In Search of Q

Published 16 years, 7 months past

In an effort to get a handle on my taskflow, I went looking for an organizer application.  So far as I can tell, what I want doesn’t exist, but maybe someone can point me to it.

What I really want is a push queue for documents and other data fragments.  I’ll call it “Q”, both for the obvious phonic match as well as to score a little ST:TNG joke plus make a Cleveland arena reference.  The latter two work because I sort of envision the application as being a very powerful being as well as a large gathering place for data.

The way I envision it, I drag a file onto the main Q window and it’s added to the general pool.  Every item in Q can be labeled, tagged, commented, and otherwise meta’d half to death.  The queue can be sorted or filtered on any number of things—file creation or modification date, Q addition date, file name, containing folder, tags, labels, and so forth.  Also, every item can be assigned a due date.

When I double-click on anything in Q, it opens the original file just as if I’d double-clicked its Finder icon.  (I’m an OS X user, but translate “Finder icon” to whatever the equivalent words are in your OS of choice.)  So really, Q is maintaining a pool of aliases to the original files, plus any associated metadata.  In that sense, it’s like iTunes set to not copy added music to the iTunes Music folder in your home directory.  Yes, some people run it that way.  And like iTunes, the ability to create smart lists based on tags and comments and such would be really awesome.

I’d find Q deeply useful because as new tasks come in/up, I could drag in whatever file(s) relate to those tasks so that I don’t lose track of what I have to do, quickly tag them and set a due date, and continue with whatever I was working on.  There’s room for tons of even more useful features like synchronization across multiple computers, the ability to accept any fragment of data at all as opposed to files, and more, but the core need is a task queue.

To illustrate this with some examples from my recent workflow, I would drag in a copy or two of the IRS W-9 form, a couple of e-mail messages, an invoice, and a Word document containing a set of interview questions.  The W-9s would get tagged by the clients’ names, the invoice would be tagged and flagged, and so on.  The real key here is that they’d be add-sorted by default, so I can work on them first-come-first-served.  Of course, other approaches would be possible with other sorts and filtering.

It seems like, with all the GTD mania floating around, someone would have come up with this solution already, but my searches have so far been fruitless.  I tried a couple of applications that seemed like they might be close to what I want, but they weren’t.  Am I just using the wrong search terms, or is this something that just doesn’t exist yet?

Comments (35)

  1. Yojimbo was in fact one of the applications I tried out, and it doesn’t do what I describe. Yes, it allows metadata, but not queueing and certainly not the aliasing of files on the hard drive. I checked with the Barebones guys and they confirmed it’s not really meant to be used this way, so no surprise that it didn’t work out.

  2. iGTD kinda works like this. You can drag a file to it and it creates a task with a link to the file.

    I like it because of how well it works with Quicksilver. If you think of something while you’re working you just bring up QS, type in the task, and send it to iGTD.

  3. I use Journler to do kind of what you describe: It creates aliases to files, allows tags and comments for entries, has smart folder capabilities, etc. It also integrates well with Mail.

  4. Really, really close, Billy. It doesn’t seem to create links to files, though—when I double-click on a file, it invites me to rename the file, not launch it. I eventually found the “links” bar at the bottom of the window, which is a substitute, but not a great one for me. (I’m sure it’s killer for other people, but I had a vision, y’know?) I also had trouble copying and pasting tags, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to create smart folders (or contexts) though I may be overlooking something.

    Overall, though, that’s very, very close what I had in mind. Thanks!

  5. I’ve been looking for exactly that app for a long, long time. I use Yojimbo for capturing random thoughs, and Circus Ponies’ Notebook for more structured organizing activities… but there doesn’t seem to be just one app that does it all and “feels right” at the same time.

    Among the notables in this space:
    * Apokalypse’s Mori (formerly of Hog Bay Software)
    * Zengobi’s Curio
    * Circus Ponies’ Notebook
    * Bare Bones Yojimbo
    * Bartek Bargiel’s iGTD
    * Omnigroup’s Omniplan
    * Devon Technologies DEVONThink

    Any app I’ve missed? ( =

  6. Eric, doesn’t this assume that all your tasks are tied to a file? How would you put non-file-based stuff in your queue?

  7. I vaguely remember a program that sounds a good bit like what you’re looking for from years ago, before “tagging” was all 1337 ‘n’ stuff… I think the logo was a hand painted to look like a tropical fish, but I can’t turn anything up online.

  8. It sounds as though InfoSelect goes some way toward what you want – but its Windows and Palm only, I think.

    A former client sware by it in its early, text-only days – it seemed spookily efficient at finding matches.

  9. Random thought – what about Entourage’s “Projects”? I’m not a current user but did use it a little for a job a while back, and it sounds familiar (though I don’t know about its metadata capabilities).

