This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Search or Find or Recall?

 One Ring - by Xander - own work, Public Domain

One Ring - by Xander - own work, Public Domain

Atlas Recall is a tool to help knowledge workers stop hunting for "that thing" and simply recall it. Is it the one thing we all need? Will it bind everything together? Does it rule?

Knowledge workers are always collecting, gathering, searching and researching, remembering, connecting, combining, synthesizing, ... And for most of us, it is all supported and mediated by the devices we have at hand. So, wouldn't it be nice if the tools could also help us with all our activities?

Isn't this the holy grail of the techno-centric version of knowledge management? One tool to rule them all?

We've seen many of these. Usually, these are some kind of search and retrieval tool either for the individual knowledge worker or for an organization. I can't begin to list them all: X1, Entopia, The Brain, Watson (not the IBM version), Outlook itself and various plugins, ActiveWords, aggregators, etc., etc. I just looked in my blog, and I've written about "search" many times.

This brings me to Atlas Recall. I've been trying it out over the last month.  The general idea is that it sits on your computer (Mac currently, Windows soon) and keeps track of everything you see. And then if you are trying to recall "where did I see X", you can ask Atlas Recall for help. It does exactly that: will show you what you have seen, whether it was on the web or in a chat session or in documents you've been writing / reading. The tool shows "pictures" of things I've seen, attempting to organize by relevance or recency. Click through and it either opens the original item or a picture of the screen, if it cannot locate the source.

All the search information is stored online (secured), so that I can get to my Atlas Recall from multiple computers or from my iPhone with the iOS app. If I'm running on multiple computers, the database will build from both.  Atlas Recall does not yet index what I see on the mobile device - this could be a big drawback for people who spend a lot of time working / browsing on their mobile or tablets.

There is also a plugin that works with Chrome and Google Search to bring results into the search panel, which does a nice job of reminding me of possibly related content I have seen.  I just did a search for "railroad" that turned up the usual information about railroads/trains. But the Atlas plugin pulled up a couple of recent items I had seen that used the verb form of "railroad", which was exactly what I was looking for.  (It doesn't appear to work with other search websites or with other browsers.)

Will I keep this in my suite of tools? After a month, I don't know that I have not found myself switching over to Atlas to find something on a regular basis. Fortunately, it's easy enough for me to leave it running in the background, so I will see if it becomes more useful over time. One of the current challenges is that it only looks at materials I've looked at since installing it. All the materials I have archived on my computer are basically invisible until I open them, so I still need a "desktop search" tool (like Spotlight or Outlook's built-in search) to be able to find old things. And for me, it is often the old things I cannot find. I have called them something other than what I thought, and my tagging / categorization doesn't make sense any more. For the things I've seen recently, I usually remember where I put them and don't need help recalling. I can see Atlas Recall being helpful after I've done a lot of browsing and then want to find "that thing." Another drawback is that the results don't always seem relevant. It shows me things I've seen that have no connection to the term I just searched.

David Pogue has a nice overview of the Atlas Recall with plusses and minuses. I generally agree with his take on it. He has an entertaining take on the thinking behind it too:

Long ago—maybe 15 years ago—I wrote on my blog about a fantasy program I wished I had. It would quietly take a screenshot every time my screen changed. That way, I’d have a paper trail of everything I’d ever seen on the screen: every email, every web article, every chat session, every Word or PDF document, every photo. And I’d always be able to call it up again when my memory failed. “Oh man, where did I read that?” would be a thing of the past.

Small note: David Pogue complains that it doesn't index the content of documents. I have not seen that to be the case - at least for documents that I have opened. It is true that if I haven't opened them, it doesn't know what is inside (or even that they exist).

What is your problem?

Working according to Boston Globe