What is Chandler supposed to be for, anyway?

December 5th, 2007 by Mimi Yin

We’ve heard from many corners that starting up Chandler is an intimidating experience, the app feels heavy, over-bloated with features. It’s taken me a long time to ‘get’ what that means. Here’s one explanation: (As usual, it has to do with context and history.)

When Chandler began, it was going to be the alpha and the omega of information management. It was going to swallow traditional PIM functionality wholesale (Email, Notes, Tasks, Calendar, Contacts) and extend to manage non-PIM data as well: Documents, Media, URLs, etc.

The theory was: The reason why information management sucks is due to a lack of integration. Integration in terms of data types and integrations in terms of workflow.

In the meantime, the world around us changed. Instead of a trend towards more ‘integrated’ solutions, people are adopting a wider range of tools and workflows are knit together via a wide variety of interoperation techniques.

What does this mean for Chandler? Do we still have a place in this new world?

I think so. I think we’ve actually been evolving with the rest of the world. We have not been working in a vacuum for the last 2 years. Instead, we’ve dramatically re-framed the way in which Chandler integrates. Chandler is no longer about replacing your email client, enterprise email, calendaring and content management systems, wiki, project manager, IM, news reader…

Instead, Chandler is meant to live in the middle of all these tools as a way to pull all the disparate bits and pieces of information we receive out-of-context, into a contextualized, personal and shared ’source of truth’.

That being said, the user interface we have today is misleading. It contains vestiges of the ‘old’ way of thinking about integration which has the potential to scare new users away, both because there is provokes a gut-level sense that the app is big and complicated and that you can’t get started without moving your entire world into Chandler.

For example, there is an out-sized emphasis on email functionality, left over from the days when we were adamant about being a complete PIM solution. In reality, email in Chandler today plays an important, but supporting role. We talk about it as a means of:

1. Outreach: A way to get information out of the ‘Chandler’ eco-system into other people’s Inboxes; and as a

2. Bridge: A way for Chandler users to get information *from* their email clients into Chandler.

So, how do we proceed to lighten-up the app so that it’s a more accurate reflection of what Chandler is meant to do? Here are some ideas:

1. Remove the Reply, Reply All, Forward buttons from the Toolbar; and

2. Add a Reply/Forward menu item to the Item menu

3. Remove the the ‘New’ button from the Toolbar and really focus on the quick item entry bar as the way to create new items in Chandler.

4. Rename the Mail application area Messages so that it’s more of a ‘Message Center’, a place where you can see the messages you sent/received from Chandler (not un-like Inboxes for social networking sites like Facebook or Linked In), and less of a “Mail Application”.

I will be thinking about this in the coming weeks and am interested in other perspectives. See discussion on the list: http://lists.osafoundation.org/pipermail/design/2007-December/008035.html

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14 Responses to “What is Chandler supposed to be for, anyway?”

  1. Dan Says:

    For the time being, some of this makes sense. Email is really the center of the PIM universe, so I think that over time, Chandler will need to subsume my email client. Right now, it’s trying to subsume my calendaring program. That was probably the right way to get going b/c there’s no half-decent calendaring program but there are passable email clients.

    That said, I think the integration vision is still correct. An item is often a task, a set of emails, some meetings, some notes, etc. And only an integrated tool will solve that.

    The current separation is due to the capital structure of Web 2.0 startups and not something inherent to sophisticated people’s work.

    Once Chandler is a full-fledged email client, if that part is as good as the calendaring, it will become the standard. So, I’d focus on getting more day-to-day emailling in rather than taking the UI elements out. (All IMHO.)

  2. Al Says:

    I’m not currently a Chandler user but I have at various points downloaded and installed Chandler because I liked the original vision. I haven’t been tempted to stay with it because of lack of a decent e-mail client. Until that changes I’ll stick with my Thunderbird, Lightning, Google Calendar combo.

  3. Mimi Yin Says:

    At this point and time in the project however, we need to tread lightly on email and work towards building up credibility as a useful product before users will trust us enough to make the investment necessary to move their entire universe over to Chandler. (This doesn’t take into account the huge amount of effort and $$ we need to expend to be acceptable as a complete email solution.)

    Katie Parlante’s response on the design list explains our position much better than I am doing in this reply: http://lists.osafoundation.org/pipermail/design/2007-December/008049.html

  4. Dan Says:

    That makes a lot of sense.

    My theory was: You’ve built (an early version of what will soon be) a better calendar/task list than anything out there. It also has some email functionality, so you’re clearly thinking about it. My life is in email. Therefore, if you took some of the organization and triage fu from Chandler, you could build a better email tool than anything out there today.

    People claim that “gmail changed their life”, but all gmail seems to do is have threaded email and fast search. There is far, far more that’s needed. And, the more integration, the better. All my emails, todos, and contacts are really about the same thing.

