Week 4: Thinking about ditching the things I don't need to solve for

Problem Space

Computer when used for information management could be considered as a medium for thinking. Today, we have a wealth of accessible information. But it is difficult to understand and create meaning from information.

The affordances in tools shapes the way we think. An example would be web browser: Today, the initial discovery of information begins at web browsers and web-based services. As the WebMemex project put, "Web browsers suffer chronic amnesia. They excel at quickly accessing remote knowledge, but are no use in keeping or managing it — bookmarks suck, browser history is a joke, hoarding dozens of tabs is grossly inadequate, and other tools are often too cumbersome." One could argue that the silo-ed consumption-ready experience in web browsers is sufficient for "previewing" information before they're collected elsewhere. But I believe that the collection-interpretation-externalization process slightly bleed into each other: providing any affordance to let people interact with web-based content could help us make sense better.


Here are two scenarios, each emphasizing challenges in a particular phase of activities.

Scenario 1

As a voter, I want to understand how each candidate, if won, could influence my life and benefit the society.

Potential information sources:

  • News
  • Essays and opinions
  • Conversations
  • Campaign advertisement
  • Government archives


  • Web page
  • Newspapers
  • Social media discussions
  • Government archives (e.g. fact-checking data about GDP growth)
  • Books

Existing tools:

  • Pen + paper
  • Web browser (a lot of passive reading)

Activity priority: collection, (a little bit of) interpretation

  • Reading news reports
  • Understanding policies differences
  • Fact-checking

Scenario 2

As a user researcher, I want to look for patterns and synthesize insights across different research materials.

Potential information sources:

  • Transcripts
  • Interviews
  • Survey results
  • Behavioral usage statistics


  • Online tools
  • Document/text (Docs, Sheets)
  • User-research-specific (e.g. QualtricXM, SurveyMonkey)
  • Documents
  • Notebook

Existing methodology:

  • Tagging + highlighting

Existing tools:

  • Pen + paper
  • Organizing in digital documents (e.g. highlighting in Docs + organizing in Sheets)
  • Professional research tools (e.g. Quirkos, Dovetail)

Activity priority: (a little bit of)collection, interpretation:

  • Read through materials
  • Connect similar behaviors
  • Cluster highlighted information
  • Draft insights

Directions to Explore

At the moment, two directions have emerged in my head, each loosely connected to two scenarios above:

  1. As mentioned above, I'm interested in making web browser a better tool for interpretation. This involves allowing people to annotate/extract web-based content, visually organize browsing traces, etc. To oversimplify: Milanote + Chrome. The inspirations include WebMemex, WorldBrain (https://getmemex.com/), LiquidText.
  2. I'm also interested in making note-taking environment more dynamic. This involves allowing people to sift through information across different formats, connecting/combining/comparing items, and make the sketches programmable. The inspirations include Muse/Capstone, many Bret Victor's work + Dynamicland.