Feb 11

The Long Tail

I talked with the owner of my favourite pub in Cambridge last night. The pub shall remain nameless for reasons that will become apparent.

He refuses to sell Carling, Stella, Bulmers, etc. on tap. Instead he sells fine whiskeys and rums, real ale (offering 2 guest ales which change regularly), and decent ciders. His landlord and financial backing (brewery) insisted he sold the big brands, in order to have the pumps installed in his pub when they started. He agreed to the deal as he couldn’t afford to buy pumps himself, ordered a single barrel of Carling, didn’t connect it up to the pump, left it for a few months until the beer was out of date, and sent it back saying there was no market for it in his pub.

To this day he only sells decent, CAMRA-happy real ales.

In one sense, he was shooting himself in the foot. There is always a market for the lowest common denominator. To prove this, he sold Carling for one night for a trial, and apparently it sold far better than the other drinks put together.

But he then went on to say that he didn’t want that kind of person in his pub. Whilst you might think that’s a bit “Basil Fawlty”, it is now three years later and his pub is extremely popular. Instead of a television, they have live folk music and jazz nights, they sell the work of local painters and graphic artists, and the pub is very well-loved by locals. The locals in this neighbourhood are quite unique in that they consist of people like bow-makers, musicians, artists, and academics.

Although he still doesn’t make as much money as he would if he sold the popular brands, he also doesn’t have to deal with rude, drunken males (Stella), packs of abrasive middle-aged women (Barcadi), and the like. Instead, most of the people who turn up at 6pm are distinguished men and women who come with newspaper and conversation. Whatsmore they campaign on his behalf.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with selling certain types of product to certain types of people. This pub is not at the very highest-end of the market in wine, for example. Nor does it shun the popular brands of bar snacks, as another example. It’s just that I was impressed by this pub owner’s vision. The fact that he saw this vision through means the local neighbourhood really benefits; localism has increased, people talk to each other more – which even has knock-on effects to crime prevention, and it makes accessible a sense of community that otherwise may not have been apparent. And community amongst the British middle classes – particularly in city life, is something that is so rare.

Of course it’s a well-known phenomenon that great businesses, however big or small, create their own market. However what impresses me is that in order to find your own market, part of this process is denying the existence of the market you don’t wish to serve. In a world that, given the chance, would rather drink Stella Artois, it takes a certain vision to carry-on with what you want instead of going with the economic flow.

It’s like the Radio 4 effect vs. the Radio 1 effect. Radio 4 caters for 5% of the radio-listening population (I made that figure up). But of those people, 100% would complain if the channel went off-air for a few minutes. Conversely, Radio 1 caters for 80% of the radio-listening population, but a far smaller proportion (2%?) would notice let alone complain if it were to go off-air.

I suppose in marketing terms, this effect is called the short tail vs. the long tail. I know where I’d rather be, in my life and in my work.

Feb 11

No2AV – more expensive

Doubtless you know the arguments for and against AV; I credit readers of this article with enough intelligence to understand the difference between AV and FPTP, as well as what it would mean in the bigger picture – how it would change politics over the course of a number of years, and over a number of terms and elections.


“AV is complicated and expensive”. Whilst the claim that AV might increase your council tax is something that technically could hold true, a little more probing shows that the cost of an election in its current form is negligible in comparison to the cost of many more meaningless things councils spend their money on. I don’t have figures for the 2010 election but for example, BBC cites that the 2005 general election cost more than £80m, whereas late last year Hertfordshire Council alone made savings of £150m to be had from an efficiency drive. (Source)

  • Cost of possible efficiency savings for one council: £150m
  • Cost of general election for whole country: £80m

Surely our national democracy is worth more than half the potential savings from a mere efficiency drive by one constituency in the home counties?

More to the point, democracy should have no price.

Jan 11

Confessions of a GTD junkie

My background is music, my teens were spent in music lessons, music centre rehearsals, practising for gigs, listening to music, and my university studies were classical music.

My speciality is improvisation, and if you put me in front of a huge audience and gave me a grand piano and a song request of pretty much anything I could hum (especially something interesting like a jazz tune), I would confidently play the song without music, form my phrases correctly, play with the rhythms, and make a piece out of it. (A skill which is second nature to me, but seems to impress most non-musical people I know.) I am fearless when it comes to musical improvisation, and I know that small mistakes are sometimes what gives a piece character and spirit.

The same is not true of life.

Small mistakes – or forgotten thoughts – lead to lost sales, decreased efficiency, and generally adds to the feeling that there is something important that I haven’t thought of.

(A small example: having to go back to the supermarket because you bought all ingredients for an amazing recipe except the critical one.)

