Computers are supposed to make organization simple, but sometimes filing and finding documents in a labyrinth of digital folders seems only marginally more sophisticated than rifling through the filing cabinets of yesteryear.
Computer science professor David Karger hopes new software will transform the way people organize and search for information on their computers. The Haystack project, which Karger started in 1995 with former MIT professor Lynn Stein, offers more-intuitive ways of organizing files, far beyond the traditional categories of file name, type, or date.
In digital environments, information can be organized in countless ways. With Haystack, associations, or groupings, can be created among files of any type. E-mails, for example, can be linked to photographs, websites, MP3s, or text documents. This way, a user can find family photographs by searching through e-mails from family members.
The Haystack project began when Internet search engines were just gaining popularity. What really bugged me was that we suddenly had amazing tools for searching the Internet but still couldnt organize our own stuff, says Karger. He says development of sophisticated organization and searching software got a late start because when personal computers first became popular in the 1980s, I dont think people envisioned having such a large personal repository of information that would need to be searched.
A downloadable prototype version of the software is available on the Haystack project website (haystack.lcs.mit.edu). As the organization principles in Kargers software catch on, we may find that we suddenly have amazing tools for searching our own hard drives.