The Verdict

Back in April, I asked 6 friends to pass rapid judgement on my latest attempt to define the Roundsheet application.  I asked them to give the document a quick scan and to provide answers to the questions below with either Yes or No, and to feel free to add comments or suggestions if they wished.

  1. Were you able to understand what was being described?
  2. Do the Roundsheet concepts make sense to you?
  3. Do you think a Roundsheet application would give users something they haven’t got already?
  4. Is it worth pursuing this idea any further?

I received 5 replies. Not everyone was able to answer either Yes or No to each question – some answers were ‘partly’ or ‘sort of’ or ‘don’t know’ or ‘possibly’; so, I’m going to classify all such in-between kind of responses as ‘not sure’. Applying this rule of thumb, the bare number results were:

Question Yes Not Sure No
Able to understand? 3 1 1
Concepts make sense? 3 1 1
Something user’s haven’t got? 2 3 0
Worth pursuing? 2 2 1

 Some of the comments were interesting:

“one would think that many spreadsheets have pie chart functionalities: your concept is really about how to use those functionalities”

“whether this could be a protected tool? I think you would have difficulty”

“still wondering why the roundsheet format is any better than the tabular format which apparently could be used instead?”

“may be of interest to those who get frustrated by the complexities of linking Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint applications – I have come across a few of those in my career!”

“I feel there is a core there that could be extremely useful”

However, overall, there’s no overwhelming consensus that this is a winning idea, and it’s probably unlikely that time spent trying to promote its development into a product would be rewarded; so I think this is the time to put this journey to bed. I have enjoyed the intellectual challenge it has given me; and have the satisfaction of knowing that I took the ideas as far as I could and finished the job. I could always bring the topic out of retirement should someone come along with a serious interest in taking it forward.

Thank you to all of you who, over the years, have taken the time to wade through and pass comment on the various specification documents.

U6.4 A summary view of the OFC future

Taking all the material from Units 6.1-6.3 into account, it looks like there will be a period of steady evolution before we start to encounter AI entities with the ability to do things autonomously. During this evolutionary period, the main individual applications that we use will become increasingly sophisticated and central to our lives; and we will make increasing use of applications and internet services which embed a degree of AI expertise and the ability to learn, and we will start to think they are normal and very useful. The amount of digital material we possess will continue to grow. It will become increasingly important to make arrangements for our digital accounts and possessions to be managed after we die. More and more physical objects will contain chips which we can interrogate and control through our computer systems. We will grow used to interacting with our computer systems by voice as well as by keyboard; and we will probably start to get used to virtual reality experiences.

At some point, the computer manufacturers will produce products in which our primary interaction with the system will be via a single AI entity. This will seem normal given what we have experienced before. The AI entity will take care of all maintenance, including backups, and will ensure that our files are always accessible and readable. As the AI entity becomes more knowledgeable, it will start to do more and more for us and we will have to provide less and less detailed instructions. The AI may start to see what we show it and know what it is looking at. There may be other AI in the house in other computers or in robots, and we will be able to interconnect them and instruct them to cooperate. While the digital world will increasingly be taken care of by our AI, we may start to value some of our physical possessions even more.

I can’t say I’m particularly confident that this vision of the future is what it will actually be like. Nor am I sure that it is of any particular relevance to any OFC project you are about to embark on. However, it was interesting to think through where things might be going. If there was any conclusion I would come to from this examination, it is that our digital world is going to be fully taken care of by an increasingly autonomous AI; and that, in the face of this, we should take increasing care of our precious physical possessions as they are the only things that are going to be truly under our control.

This is the last Unit in this OFC Online Tutorial.

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U6.3 The future impact of AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a term used to signify intelligent behaviour by machines – which really just means them doing more complex things than they have done before. Two significant milestones in the development of AI were when IBM’s Deep Thought programme beat Garry Kasparov, a reigning world chess champion, in 1997; and in 2016 when Google’s DeepMind AlphaGo programme beat a professional Go player. Current prominent AI work includes the development of driverless cars and trucks, and improving the ability of AI programmes to learn for themselves. It is generally thought that AI capabilities will continue to be developed for some time in just narrow areas of application, before eventually broadening their scope to become more general-purpose intelligent entities. Assuming this development trajectory, we can speculate that the way we deal with our digital objects and collections might be impacted by AI in the following series of steps, each one taking greater advantage of an increasingly capable technology:

A. AI to collect virtual objects at our specific request: The Facebook ‘on this day’ function that we can choose to turn on or off, is a good example of this in use in a contemporary system. In future systems we might imagine that we have an AI which is independent of any one system but which we could ask to collect specific objects across the systems we specify, for example, ‘collect all photos that we look at in our email, in Facebook and on Instagram’.