In reality the small mistakes don’t get in the way of my efficiency and rarely lead to lost sales.

It’s more that the fear of small mistakes, and I’m sure this is irrational, the fear of small mistakes is something that hovers over me like an impending huge mistake in itself, unless I have a mechanism to thwart it. Unless I have a tried and tested system.

GTD stands for “getting things done”, and the theory and tools are a very popular subject for discussion on websites such as lifehacker.org.

I have a strong suspicion that many people who place a little too much emphasis on searching for the perfect method of getting things done (rather than just… getting those things done!) have this same affliction.

To put it in a more positive light, I actually enjoy the process of recording tasks. It sounds ridiculous, but in the same way I get caught up with the intricate process of brewing my coffee, with the exact right brew ratios, water temperature, coffee age, pouring technique; I like to get a bit caught up in the process itself. Perhaps it’s because it gives me time to think about other things. Or perhaps it’s just how my brain is wired. I fought it for a while … futile.

By ‘caught up’ I mean that I sometimes stay up late reading the blogs of people who write various GTD (task list) applications, contributing to discussions, and the like.

I flip from one method to another. Windows application, iPhone application, application that syncs between Windows, iPhone, and ‘the cloud’, hosting own php task-list applications online, I even toyed with the “pen and paper” method, which is whereby you write a list on a bit of paper (or in a book) – magic I know.

(This didn’t work out for me as soon as I realised that I keep different writing books for different things, and that my Moleskine exists for me to brainstorm my life mid-week. It’s useful for drawing connections between notes, writing freestyle, and the like, but not appropriate for recording things in a running list whilst I am on a job, in bed, for good, in a searchable, archivable manner that you can come back to at any point.  Also I have this belief that paper should not be used for things that have to be properly recorded, due to their annoying habit of getting lost when you need them.)

I’m a GTD whore, and I often declare my allegiance to one application over another then change my mind.

I am currently using a sub-optimal solution on my iPhone that syncs with a cloud-based system that gives me access to my tasks on a laptop if I need. It’s extremely flexible, safe, and efficient, but sub-optimal for many reasons I won’t go into here.

I have compared tonnes of apps (for an idea of what I mean, see this list – I’ve looked in detail at every one of them myself, and spent many hours customising a number of them for my needs. Yes, I know. Not efficient).

I probably shouldn’t disclose here how many apps I have also purchased for this.

Confessions over.

Nov 10

Why Clegg hasn’t betrayed us

Many left-leaning liberals in the media are outraged at what they consider to be broken pledges on the part of Nick Clegg.

Johann Hari writes in the independent, “In just a few days after the election, he cleared a space in his swanky new ministerial offices and staged a bonfire of his principles”.

Aside from the fact this article is laced with hyperbole (look carefully – barely a paragraph without some emotive language!), I can’t help thinking this is exactly not what the country needs.

I don’t mean that in a patriotic sense; I believe this country will operate perfectly well even if we don’t get behind our leaders in support. Thankfully we live in a pluralist state, and it’s not important to me that my fellow citizens are either “for or against” a given government.

No, the reason I am concerned is because we are heading towards one of the most exciting changes in a political system, a genuine maturing of our politics, and one that requires we all start to grasp the concept of what it means to have plurality in government as well as amongst the electorate.

The maturing of our political system is something we Brits have long desired, culminating in our outrage at the expenses scandal – a scandal that would never have grown to such an issue had it not been for the fact that one political party was allowed to govern the country unilaterally for 13 whole years. It is precisely our FPTP (First Past The Post) voting system that polarises the parties in the first place, and splits the electorate in two – a split, incidentally, that has in the last 13 years seen one party as the goodies and one party as the baddies. It’s a well-known and well-studied fact – an obvious and intuitive one – that two-party politics leads to long-term instability (make law, unmake law, make law) rather than a slower more considered, longer-arching, iterative style of policy-making.

Yet what are we going to do about it? Is our appetite strong enough for a mature politics?

We Liberals love to decry the immaturity of rags like The Daily Mail and so on, but in my opinion there is a more subtle immaturity that many of us ignore; it’s a little bit more insipid, and a lot more damaging. But then, I have always thought the broadsheets are much like the tabloids sans boobs, and sans the quite-so-obvious indignant outrage.

When I read articles like Hari’s in the Independent, it worries me that we are more concerned about our leaders’ characters and personal pledges than we are about what they can do for politics itself.

Clegg, along with other Liberal Democrats, signed a pledge before the election. Before the coalition was formed, and before there was any possibility that he might be in a position to even govern. But this was a pledge of political policy, not of political principle.

