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Spotlight + Data Detectors + AdSense: Champagne PIM on an OS Budget

Spotlight on The National

As I continue working with Mac OS X I'm continually impressed by Spotlight, Apple's included text indexing feature. It is seamless, fast, effective, and has significantly changed and improved how I find information, as compared to my Windows XP days.

Having a solid idea file [1] is crucial to Knowledge Work [2], an on-going interest of mine (see Where's The IDE (Integrated Development Environment) For Personal Information?)

Given that, I was struck by an idea to integrate Spotlight with all apps to support an 80-20-level information support system. I suppose this is essentially a work-around to connect all data in the OS, i.e., to remove data islands [3]. Lest you think I know what I'm talking about, see my disclaimer below [4].

Tell me what you think!


As I see it the elements are:

In other words, Spotlight on steroids.

I envision these interconnecting thus [6]: Pull the text from the front most app (option: just selected text), look up all the phrases in Spotlight's database, pull out most relevant ones, order by learned patterns, then display summaries and links to the side. Suuuure.


How would this work in practice? In a word, PKM (Personal knowledge management) [7]. Suppose you're reading an email from a prospective client (or anyone of interest, really) and you want to remind yourself of who she is and your history of interactions with/notes about her. Boom! As if by magic (and I may not be exaggerating :-) a selection of relevant hits show to the right, perhaps categorized ala Spotlight's results bar.

What would show up?

  • Contact information
  • Times, Dates, Names, Addresses/Places
  • Calendar evens
  • Email messages
  • Projects
  • Tasks
  • Files

Another application: A visual indicator of which information sources are most valuable (see Information Provenance - The Missing Link Between Attention, RSS Feeds, And Value-based Filtering). As you're browsing your news feeds, an icon (?) shows on the right how many idea file entries the current feed has. Use this when it's time for your regular purge to make an informed decision.

I'm really curious...


  • Whaddya' think?
  • Reality check: What's are the major arguments against this? They center, no doubt, around reasonable retrieval given all text in an app, and possible hits.
  • How would you use such a beast?
  • What tools do you use to accomplish PKM?




Reader Comments (10)

Xobni does that magic bar to the right for your email.

Your scope is much larger, but they have the basic framework in place to see.

March 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAdminID

Looks cool. More at [ Xobni`s Outlook Add in - Learn more | http://www.xobni.com/learnmore/ ]. Thanks for stopping by.

March 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Was about the Mac. Dynabook was his early laptop proposal.

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

BTW here's an early paper describing the future of computing. Still pretty darn cool: [ Tablet: Personal Computer in the Year 2000 (1988) | http://www.stephenwolfram.com/publications/articles/computing/88-tablet/ ]

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Matt, I haven't used Apple's Spotlight, but I am skeptical that it is any better than Vista's search, or Copernic Desktop Search or Google Desktop Search for that matter. My guess is they all have their quirks and will each incorporate the best features from their competitors in future releases. Was there something you didn't like about Copernic back in your XP days?

Also, gmail has a sidebar where they link to addresses and UPS tracking codes. And that's about it at the moment. I am using gmail at the moment (which has fast search of course) but was also pretty happy with the NEO/Caelo add-on for Outlook. xobni looks good too. At least as far as covering your given use case (at least with data in outlook)

March 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterErik

As a new Mac user, I love Spotlight. I really missed using X1 on XP (it didn't work well with Vista, and there was a performance hit using X1 on Vista because you ended up using to textbase engines), but Spotlight is great!

However, if you don't know: it makes a fantastic application launcher as well! I'm all about keyboard when I can be, as the mouse can slow you down. To launch an app, just press Command-Space and type the first couple three letters of the application you want to launch and press Enter! So, I press C-S and then AC, hit Enter, instant Acrobat. Press C-S then TE and Enter, TextEdit.

Fantastic! Much, much faster than grabbing my mouse to find an icon on the Dock or in Finder.

And it works with documents (and email) as well. I sometimes keep information I need to process later in a file called inbox.txt. C-S + IN + Enter and it's up!


March 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKeith L Dvorak

Hi Keith. Thanks for sharing your X1 experience, and the launcher feature. I agree completely; I never use the Finder to start apps. Firefox: "command-space f", etc. Sweet! Love the document tip too. Appreciate the comment.

March 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell


You've written :

Having a solid idea file [1] is crucial to Knowledge Work [2], an on-going interest of mine (see Where's the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) for personal information?)

and I totally join you in that dream ... it would really be great to have something like an IDE to manage all your documents, ideas and so on... something that would integrate several tools, like databases, search tools, mind maps and so on ... integrated in one environment ...

Could you just give the correct link ? the link provided "Where's the IDE ..." doesn't work ...

April 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

my name is jean-Michel, not "anonymous". Sorry for that ...

April 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJean-Michel

Hi jean-Michel, thanks for writing. Sorry about the link. I have no clue why I made the link to my old blogspot site. It's supposed to redirect, but I corrected it above. Here's the correct link, which should work: [ Where`s The IDE (Integrated Development Environment) For Personal Information? | http://matthewcornell.org/blog/2006/03/wheres-ide-integrated-development.html ]

April 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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