Last week I wrote to the design list that we needed an articulation of 'the pony in the product':
Basically, it's back to the good ole elevator pitch. What's the problem we're trying to solve and how are we solving it and why do we think it's better than the competition.
We had some good guesses when we launched Preview, but it's taken really using the app for the last few months for some of us to really 'get it'.
Here's a first pass at trying to articulate the pony. My hope is that this will help us formulate a crisp pitch that is compelling to our target audience. As I said in a past last email, I think part of the problem is that as product-builders, we have a clinical understanding of the problem that emphasizes how we *solve* the problem, rather than the symptoms of the problem itself. Users on the other hand, understand the symptoms. "Items in multiple collections" isn't compelling unless it is presented as a solution to a problem people can relate to. So here is an attempt to present Chandler and what it does in the context of problems people can relate to.
CAVEAT: This is not intended to be landing page copy. This is simply an articulation of what Chandler is, so that we're all on the same page about what needs to be expressed in demos and other marketing material. Unfortunately, my pony turned into a horse, so suggestions about how to make this more succinct would be helpful.
NOTE: A number of the concepts discussed below are our interpretation of "the spirit of GTD". I think it'd be worth identifying what they are so that we can talk about it clearly and consistently. (e.g. Don't over-organize. Don't over-plan. Make sure you allow yourself to do a free-form dump so you get everything out of your head.)
You get bits of information from emails, more emails, IM chats, hallway conversations, post-it notes left on your desk, more email. At the end of the day, where's the source of truth? Where exactly are we having dinner? at what time? What are we supposed to bring? What's the agenda for the meeting exactly? Where's the final packing list? Not only do you need a 'source of truth' for yourself, you need it for all the different groups of people you coordinate, work, live, need to get through life with.
So you need a *trusted* system that can be your personal *source of truth*. The groups you work with need a *trusted* system that can be their *shared source of truth*. There are lots out there...why can't people seem to stick to any?
I - THE PROBLEM WITH TASK MANAGERS TODAY: STRUCTURE GETS IN THE WAY
To wrap their head around what they have to do, people always start out by making a list/outline of all their projects and all their tasks. This 'structure it in order to get a grip on it' approach to task management has its deficits:
1. The structure itself locks out possibilities that don't fit into that structure. Have something random you need to follow up on that doesn't fit into your structure? Doesn't get written down. That's trivial, petty, you think to yourself. Besides, I don't know where I'd put it in this outline. I'll just keep track of it in my head.
2. As soon as new information comes to light, your outline gets out of date as you struggle to fit today's information into yesterday's list.
3. Lists and outlines don't allow you to focus on *just the stuff you need to attend to NOW*. Instead you see everything that's not-done, and a lot of it is stuff you're only hypothesizing you'll need to do.
4. Lists and outlines don't scale to hold and keep track of the disconnected ideas and thoughts you have that eventually coalesce into the 'work' you need to do. So even if you have a way to manage your *tasks* (aka *list of stuff you need to do*), you still have nowhere to store and manage all the stuff that constitutes the *substance* of those tasks. In that sense, task management seems like a lot of 'meta-work', busywork that doesn't actually help you manage the work you're actually doing.
5. Lists and outlines presume that you do things in a given order. First I will do this, then I will do that. In reality, we noodle on lots of things, all the time, at the *same* time. Coming up with ideas and questions, remembering one more thing to add to that list, spouting fully formed introductory paragraphs to the dreaded year-end summary, scheduling a meeting, coming up with an agenda for that meeting, writing meeting notes for last week's meeting...
1. Chandler doesn't start with a project outline. Chandler starts out with a dumping ground for *stuff*.
Dump everything out of your head into Chandler no matter how poorly thought through, trivial or seemingly irrelevant. Don't worry about what it is, when it needs to get done by, or what project it pertains to. Don't worry about where it belongs. It doesn't need to be a task or a meeting. Random thoughts are welcome. Anything that's taking up space in your head is welcome. Chandler isn't so much a task manager or a calendar as a mental *stuff* manager that helps you turn *stuff* into concrete, actionable, useful things like tasks, events, lists and messages.