And here is the basis of understanding a coalition. One must no longer think about pledges, promises, scandal and success, but instead one has to think of the hypothetical.

The hypothetical asks the question: “where would we be if  the Tories had gained power, without the Liberal Democrats to temper them?”

The hypothetical asks the question: “where would we be if Labour were still in power?”

The hypothetical asks the question: “where would we be if the Liberal Democrats had won the majority in the House of Commons?”

When you look honestly at the answers to those questions, it becomes very clear why Clegg has not betrayed us in the slightest.

May 10

The closure of Becta

The majority of people who are pleased at the closure of Becta are most likely so because they disagreed in some way or another with their leanings on various issues, for example their take on open source software in schools. These people can safely be ignored, along with those who decry “waste of taxpayer’s money!” when really they mean “it doesn’t benefit me, so I reserve the right to think it’s a waste of money”.

That said, Becta is really no different from any other government quango in the sense that you can argue for and against with the following argument:

  • centralised decision-making can bring efficiencies, savings, continuity to the education system vs. centralised efficiencies prohibit independent thought, local buying, and prevent the school from making its own decisions about systems.

I fall into the latter camp: as an independent, self-employed provider of IT services to schools I believe that schools are simply better-off governed on their own.

Yes, there’s a dearth of IT management talent in schools, and I’m already hearing people saying that many local authorities and schools simply don’t have the know-how to hire talent, manage their procurement, advise senior management on strategy, and otherwise fill that vacuum.

But I am making one prediction: we are soon to realise that there was only ever one reason for this dearth of IT talent in schools in the past: Becta itself.

When you centralise, you may be benefiting those schools who already lack this talent – especially those schools in special measures, under-performing schools, and smaller schools – but you are closing another door: the door that allows local business to get involved. The door that allows schools to make mistakes, learn from them, decide to hire better IT talent, and develop their own corporate character in the long term. And you are closing a door that prevents the individual  interests of a top-end school to flourish, form partnerships with local business, or share best practice themselves rather than send their staff on a course. As for the middle- and lower-end schools, centralisation can stifle growth by prohibiting the more modest developments they may need at the time.

Most critically, however, centralisation of this kind has an adverse effect on school’s desire to hire in-house talent.

And when schools don’t have good in-house IT talent, they don’t get good grades in ICT subjects. They may get big money for the use of ICT as a ‘facility’ but they don’t get known as a technologically advanced school.

The one thing I won’t be glad to see the back of is this pervasive view that dealing with local businesses can be a bit dodgy.

Quangos: like them or not, I believe they prohibit independent thought.

Disclaimer: the writer of this blog is not a Tory!

May 10

Hung Parliament, 5 days in

So – you voted for a hung parliament!

Well, you may not have personally voted for such a thing, but you have to accept that the British people as a whole did so, and that’s what we have got.

Here’s what I am hearing from the British public right now:

  • “Don’t do it Nick!”
  • “Do it Nick!”
  • “The whole thing is a shambles!”
  • “Clegg is holding xyz to ransom!”
  • “The failing Labour government has no mandate to govern”

Electorate, pipe down! This is what happens in a hung parliament.

Nobody won the election. That means the party with more seats has no more mandate to govern than the party with fewer, at this point.

Our electoral system, whether we like it or not, has already accounted for this potential outcome. The process is clear, and it has been for decades.

Today on Radio 4 I heard one caller actually blame BBC for not educating people enough about the process. How dare!

If you don’t like this process, stop your impotent whinging and stand for election yourself. Or take to the streets in protest of our electoral system. Or write to an MP about the electoral system. In fact, why didn’t you do this a long time before the election? Stop spreading your bile on websites and radio phone-ins. It’s terribly un-British of you.

Nothing is unexpected. In fact, we pretty much knew it would be a hung parliament weeks before the election even took place.

What’s with all the hurrying, the cries of, “I’ll never vote Lib Dem again if…” or “Gordon doesn’t have the right to this or that”?


I voted with my heart and my head, and I’ll always vote for my party as long as I can, because I believe in what they stand for.

This may just be the election where the leading politicians turn out to be far less fickle and outrageous than the voices of the public! Who would have thought?

The electorate has spoken. And now they should shut right up, and let the politicians get on with what they have to do. In their own time.

If you don’t like it, my guess is that you probably didn’t even vote with your head and/or heart in the first place.

May 10

How I will vote

This is a response to the excellent writings of Stephen Fry on the same subject. His is a long piece but well worth the read: http://www.stephenfry.com/2010/05/04/how-i-will-vote/

In the same way I know that writing this blog post (adapted from a message left on the blog of Stephen Fry) has no bearing on anyone’s views, indeed may not even be read by a single person, I believe that my vote this Thursday will have absolutely zero* effect on the outcome of this election.