    But, what you say about trust is important. For time time being, I’m starting to move my group’s calendaring over and my own TODOs. Hopefully contact/address book stuff is next. I’d love it if I could move off Highrise b/c my TODOs and contacts are so tightly integrated. (You should take a look at Highrise if you haven’t before building the contact mgmt tool)…

    Anyway, keep up the great work!

  5. Jean Says:

    I was enticed to try Chandler by the idea that it will be a great tool for managing a ton of small/medium projects/task lists with different groups of people. Ultimately, email is a big part of that but I will be very disappointed if email development stops progress in the project/task/calendar areas.

    I’m excited to see where things go!

  6. Mimi Yin Says:

    Thanks all for the words of encouragement.

    Hi, Al,

    What if Chandler integrated really well with T-bird? We’re thinking about Chandler plugins for making it even easier to ’stamp’ email messages as tasks and events directly into Chandler and/or mapping email folders directly to Chandler collections.

  7. Al Says:

    Mimi,

    Integrating Thunderbird into Chandler (or vice versa) would be interesting. That sort of strategy would make sense. I think I’m starting to understand what you mean by “live in the middle”. That’s sort of what I’m doing at the moment except Thunderbird is my live in the middle tool at the moment. The tools as they exist are somewhat limited in their integration. I can use Lightning to hook Thunderbird into Google Calendar but Lightning is still a work in progress. It has come a long way recently but needs more work. And the stamping and organizational tools in Thunderbird are still somewhat limited. If Chandler could help manage and integrate Thunderbird e-mail with other information that would be a big plus for me.

  8. Dan Says:

    T-bird/Chandler integration would be great in my book. (I imagine it would be hard to pull off cleanly, but if you can do it, that would be great.)

  9. Nick Says:

    I was originally interested in Chandler, because I read the book, _Dreaming in Code_. I suppose it gave me a romantic notion of the program as a quixotic effort.

    When I first tried it, I was dismayed by two things: the size of the download and the fact that it was completely unstable on my Mac. When I tried it again, many months later, it didn’t crash as often, but I realized I could never use an application like it. Jamie Zawinski sums up why when he talks about some groupware someone showed him in a post that’s linked from this page:

    http://daringfireball.net/linked/2005/february#wed-16-jwz

    The quote Gruber gives sums it up:

    “If you want to do something that’s going to change the world, build software that people want to use instead of software that managers want to buy.”

    Again:

    “Groupware” is all about things like “workflow”, which means, “the chairman of the committee has emailed me this checklist, and I’m done with item 3, so I want to check off item 3, so this document must be sent back to my supervisor to approve the fact that item 3 is changing from `unchecked’ to `checked’, and once he does that, it can be directed back to committee for review. … Nobody cares about that …”

    As for Chandler’s way of doing things, people aren’t going to want to learn about Chandler’s way of doing things. Why would they? Heck, they won’t even be interested in trying out the IMAP email if it means they have to have particular named folders that they wouldn’t otherwise just because Chandler wants that.

    On the Mac I’ve got Mail, iCal, Address Book – all separate, all highly functional. There’s no clutter – which is partly because the roles of the programs aren’t confused and the interfaces are over-loaded. Yet they’re also deceptively simple: the interfaces aren’t cluttered up but there’s a heck of a lot of functionality I can dig into if I need it.

    The whole idea of “not having silos” is bizarre, as Joel Spolsky pointed out. He also says that “stamping” used to be in Outlook but was dropped *because nobody used it*.

    It’s not, in any case, how the real world works. A letter might drop through the letterbox onto my doormat. I might pick up a pen make an entry in my diary. There’s no *necessary* connection between the two, although there might on occasion be, and they’re physically separate. In a program it just complicates the interface. So long as the programs can talk to each other … and if they can do it intelligently, as with Leopard’s data detectors, so much the better.

    Chandler should have been a light, fast tightly-written calendar that didn’t try too hard to be different. Afterwards other programs that complemented it, such as an email client, could have been offered. If that had been done, it would have out there and on people’s machines by now. Who knows how many people might have been using it. As it is, it’s a behemoth that with it’s own way of doing things, and I doubt it’ll ever take off.

  10. Myles Says:

    I was so excited when I discovered Chandler. I love Linux but the people I work with are all locked into Windows by the the lack of elegant PIM / Contact Management / CRM / Group thingy. They cite Covey’s Plan Plus, ACT! and Gold Mine. There is nothing in the open source world that comes close. The Enterprise CRM’s are too complex and can only be used effectively when connected, which does not meet the basic requirement for most people’s laptop based work environment. Thunderbird and Lightning are quite cute but very limited and lack the fundamental link up between people and events, complex tasks and so on and so on. We’ve not even started on the predominance of exchange servers. So Chandler looked like hitting a spot. Then I discovered that integration is past news and now its a middleware thing. What’s that? I can receive emails from other chandler users but no others? What? that’s like only being able to receive phone calls from people who have the same handset as you.