2. Chandler takes a don't over-organize, iterative approach to organization.
Once you've gotten past the 'dumping' stage, Chandler helps you work your way through the pile with some out-of the box organizational affordances that help you process and make progress on the things you need to do bit-by-bit.
Chandler's organizational affordances are lightweight: (*)
+ Decide whether you want to deal with something NOW or LATER.
+ Create collections of items
+ Add items to Task lists and Calendars
+ Assign alarms
Also, don't worry about regretting tomorrow how you chose to organize stuff today. Organization in Chandler is flexible so it never grows stale. Structure is 'additive' in Chandler so that there's never any 'opportunity cost' to organizing your data in a particular way.
- Creating an event on my 'Family' calendar shouldn't preclude me from seeing it in my 'Personal' calendar.
- Tracking milestones on your calendar shouldn't preclude you from tracking them on your Task list as well.
(*) Eventually, we would like to support more sophisticated organizational tools because sometimes, you just need to be that organized:
+ Clusters: A way to thread items together
+ Tags and user-defined attributes
+ Smart, user-defined views
However, this functionality will be added in a way that is in keeping with Chandler's minimalist and flexible approach.
3. Chandler distinguishes between Not-Done and Needs to be Done so that you can focus on what you need to deal with NOW without losing track of the stuff you eventually need to deal with LATER. You can assign alarms and/or add items to the calendar and they will automatically pop back into NOW. It's kind of like being able to time when you receive a reminder email from yourself.
4. Chandler isn't just for keeping track of what you need to do. It's for *doing* what you need to do. In this way, Chandler isn't so much a 'task manager' as a 'work manager'. Unlike lists and outlines, each task you enter into Chandler is a discrete information item with it's own notes field. So your task item to 'Collect quotes for the presentation' *becomes* the list of quotes itself as you collect them in the Notes field over time. (This idea isn't easily discernible today. Adding support for a Document or Resource Kind would help highlight this aspect of Chandler.)
5. Chandler presumes that you're working on multiple things *at the same time, all of the time*. Chandler isn't about listing out the order in which you're going to do things and then automatically telling you what you need to do next because the reality is, even the best laid plans are laid to waste by the constant stream of 'new information' we receive. Instead, you pick at-will what you want / need / can't help but focus on right NOW and work on them simultaneously.
II - THE PROBLEM WITH COLLABORATION TOOLS TODAY: WHETHER IT'S A WIKI OR SHAREPOINT, COLLABORATION TOOLS ARE NEVER INTEGRATED WITH PERSONAL TASK MANAGEMENT TOOLS. (WHICH IS WHY EMAIL IS STILL THE INFORMATION MANAGER OF CHOICE, IT'S THE ONE SOLUTION THAT INTEGRATES THE TWO)
Now Chandler integrates personal and shared information manager too!
+ You have equal access to personal *and* shared information in a single application.
+ The same notes, tasks and events can appear in both shared and personal collections so your personal 'source of truth' stays in sync with the 'group's source of truth'.
III - THE PROBLEM WITH A LOT OF SOFTWARE TOOLS IS THAT THEY'RE NOT AVAILABLE / ACCESSIBLE FROM EVERYWHERE
+ Chandler is cross-platform: Windows, Linux and Mac. Install it at home and at work. Collaborate with others even if they're on a different operating system.
+ You don't need everybody in your group to use Chandler to enable collaboration. Send others to view and edit shared collections in the web browser instead. They don't even need to sign up for an account.
+ Chandler allows you to access your own data via the web browser.
+ Chandler doesn't assume that everyone you need to work with can or will use Chandler, which is why you can also collaborate on notes, tasks and events via email.
+ Chandler is working on ways to get data onto mobile devices.
Elevator pitch: Stuff manager for organized chaos? Work manager for organized chaos? Project information manager for organized chaos? Task manager for organized chaos?