The Science of Managing Our Digital Stuff by Ofer Bergman and Steve Whittaker

Ofer Bergman and Steve Whittaker have just published, The Science of Managing our Digital Stuff, that will be of interest to many of our readers. This landmark book deals with some of the core information processing problems specified in Cognitive Productivity.

The authors argue that dealing with “personal” information is a key problem that is different from dealing with remote information. (Personal information is created or accessed by the user. Compare the Wikipedia entry.)

Like I extensively did in Cognitive Productivity, the authors argue that information technology is still currently not well-suited to dealing with personal information. Knowledge workers are now quite efficient at finding public information. Their challenge is dealing with information they have acquired. Yet R&D still focuses relatively too much on the problems of finding public information.

Bergman & Whittaker provide a collection of principles to guide the design of personal information management software.

They refrain from offering practical advice to knowledge workers, cautioning that more research is needed, and that there are significant individual differences in dealing with personal information. However, some of their claims do have practical implications. For example, they argued that some of the techniques that work well on the web don’t work well on the desktop. In particular, personal information management calls for organizing of one’s knowledge resources (“information items”.)

For a scholarly journal, I intend to write a formal review of this book, which marks that the field of personal information management is coming of age.

My R&D is primarily focused on information processing with technology. CogSci Apps is actively engaged in developing software to help people users apply their knowledge. CogZest aims to help users “thrive in the sea of knowledge”. My Cognitive Productivity books are about helping people use knowledge to become profoundly effective. Those are three different sides of the same cube.

Published by

Luc P. Beaudoin

Head of CogZest. Author of Cognitive Productivity books. Co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp. Adjunct Professor of Education, Simon Fraser University. Why, Where, and What I Write. See About Me for more information.

2 thoughts on “The Science of Managing Our Digital Stuff by Ofer Bergman and Steve Whittaker”

  1. A cognate term is personal knowledge management; and a related idea is the personal knowledge base (PKB). A couple of the best texts I’ve found about PKBs, especially about the alternative data models involved in the development of software for addressing the unique challenges of personal knowledge, are:

    Stephen Davies, Javier Velez-Morales, & Roger King (2005). Building the memex sixty years later: trends and directions in personal knowledge bases. Department of Computer Science, University of Colorado at Boulder.

    Stephen Davies (2011). Still building the memex. Communications of the ACM, 54(2), 80–88.

    Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks these texts are helpful, since the Wikipedia article on the topic is cribbed from the first text.

    Bergman and Whittaker’s The Science of Managing our Digital Stuff doesn’t mention the term personal knowledge base, but it does mention Vannevar Bush’s concept of the memex, which figures prominently in the title of both texts by Davies et al.

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