really contradictory things, but if you could get the balance right it would be great.

    Slight tangent but… something that I would personally find very useful would be integration with source code. I leave a lot of my notes in source code, ‘to-do’, ‘fix’ etc.. then I have to make a list saying ‘do the to-dos in X..’ or whatever. The ability to have a centralized way to see what needs doing without having to rely on me telling it directly (because I probably won’t!) would be a great feature – and that way it’s all kept in context too…. I know thats a specific case and it could probably be adapted to other situations as well, but it would be a nice feature.

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