Friday, June 29, 2007

How to deal with contextual unstructured info

I work in a big company. Actually, work in a very big company.
As part of what I'm doing I'm in contact with many people and juggling many contexts.
Lets say I'm related to five projects, active in two open source groups, have some kind of relationships with few dozens of ISVs in the same vertical, few conferences I need to attend / send papers / speak in... You got the point.
So each of the above is a context associated with people, links to web sites, phone numbers, etc. Some of these references are shared between contexts, so sometime you want to have just a reference to information.

Of course, there are address books of all sorts that can help you do such things. But I find them too much structured to help me dump the full context out of my head and be able to recall it few months later. A simple text file is unstructured enough, but its hard to create associations in it and over time it can be so cluttered so its getting out of control (similar problems I have with WIKIs I try to maintain).

More restrictions I have is to be able to port the information between machines (my main OS is Mac, but I do work with Windows and Linux), derived for that is that it must be a file I can send around. I also want to be able to embed a representation of it in a web page, plain old HTML or a WIKI page, and so share my knowledge around.

The best solution I found so far for these kind of problems is MindMap. It is indeed a must as far as I see it, without it I would keep loosing information off my head as new information is trying to find its way in. Mastering these MindMap and GTD which I wrote about earlier is in my opinion a must have skill for every person that need to deal with a massive set of information and tasks.

The image above is of one of my MindMaps created using the great FreeMind tool (Java, Open Source). It is my grand context MindMap which points to other MindMaps. I would be hard to even start describing all the ways I use MindMaps, and I'm sure that anyone will find new ways to utilize it.

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