  10. It already exists. It’s right under your nose. It’s the Finder. I know, crazy, right? Well, the Finder augmented with personalized metadata. Look into spotmeta. This lets you define all the key/value metadata types you can stand (using the metadata architecture Apple added to OS X in 10.4), so you can have due-date, client, tags, flavor, etc, all as metadata on any file you want.

    Once you set up your types in the spotmeta apps, you can edit file data through a contextual menu in the Finder. And the Finder knows about the metadata you add, so you can create smart folders that select on it.

    I’ll be the first to admit this setup involves a little more friction than I’d like–and that may be enough to discourage you from using it at all–but it does work.

  11. It sounds from your description that you just want to tag a collection of files, but surely you want to make notes on the conglomeration.

    I wish E-mail could do what you want. A good mail client like Thunderbird allows tagging, sorting and searching of tons of messages with attached files. So if you spend a lot of time in e-mail, create TODO e-mails to yourself and attach files to them, later create follow-ups to them that you can view threaded. You just never mail a TODO message, unless you want to save a copy elsewhere. In reality there are lots of problems doing this with Thunderbird: it doesn’t preview attachments well, it actually embeds a copy of the attachment in the draft message, its drag and drop is imperfect.

    Another tool I’ve been playing with is TiddlyWiki. If you use a lot of URLs and links and you’re used to editing wikis, then it gives you a local wiki in a single HTML file (!!) with built-in journaling and tags. So you can jot down notes and make links to other items and easily find them. However, TiddlyWiki doesn’t make URLs when you drag files and selections into it, so it’s only good if all the files it references have URLs.

    Instead of aliases to files, you should think URLs. An enabling technology for this is richer URLs for local file fragments. When I drag a selection from a document into my Q, I don’t want just file:///C:/Documents%20and%20Settings/me/electrician.doc, I want something richer like localfile:me/electrician.doc#para42; if I drag in a mail message I want a localmail: URL that will find the referenced e-mail.

    Without rich local URL support and innovation in desktop applications, people who keep their data entirely on the Web will get a Q-like system much easier and sooner than you’ll get local Q.

  12. John, the majority of my tasks these days are file-based: invoices to pay, forms to fill out and submit, designs to mark up, etc. The addition of “Notes”, which is to say small text snippets entered in Q itself, would cover just about anything else I can think of.

    Adam, the Finder occurred to me as well. Unfortunately, that approach is missing one very, very large piece: the actual queue, sorted by the date files were added to it. Without that, the rest is basically useless for my intended purpose. (Though I’ll look into spotmeta at some point, as it seems to cover different ground of interest to me.)

    skierpage, the ability to comment on collections/folders/groups/whatever would be nice, but not critical for me. This is not an ocean-boiling task manager. It’s a push-sorted queue with some metadata. And I could totally live without the metadata. Your point about URLs as opposed to aliases is well taken, and I’d love to see those capabilities as well!

  13. If

    all your files were email messages


    You use Outlook

    Nelson Email Organizer is exactly what you were looking for.

    I do.

    But you don’t. But maybe one of your readers does.

    It’s a productivity life saver.

  14. I just was thinking about such a piece of software today. Starring at the white board filled with various jobs and their corresponding phases at my Dad’s office while I was having a break, from working on his server, for lunch. More to the visualizing the queue side, but the ability to link all related files to the individual queue tasks would be a nice addition.

    Being between jobs right now I don’t really have the resources to commit to working on such a project. If I could find some stable employment it would be something I’d enjoy collaborating on.

  15. Seems to me like Adam is right – finder and spotlight, plus metadata is all you need.

    Your ‘Added to Q’ date is just another piece of metadata – you could have an Automator folder action add this automatically when you dragged stuff to your Q folder – then just have smart folders which view the Q in various ways – including one ‘Global Q’ which just shows all items with an ‘Added to Q’ date, sorted by ‘Added to Q’.

  16. Either you will think of me as a genius or really stupid. Here’s a shot. Why not create your own application? OS X is developer friendly and I’m sure you could figure out objective-C, X-Code etc etc.

    This is something I would consider if the application I want is too specific to find in the market place. Who knows, you may create the next Quicksilver.

    Worth a try no?!

  17. Dmkash posted about her own organizational holy grail. One of the main components of her system is a program called EagleFiler. A quick check of the site makes it look pretty close to what you are describing. Bonus – Dmkash reports that EagleFiler’s developer, Michael Tsai, is very responsive and open to user requests for features.

  18. It doesn’t meet all your criteria, but EagleFiler is pretty close.

    It does make a copy however, instead of an alias. But everything is taggable, there are folders (which are duplicated on hard disk as you see them in the program), and everything is stored as a regular file. Smart folders are in there.

    I just hit F1 to grab whatever I am looking at, mail message, entire mail mailbox, webpage (as archive), document, etc.