B. AI to collect digital objects at our general instruction: This is similar to step A except that we won’t have to specify the systems we want it to monitor. We‘ll just provide a blanket instruction such as ‘collect everything to do with any shopping I do’, or ‘collect all photos I look at’, and the AI will address the request across all the systems we use. At this stage the AI should also be taking care of all our backup requirements.

C. AI to understand what it sees in the digital objects: If we have asked the AI to collect objects for us, in this step it will be capable of fully understanding the content of the objects, and of having a conversation about what they are and the connections between them. At this point there will be no need for indexes to digital collections since the AI will know everything about the objects anyway; it will be able to sort and organise digital files and to retrieve anything we ask it for. The AI will also be handling all our digital preservation issues – it will just do any conversions that are necessary in the background to ensure that files are always readable.

D. AI to exploit our digital objects for us at our request: Now that the AI has control of all our objects and understands what they are, we may just be able to say things like, ‘assemble a book of photos of the whole of our family line and include whatever text you can find about each family member and have three copies printed and sent to me’.

E. Eventually we leave it all to AI and do nothing with digital objects ourselves: By this stage the AI will know what we like and don’t like and will be doing all our collecting and exploiting for us. We’ll just become consumers demanding general services and either complimenting or criticising the AI on what it does.

The last stage above reflects one of the possible futures described by Yuval Harari in his book ‘Homo Deus’ in which AI comes to know us better than we do ourselves, since it will fully understand the absolute state of the knowledge we have and be able to discount temporary influences such as having a bad day or some slanted political advertising. This clearly represents a rather extreme possible situation many decades hence; nevertheless, given what we know has happened to date, we would be foolish to discount either the rate or the content of possible development. However, we should also remain absolutely clear that it will be us, as individuals, that are deciding whether or not to take up each of the steps described above.

Throughout this period of the rise of AI, we will still be dealing with our physical world and our physical objects. AI may be able to see the physical world through lenses (it’s eyes), and be able to understand what it is seeing, and we may well get the AI to help us manage our physical objects in various ways. However, it won’t be able to physically manipulate our objects unless we introduce AI-imbued machines (robots for want of a better word). This too is a distinct possibility – especially since we are used to having machines in our houses (we’ve already made a start with robot vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers). However, having tried to think through the various stages that we would go through with using robots, I came to a bit of a brick wall. I found it very hard to envisage robots rooting round our cupboards, putting papers into folders, and climbing into the loft. It just seems unrealistic unless it was a fully fledged, super-intelligent, human-type robot – and that in itself brings with it all sorts of other practical and ethical questions which I’m not equipped to even speculate about. Perhaps all that can be said with any certainty about such a future of AI software and robots, is that humans will take advantage of whatever technology is on offer provided it suits them and they can afford it.

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U6.2 The future impact of recent developments

A number of recent or ongoing developments give an indication of what technologies we might be using in the future to create, use, and exploit our digital objects. They are described below. The various dates quoted are taken from the internet’s Wikipedia.

GPS position data in photo tags: It has now become a standard camera feature to include location data in the metadata tag of every photo taken, by using GPS position data. The tags also include full details about the camera, the settings used, and of course the date. All this data is acquired automatically and placed in metadata tags which are mostly hidden unless specifically looked at.
Impact on OFC projects: Systems will increasingly use all available information and data sources to build up a set of knowledge about each digital object. These other sources may include calendar systems, emails, texts, social media and the internet.

