Paper, plus


Thoughts on the design of palmtops.

I want a palmtop that is paper, plus a few other things. Not paper plus/minus a few things. Basically, I want paper + metadata.

Paper is not stateful. It does not have modes. It does not have a delete command. This is good, it means one does not have to think about the state of the paper while writing on it. One can concentrate on getting down the data one needs to get down.

You can write anywhere on a piece of paper. It is not a form with fields. Well, some paper is forms, but you can write anywhere on the form, not just in boxes. A paper form is more of a suggestion. It can't enforce its mental model on you.

Typical application of a palmtop: recording another person's name and phone number. One should simply be able to write down their name (or type it in), then their phone number. Or their phone number then their name. Later, maybe, you would want to note that the name is a name and the phone number is a phone number, but a palmtop should not demand this information of you before allowing you to enter any data. To do so is impolite.

So, my ideal palmtop would be paper, plus. When you turn it on, it behaves like a blank sheet of paper. You can write or type on it. Plus it records the time you wrote what you wrote. It alows you to erase text (but keeps a backup of the erased text). Plus, should you so desire, there is a function to mark-up areas of text as being of a particular type: this is a person's details, and within this block here is the name and here is the phone number, that is a python program with filename "". Mark-up allows search and summarization. The time that mark-up occurred is also recorded, giving a full record of all data entered.

The point being, mark-up comes last. If i'm writing a note to myself, i don't want to be first forced to invent a filename -- i probably don't entirely know what the note is about. If i'm writing down some other data, there may be some facility for searching and summarizing that data, but i'll worry about that later. I'd kinda like this on a desktop computer as well.

Data from the user is holy. Keep it all. Attributes, not boxes.