    I recommend giving it a try. It’s not for everyone, but I enjoy it.

  19. I just stumbled across and thought it might be what you’re looking for. Never used it myself, and I couldn’t tell from the info on that site what kind of sorting it supports – figured I’d link you up and you can do the research. :)

  20. I use netcentrics GTD addin for Outlook; which is pretty darned nice. However, I think the point about finder is a good one — what is really needed is a shell/explorer integration with a GTD-like queue. Both windows and mac now allow for views over filesystem and e-mail which is essentially a tag-oriented inverted index; so the missing piece is the queue — and the nice UX integration points with your daily workflow, like GTD addin has.

  21. I think Nifty Box is the winner, folks– it’s 90% of what I’m seeking, and the missing 10% is tolerable. I’ll probably get in touch with the developer as well. iGTD was a close second, but was I think a little too much for what I was trying to do.

    It would be very interesting to see an OS make this kind of thing easy, though…

  22. I’m glad you found something… of course those of us who are on a PC are still suffering.

    I was actually just yesterday wondering why MS hadn’t just done a complete small business server redesign with simplified permissions and file tagging (along with easier file migration – I have folders set up just for users with permissions for those users and they still can’t transfer files…)

  23. I realize this is off-topic, but what’s the deal with the text for the RSS feed for this item? In my browser, the OP question is followed by dozens of links apparently to some viagra sales site.

  24. On the actual page, there’s :

    [u style=”display: none”] lots of links starting ‘
    themes/modern-british-architecture/images/backup/cache’ [/u]

    I have no idea how they have managed to appear before the comment [div/]

  25. Cracked again.

    Sorry, folks. I’ve cleaned out the offending links and closed the holes I discovered. Now all I have to worry about is the holes I didn’t discover.

  26. Try MS’s OneNote, does all the Meta and you can create links to files, or attach them yadda yadda yadda.

  27. I’m thinking about writing a GTD-program in PyObjC, and I’ll definitely remember these thoughts for later.

  28. You might want to check out Midnight Inbox It does have a few bugs and is a little more rigorous in it’s ties to GTD but it could work.

  29. I was going to say Midnight Inbox too, I was surprised nobody mentioned it until David. It’s a nice looking app and I think it does a lot of what you’re after.

    I think I’m going to try and just use what comes with OSX for the time being, notes and todos in mail is a big improvement in Leopard. Checking out SpotMeta (as mentioned in comment #11) just now.

  30. @Eric, thanks for this post, it’s been a valuable read.

    @Billy – thanks for the headsup on iGTD. What a great guy and app over there at

    @Eric, I’m sure you’ve noticed since, but you can create Contexts with iGTD, it’s one of it’s key components.

  31. I am in the process of learning to use DevonthinkPro. This a database that does a mixture of holding and organising files/content. It does not do what you ask, but I mention it because it suggests a different way of thinking about organising. Gmail has introduced the concept of using search instead of keywords/labels. I find it takes a major shift in thinking to do this: I still apply all sorts of labels, and only slowly can I let some go, confident I can find that thread by searching.

    Heirarchical organsiation and keyword/tagging has become a default way of thinking/organising, but they are not the only way now we have AI search.

    Devonthink can act as a pdf viewer, a web browser, a document reader, an image viewer; or you can open files with the external applications. It can link to files or import them.

    It is applescriptable, can use smart folders and uses aliases to put an item in more than one heirarchical folder.

    Put the due date or other keywords into the comments, create smart folders to collect the matches, then there is lots of sorting that can be easily done. Want to find a missing document for a project?: Devonthink will come up with a list that use a word, phrase etc, that you can then add. (Of course it only searches what it knows, but you can tell it to index your hard drive).

    As I said, it is not exactly what you are asking, but it opens the door to different ways of organising using intelligent search (and I REALLY like not having to open lots of applications to view the varied documents that belong with one project — a set of images, a pdf, a Word document, notes, addresses, some urls, an rss feed).

  32. For those of you on PCs, look at EverNote.

    It allows you to drag web clippings, files, etc into its database; add as many tags or categories (as EverNote calls them) to each item; view by categories, cross categories, creation date, etc etc. And a million other features.

    I use it to organise all my 8,000 plus notes on the technology industry.

  33. Eric, I just read this review of Together 2.0, and it sounds a lot like the dream app you are describing.

    Together works, essentially, by dragging and dropping files and folders into either the application itself, or to a designated group or folder in the Shelf, a side menu that can be quickly accessed from the desktop, regardless of what program you are using. You can then label or tag those items and add notations or make small edits.

  34. Try Remember the Milk. There is no dragging, but they do have keyboard shortcuts so you can quickly meta your stuff. I’ve been using it for awhile and would be lost without it.

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