Music recognition: Shazam and other internet services identify music, movies, advertising, and television shows, based on a short sample played through the microphone on the device being used to run the relevant application. Shazam first started operating in 2002 and this kind of functionality is now well known and widely used. iPhone 8 users can ask Siri, its virtual agent, to identify what music is playing and it will provide the answer after interacting with Shazam in the background.
Impact on OFC projects: See Image Recognition below

Face recognition: Google’s Picasa programme was one of the first photo management applications to offer a face recognition capability in 2008. Since then, the function has become a commonplace feature provided in a host of applications and mobile phone apps. Not only can you search for a face within a set of photos, but also across the whole internet.
Impact on OFC projects: See Image Recognition below

Image recognition: Google’s image search capability was amazing when it first  came out in 2001; but was even more astounding when a reverse image search function was added in 2011 which searched for images similar to one uploaded or specified. Nowadays, it is a heavily used function which most Google users are familiar with.
Impact on OFC projects: The ability of computers to recognise music, faces, objects – anything – will become increasingly sophisticated and accurate. It will develop from just being able to find similar things, to understanding what particular things are in the same way that we can recognise a piece of music as being classical, or a face being European, or a particular animal being a cat. Future software that manages digital objects will also have an understanding of what those objects are.

RFID: The cheaper RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) systems for tracking objects can be purchased for less than £400 and they will continue to drop in price. The cost of the tags that are attached to the objects you want to monitor are a few pence each.
Impact on OFC projects: See Smart Home Devices below

Smart home devices: There is a growing market for systems to control a wide variety of home devices including heating, lighting, sound systems and security. This is currently the most prominent aspect of a general idea referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) in which communicating chips are built into products to assist their manufacture, use and maintenance.
Impact on OFC projects: Many of the physical possessions we obtain in the future will include a chip which contains information about the object and which can communicate with parent apps. We will become familiar with controlling objects in this way and with using the parent apps. We will attach our own RFID tags to our important possessions that are not already chipped, so that we can keep track of them within the same control systems.

Facebook’s ‘on this day’ function: Facebook provides its users with the option of being regularly presented with historical posts from the same date some years ago. These remind people of what they were thinking and doing, and who they were interacting with, in the past; and reawakens their memory of those events.
Impact on OFC projects: This sort of feature will be incorporated in many systems that accumulate user’s digital objects. Users who like it will come to regard it as a primary source of prompts for their memories. As the collections of objects grow over time, they will become increasingly valuable to individuals. Users will also become accustomed to not having to put any effort into saving material because the systems will do that for them.

The culture of sharing and being public: Today, a great many people want to upload, share objects, and get likes. There is less interest in private reflections, diaries and private photo collections.
Impact on OFC projects: People will increasingly want to share the broad range of digital objects (i.e more than just photos) in their collections with others. Systems will continue to be developed to enable them to do so. Perhaps families will possess their own virtual spaces to curate their own history.

The emergence of Virtual Reality: Virtual Reality (VR) has been under development for over 30 years but has still not become mainstream technology. However, several of the major technology companies including Samsung and Facebook, have products; and some use is being made of it in computer gaming. The industry is searching for a killer application – something like 360 degree videos, for example, or augmented reality in which virtual objects are superimposed on a picture of the real world. In the meantime, however, there is a continuing belief that the technology will eventually be widespread.
Impact on OFC projects: VR could eventually provide a controlled access exhibition space in which to manage and display all your digital objects.

Voice interaction: Voice recognition products emerged in the 1980s and have been getting better and better ever since. However, in recent years, three different personal assistant-type technologies which use voice as their primary interface with the user, have become widespread: Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and, more recently, Amazon’s Alexa; and it is these three that are familiarising the majority of ordinary users with the idea of using voice as a primary interface to their mobile phones and their computers. Alexa is being used initially as an interface to Amazon’s Echo device which accesses Amazon’s huge music library and the internet. The ability to stand in one’s kitchen and suddenly desire to hear a particular piece of music and to say, for example, ‘Alexa, play the album No Secrets by Carly Simon’ and to have it start playing 5 seconds later, is amazing, and is indicative of how easy it will be in the future to pull up any of our digital objects including photos and mementos.
Impact on OFC projects: The capabilities of the voice interface will continue to improve until it becomes as reliable as normal conversation. A considerable amount of computer interaction currently performed using keyboards will migrate to voice. Users will become used to the idea of asking the computer for information and answers, and having the computer respond with what they want.