    The idea of a person being able to design processes on the fly that link together open standards based desktop tools and then being able to share these processes with a group is wonderful – but I don’t see us being anywhere close to that and I can’t see how Chandler could help.

    I’d be quite happy to use Chandler as a calendar and email client as it is now, assuming it let me. I’d be really excited if it included and address book and allowed me to track activities with people and to keep notes that were visible to my work group. I’d like to have integration with other major open source applications such as open office. Oh dear that looks a bit like your original vision.

    Well you guys had a great idea and started to implement it beautifully. Now that you’ve had another idea I’m sure you’ll do a good job of that and I’ll be watching and hoping to work out what it is that you are doing. Shame I can’t recommend a solution that meets the needs that I and my colleagues share. We look just like your target market.

  11. Mimi Yin Says:

    In response to:

    “The whole idea of “not having silos” is bizarre, as Joel Spolsky pointed out. He also says that “stamping” used to be in Outlook but was dropped because nobody used it.”

    Actually stamping is modeled after invitations in Outlook, in particular, the way you can simply add invitees to an event on the calendar and send it out as an invitation. It’s simple and elegant and highly used.

    I think I may be using ‘workflow’ differently. Workflow to me isn’t a strict set of steps in the ‘Groupware’ sense. It’s a loose framework of usage patterns. Apple iCal and Apple Mail are linked by workflow as well. You can right click on an event and email it. You can receive an event in Apple Mail, double-click on it and it opens in Apple iCal. These are both examples of workflow-centric designs that bridge silos.

  12. Martin Stut Says:

    I found Chandler (I’m trying desktop 0.7.3 with server 0.11.0) great in synchronisation. I realize that a founder of Lotus (can I say “Notes”?) is influencing the project.

    I was considering introducing Chandler as an in-house calendar for group reservations (a group reserving a significant portion of the capacity) in a christian guest house. What blocked me was the date format: Germans need DD.MM.YYYY HH:MM (24 hour format). mm/dd/yyyy format kills it, because everybody here will mix up day and month – a wrongly entered group reservation would be a major deseaster. Just tonight I discovered, that English/UK has an acceptable date format, but that came too late; we’ll try eGroupware first. A complete German translation of the client would be a big help – I’m willing to help the development team with that (native German speaker).

    Somewhat important are options to reliably and simply move data from (and to) Outlook. The greatest thing would be an Outlook-plugin that enables reading and writing calendar, tasks and possibly notes to/from a chandler server (a.k.a. cosmo) calendar. That may be out of scope for the Chandler team, but it’s needed to facilitate the transition. Having tried Funambol’s SyncML plugin, I need to state that the Outlook-connector needs some features:
    - capable of simultaneously handling multiple calendars (collections on the Chandler server)
    - absolutely perfect handling of recurring events and all day events
    - mirroring categories and the “private” flag to the chandler side.
    The quality of this connector will decide a lot. It’s only O.K. if would be confident to run your boss’ real life data on the first attempt – you’ll only get a single attempt – either it works perfectly the first/single time or you have to abandon Chandler in the organisation.

    Very useful features that shouldn’t be too hard to implement include:

    - links between items (calendar and ToDo in my case). When managing a group reservation, there will be a lot of notes (e-mail messages detailing the needs of the group), all linked to a single calendar entry (a reservation that may be two years in the future). Some notes may have alarms attached, but most won’t. I don’t want my view cluttered by thousands of notes (100 reservations per year with 20 messages/notes per reservation) when there are only 100 projects (reservations), some of them 2 years in the future.
    The link could create a hierarchical (sub-item) or an “equal” relationship, but should be bidirections, so in my example the note links to the (master) date (one double click) and the date links to 20 other notes.

    - tagging of items using a controlled vocabulary (only words in a configurable list) might help.

    - address book entries with complete information, such as Street, ZIP, City, Country, Phone, Fax, Company.

    - drag & drop for editing the date of an alarm/calendar entry – sort of a substitute would be easily clickable options like “move forward a week [a month, 2 days]“, “a week from from now”.

  13. Darren Says:

    Hi,

    For me, bridging the corporate exchange server is a killer. Like it or not, my life is in there, and I can’t work here with out it.

    What would be really nice is a hook into the OWA interface (like evolution etc via webdav). Not the fastest thing, but satisfactory.

    Other than that – it looks very interesting. Good luck

  14. Mimi Yin Says:

    Hi Martin,

    There is a German translation of the application. Andreas Beisemann around the 0.7.6 release in April.

    You can go to File>>Switch Language… to access it.

    Best,
    Mimi