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U6.1 The future of OFC items and collections

OFC is a general technique for organising all sorts of things – in fact almost any sort of thing – but mostly things that belong to individuals in their own houses. A significant change that has occurred to the physical things in people’s houses over the last 70 years is that they have increased enormously in quantity. We are in an era of constant economic growth, supported by rampant consumerism; we accumulate a lot more things and we don’t use those things for as long as we used to. Consequently, often the reason people start an OFC-type sort out is simply that they have accumulated too much stuff. Alternatively, they turn to the self storage services which rent out self-contained rooms in a building into which customers can put anything and can access as and when they please. Such services are now widespread. This consumer-driven overload of personal possessions is unlikely to change very much in the future unless a cataclysmic event occurs such as economic collapse, war, or natural disaster due to climate change.

Within the general growth in possessions, there are some areas in which technology has resulted in some shrinkage. Perhaps the best example is the replacement of many (but not all) LPs and CDs by digital MP3 music files. Another is a reduction in paper telephone directories, newspapers, magazines, instruction books and manuals. Books are vulnerable – though sales appear to be holding up at present. Conversely, there is one emerging technology that could actually start to increase the number of physical possessions we have – 3D printing. This is a long way off being cheap enough and useful enough – perhaps fifteen years or more. Nevertheless, if some significant consumer uses for the technology emerged, this could become as common as ordinary printing is today.

Turning to digital objects, we only started to accumulate these about thirty years ago, and for such items we are still on an upward growth path. Emails, texts, Facebook entries, photos – these are some of the digital items which are now an integral part of people’s lives, and we continue to acquire more and more of them every year. In the areas of general household transactions – finance, purchasing, insurance, transport, holidays etc. – more and more is being done electronically and more and more digital objects are being produced to support the transactions. Of course, we have the option to  discard some if we want to, but the overall trajectory is still upwards because a) we are still in the process of moving transactions into the electronic environment, and b) the technology gives us little reason to clear things out; in today’s systems, digital storage is plentiful and cheap and there is no impact on physical space whether you have a small number of electronic files or a huge number of them – in both cases they are essentially invisible.

For the collections we start deliberately as hobbies (stamps, books, Clarice Cliff ceramics, firemen’s helmets etc.), there is unlikely to be any downturn. With any luck, humans will continue to be fascinated by the challenge of finding and assembling collections of particular types of physical objects for a long time to come (something which is more difficult to forecast is whether people will start to collect particular types of digital objects as a hobby). For today’s physical hobby collections, there are already many digital services and apps which provide auxiliary support, and it is easy to see these increasing in number and sophistication. The hobby collection of the future is likely to be a hybrid with the digital objects being 3D spin photos, fully indexed, displayed in a virtual exhibition space with access controls enabling the owner to allow specific individuals or the general public to view part or all of the collection. Perhaps virtual exhibitions of contributions from individual collectors will be curated and made available on the net. Perhaps such things already take place…..

Of course, unless specified otherwise, we usually assume that an object is authentic and original. This is not always the case with physical objects; and it is probably even easier to fake digital objects. We have long had problems with movies misrepresenting historical fact ‘for the sake of the story’; and today we are having problems with fake news on the net. In the future, we will need to become more cautious about authentication, and more honest and diligent in the declaration of fictions.

When it comes to inheriting things from our deceased relatives, physical objects are relatively straightforward to deal with even though there are now greater quantities to sort out. Digital objects, however, are much more problematic. It could take an awful long time to get to grips with somebody else’s computer files, and there is less incentive to actually do so since the system is probably not taking up a great deal of physical space. Furthermore, many of the files will probably be in some service in the cloud, each of which will require effort to access and comprehend. Having said that, some services such as facebook enable you to specify a ‘legacy contact’ who will manage your memorialised account after you die. Other net services offer to store account information and passwords for you and to pass them to whoever you specify when you die. As the digital environment becomes increasingly central to people’s lives, the use of such services and the inclusion of stipulations in wills about digital content, will become increasingly prevalent and important. However, even if you have been given all the information about someone’s accounts, the adage ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is still particularly apt; rather than undertaking a thorough OFC exercise, it could be easy to just unsubscribe from a particular service that the deceased used to use, or to let an old laptop you inherited just languish in a cupboard until it becomes obsolete and unusable.

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U6.0 OFC in the future – Introduction

This section attempts to provide a view of some of the future developments that might affect the topics discussed in this tutorial. The developments that are outlined are based only on general reading not detailed research; however, hopefully they indicate the broad direction of travel. Readers should be aware that, after writing sections 1-5 of this tutorial, but before starting on this section 6, I deliberately read ‘Homo Deus’ by Yuval Noah Harari in order to give me an up to date basis of where the technology is headed. The book gave me far more than that – it also provides an insight into what we are and why we do things. Several of its ideas have found their way into this section of the tutorial.

This view of the impact of future development on OFC is in the four parts listed below. First it considers what will happen to the things that are fundamental to OFC projects – the items themselves. Second, it assesses the impact of developments that are occurring today; and then it looks at the impact of the dominant coming technology of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Finally, the overall impact of all these developments is summarised.

U6.1  The future of OFC items and collections
U6.2  The future impact of recent developments
U6.3  The future impact of AI
U6.4  A summary view of the OFC future

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U5.8 How to do it – Maintain

Although digital technology provides many benefits, unfortunately there are some unavoidable overheads that go with it. One of these is the absolute need to backup digital files to avoid loss by system crash, virus infection, or theft. Backups can be done in a variety of ways including to external hard disk or to DVD or to a cloud service. However, the important thing is that they are done regularly so that all your material is backed up at any one time. Background facilities that do this automatically for you each time a new file is created, are the most reliable. For particularly precious files, it is best to have more than one backup and to keep one of the copies at some other geographical location away from your house.

Even with reliable backup arrangements in place, there is another longer term threat to your digital objects – out of date computer hardware and software. Computer technology is continuing to change rapidly, so just because you can access and use your digital objects today, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to do so in twenty years time – especially if you have been using less well known application programmes. Generally speaking, if you keep updating your equipment every six or seven years, and if your files are in common formats such as Word, Excel, PDF and JPG, then you should be OK. However, even then you will need to be checking every few years that you can still access all your files, and to be converting those that are in danger of becoming unreadable to newer longer-lasting formats. For small scale digital collections, this is probably best done on an ad-hoc basis when you are considering purchasing your next computer system (though, if you want to take a more structured approach, you may find it useful to construct a maintenance plan. However, for organisations with large scale digital collections, this is a very serious problem and a field of study called Digital Preservation is now well established with many umbrella organisations and thousands of practitioners throughout the world. Some of the organisations issue guidance about file formats and these can be found by searching the net for ‘digital preservation file formats’.

The above discussion concerns digital objects; however, the general issues of protection and preservation can also apply to physical objects as well. For example, particular types of physical objects can be badly affected by sunlight and hot room temperatures so these factors have to be taken into account when choosing storage locations; and periodic checks should be made to ensure that the condition of the collection is not deteriorating. Theft too is another potential hazard, though this should be addressed by the household’s general security arrangements and insurance policies. The ultimate protection of storing things in bank vaults seems to defeat the point of having the collection in the first place.

If a slightly broader perspective is taken, the overall maintenance – or management – of a collection will not only include all of the above, but also the activities of adding new material (as discussed in U5.6) and its eventual disbursement. Regarding the latter, owners have the option of either writing down what they wish to occur in a will, or of actually carrying out the disbursement themselves during their lifetime. All these activities are summarised in the diagram below.

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U5.7 How to do it – Exploit

The exploit activity concerns the way objects from one or more collections can be manipulated and combined in innovative ways in order to unlock them from their containers, to bring them to life, and to enable owners to enjoy their collections as much as possible. In exploiting a collection, the owner may have some interesting experiences, and other people may get to enjoy the results.

The best way to get started on this activity is to explore and experiment with your materials – particularly those physical objects that you have just digitised and are about to throw away. Since you are going to dispose of the items anyway, it doesn’t matter what you do with them. Creating a collage is one of the simplest things you can make – follow this link for an example using doodles. Other things you can do are draw, or paint, or sculpt, or write, or whatever you’re inspired to try out – since this is essentially a private activity it doesn’t matter what talents you think you have or haven’t got. After you’ve finished you can either keep what you’ve made, or photograph it and throw it away, or just throw it away.

Once you have an established collection of digital objects, perhaps accompanied by some physical equivalents as well, you are able to continue to explore and experiment as and when you like. Although you do not have any unwanted physical objects that can be used, you can still reproduce the digital objects in the form of printed pages or photos for use in your exploitation projects – as in this collage using photos of T-Shirts. At some point, however, you may wish to share your objects with your family and friends (if you are not already doing so in your choice of storage – see U5.5], and to do this you can create displays of the items in a variety of different ways. An obvious mechanism is a display case, or a shelf in a display case, in which you can rotate a subset of your items for a period of time. You can also make up displays to go on a notice board, or to be mounted in a reusable frame and hung on a wall. The beauty of notice board or framed displays is that they can combine words and pictures to be interesting, informative, humorous – anything you want. For example, I’ve often thought it would be interesting to construct a framed display with pictures of all the houses we have lived in surrounded by information and pictures of key events that happened to the family in each house. Another example is a collage in which I placed thumbnails of all the posters, pictures and paintings that we have around the edges to emphasis the fact that the frame is intended to house a rotating display of posters and pictures.

Displays are relatively simple things to assemble. However, there is also huge scope for exploiting your collection to produce much more sophisticated artefacts. Under this heading are included things like photobooks, posters, greeting cards, printed T-Shirts, printed cushions, printed mugs etc.. All of these things and more are easily and cheaply obtained over the net. Since you have the digital objects, you already have the raw materials ready to manipulate and create the images and words of your choice. For example, a few years ago I had a mug for Father’s day produced on which was included an enlarged and cropped picture of both of us at my 21st; and more recently I have framed posters of the books I have digitised. Of course, photobooks (and ordinary books which can also be produced over the net) offer substantially more scope for creating much more complicated works. For example, this photobook includes items from a lifetime of work experiences. Of course, if you really like books, you could go so far as to attend a book binding course and create and bind a book from scratch as in this example of a book of a record collection.

Since one of the main aims of having collections is to enjoy them, it is also worth considering using them to create things specifically designed for enjoyable entertainment – games and quizzes. Collections can contain many objects which are known to the family, and can therefore be used to construct a game around (such as a monopoly-type game with the streets the family has lived on and chance and community cards of events that happened to the family), or straightforward quizzes, or more complicated puzzles or treasure hunts.

The above discussion has described just a few of the ways in which you can bring your collections to life, and perhaps help to enhance your enjoyment of the items they contain. I’d recommend you trying out some of them just to see if you enjoy it or not. However, there is one other thing you might want to do with your collections that needs to be included here for completeness, and that is transfer them to someone else. The recipient might be a family member or friend, or some other individual or organisation. Whoever it is, you will probably be wanting to make sure that the items go to a good home where they will be appreciated and used and exploited by somebody else.

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U5.6 How to do it – Use

Having put the effort in to get to this stage with your collection, you’ll probably want to use the items within it in some way or other – even if it’s only to look at them from time to time. If you’ve followed the advice about storage in U5.5, the physical items should be reasonably easy to access and look through. However, there’s probably more that you can do with the digital items. For example, it is a widespread practice to load music files onto mobile phones so that they can be listened to anytime, anywhere. For photos and other images, the use of a slideshow widget (which comes as standard in Windows 7 – but a similar app for other operating systems shouldn’t be too difficult to acquire) will automatically rotate every image file in particular folders, through a small window on your computer desktop. Similarly, images in a particular folder can be specified to act as a rotating background to your screen or as a rotating screensaver image. This will ensure that every now and again you’ll get to see one or other of your collection of images.

A tablet computer is another particularly useful way of increasing the accessibility of your digital objects – especially if you use it regularly. There are a whole host of free or cheap apps that will display objects – one that I particularly like is Sidebooks which can be loaded with PDFs via Dropbox and which can present the files in a bookcase-type format. The ability to be able to call up your digital objects on such a convenient and high resolution device breathes a whole new lease of life into objects that may have been previously rarely looked at. These examples illustrate that there is no need to let your digital items remain hidden inside a computer system’s folder structure – the base files can usually be made visible and accessible; and it is recommended that you explore what can be done.

The above discussion relates primarily to using items that exist within an established collection. However, unless a collection is complete and unchanging, another aspect of ‘use’ is the addition (or removal) of items. As a general rule, it’s better to do this when the need arises, as opposed to letting a backlog build up. The larger the backlog the more daunting the task becomes – especially for things like photos where volumes tend to be large. Of course, there may be some types of collection which rely on absolute up to date accuracy for their integrity. For example, a loft management system will need to be updated immediately a change is made.

Another type of usage which shouldn’t be forgotten concerns third parties. First, the digital versions of OFC collections of valuable items (such as jewellery, paintings etc.) can be very useful when making insurance claims for loss or damage. Second, organised collections, indexes and wish tables can be useful when it  comes to passing items on down the family. If you intend to take advantage of these possibilities, you should design your collections and their metadata to serve those particular purposes.

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U5.5 How to do it – Store

When you’ve finished digitising an item or a collection of items, the physical items that remain will need to be stored. While you’ve been sorting and organising the items, you may have been thinking about the size and type of containers you might need, which locations they might go into, and how the overall space might be utilised. Now is the time to firm up on those ideas. When deciding where to store stuff, it’s worth considering both what space is available and where you want to use the material. Clearly, if you are only ever going to use particular items in one part of your house, then it makes sense to store them in that part of the house. Likewise, If you are only ever going to use an item at a desk, it makes sense to store it in or next to the desk. Of course, sometimes it’s not possible to locate the material in the most appropriate place – but at least if one understands the most desirable place, then the most effective compromise can be made.

When you have established the space you are going to use for storage, it’s important to make the best use of that space. This often requires exploring all sorts of possible configurations to come up with the best solution. The following general principles taken from the 2 pager on ‘Practical approaches to Order from Chaos’ may help you to do that:

  • Ensure there is easy access wide enough to walk through and to get the largest objects in and out.
  • Avoid piling things one on top of another – piles make it very hard to remove things and put them back. If it is absolutely necessary, then make it just two or three or four large things like boxes which can be easily lifted off of one another rather than lots of little things. Try to avoid piles of books and papers at all cost. This also applies when you put things into boxes.
  • Avoid putting things one in front of the other unless the one behind is much taller than the one in front – it’s important to be able to see what is there and to be able to get things in and out easily.
  • Make full use of all the space – including the height. This may entail installing shelving. It may also require some experimentation to put the right shaped things into the most appropriate spaces – it’s rare to come up with the most effective arrangement at your first shot.  A particular instance of this is when using adjustable height shelving; there will be an optimum – but rarely an obvious – height for each of the shelf spaces, but it may take a little trial and error to establish what they are.
  • Finally, if possible, put things into enclosed spaces to avoid the dust accumulating. For books I am a total convert to glass fronted bookcases – particularly the IKEA BILLY range. Documents can go in filing cabinets (bit clunky though) or desk hanging folders (but they always seem to fall apart and get stuffed too full), or briefcase type filing boxes (small but pretty handy) or display folders with transparent pockets (you can get ones with 40 pockets from Wilko for about £3 – they will take 80 different A4 size documents if you use both sides, and they will sit neatly on a bookshelf – this is one of my favourite types of storage containers). For other items, I always try to put things in boxes or suitcases or plastic bags. [Another sort of container not mentioned in this extract from ‘Practical approaches…’ is the photo album with slots for slip-in descriptive tabs. If informative file titles are used, the titles can be copied and printed out for use in the slip-in slots.

Some other general points from other experienced organisers are also worth bearing in mind:

  • From Liz Davenport: A common mistake people make is to decide where to store things on the basis of where it’s easiest to take them out. This approach is a fatal trap. Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out…. Each file drawer should have at least two inches of play in it so when you want to file something, you can easily open the file with two fingers and drop in whatever you need to file.
  • From Marie Kondo: The secret to maintaining an uncluttered room is to pursue ultimate simplicity in storage so that you can tell at a glance how much you have…. The essence of effective storage is to designate a space for everything you own….. The five criteria for choosing storage containers are size, material, durability, ease of use, and attractiveness. Shoe boxes come out top by this set of criteria!

Once an item has been stored, it usually becomes invisible, concealed within its container. However, in some cases, it is possible to have the best of both worlds by using a container that doubles as a display mechanism. An obvious way to achieve this is to use a display cabinet. However, another approach is to frame items either singly or as a collage, and to hang the frame on the wall – examples of both approaches are shown in the photo below. Bookcases are, of course, specifically designed with this dual storage/display capability. Wherever possible, you should try to design storage solutions which double as display mechanisms so that items can be seen and appreciated with minimal effort.

All the above guidance relates to physical objects. However, there will also be a need to provide storage within your computer system for your digital objects. Such storage will be within a folder system, and you may be tempted to create multiple layers of folders to provide structure and organisation for its contents. As a general rule, I try to avoid this because, apart from anything else, navigating multiple layers of folders can become very tedious and time consuming. If your file titles are informative, as discussed in U5.4.2, then there will be less need to embed structure into folder layers and folder names can be kept as short as possible.

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