It is, as one might say, eleven types of invisible. Four shades of pointless.

My vote is, however, a personal expression of great belief and passion in the democratic process. It is a cathartic exercise, one that gives me immense value as a human being and citizen of this country, and I shall cherish it dearly. I shall feel a warm feeling close to how I imagine a religious person might feel. I shall drink Champagne.

(For the above reason, especially at this decisive time for Britons, I believe tactical voting to be both useless and irrelevant.)

Regarding my vote. In this election, I have previously been wavering between voting Labour and Liberal Democrat, and shunning the Conservative party.

Brown attracts me not because of his long-term vision but because of his boring detail-driven policy making; the country needs this. I do not believe that Brown for one minute ‘got us into this mess’; one has to look a little further than our borders. I believe when he says that global problems require global solutions, and that the solution lies in the bigger picture of the direction of global trade rather than the smaller picture of the regulation of our own financial industry.

Clegg attracts me because he leads a party I have great idealogical respect for. I shall say no more at this point, other than the following words: Iraq, the Digital Economy Bill, ID cards, expensive centralised IT systems for the NHS.

Cameron repels me not because of his character per-se, but because of the unchallenged, ingrained nature of his beliefs and loyalties, which I feel will not adequately challenge the status quo.

Deep down I would love for a Conservative party that was led by a philosopher, a champion of human rights, and social idealist. Alas such a party leader does not exist.

Despite my past wavering, my gut, my heart, and my head tell me I must cast my vote for the Liberal Democrat party.

* This is of course not true. My point is that it may as well be, due to statistics.

Mar 10

People who look at car crashes

Why does a celeb, posthumously, become a superhero?

I could name a few – who had varying degrees of talent (from ‘zero’ to ‘some’) – who have been raised to this state.

This is not really related to the Radio 4 Feedback programme itself, more to a programme that was played out this week featuring Jeff Buckley singing Dido’s Lament.

I’ve never seen a car crash in realtime, in fact I have never so much as seen a person get killed or even die.

Nor am I one of those people who slows down to look at the crash on the motorway. I believe it’s more dangerous to do so, besides, slowing down can have a knock-on effect on hundreds of people’s lives by causing huge tailbacks; those in cars behind you may be missing their plane, missing a crucial interview for a job, trying to get to the other side of the country to see their dying grandmother. A police cleanup operation is made ten times more difficult by the behaviour of the public.

If you slow down to look, you are contributing to the chaos for one reason only: to satisfy your sick curiosity. I abhor everyone who looks at a car crash.

The only way to help is to look straight ahead and ignore it. Tell yourself people die every day from their own – or others’ – stupidity and thoughtlessness, or by mere chance.

Technically, I should feel similarly about how we humans are morbidly interested in the dead.

I understand our human obsession with venerating people to cultural superhero status just because they died in unfortunate circumstances; there is a correlation between the depth of tragedy and the amount that we consider them a genius. I understand our obsession with venerating stars to cultural superhero status because they committed suicide; they were oh so fragile, society didn’t listen to them, they were victims of the modern world.

But celebrities? People in the pop industry? People who appeared on Big Brother?

Jeff Buckley appears to have been a reasonably talented person, however he does not deserve the veneration to cult superhero status that he has received. Apart from anything, he butchered Dido’s Lament. Here is a beautiful piece of music written in the context of a work of opera, which has been singled-out by a man who appears to be nothing more than slightly interested in gothic things, with no more than a modicum of talent.

From my above views on people who slow down for car crashes, you might assume that I would curse loudly, switch off the radio, move on.

Except I had to listen. The more I listened, the more enraged I became. The more confused I became about why such terrible singing could be seen as so brilliant by so many people.

The positive comments that flowed in to R4’s Feedback confirm this.

Regardless of whether you consider this person to have been a musical talent or not, I believe that either way this kind of veneration is like slowing down to watch a car crash.

There are hundreds of other cars on the roads, millions of other personal stories, thousands of other performances of Purcell that will make you cry.

Is Buckley’s rendition of Dido’s Lament considered to have the depth of emotion that it does, because we only hear it with the knowledge of how he died?

Feb 10

Browser Ballot

Browser ballot. Ballot?

What, like an election? You mean, it’s more than a mere choice, it’s a personal statement of belief, a vote?

It appears that way. Each browser has its manifesto. A page held on a politically neutral website that outlines what the browser stands for.

What the hell?

Today I was doing some Windows updates on a client’s computer, and after I rebooted I saw something that led me to believe their machine had a trojan or spyware. For there was no branding, no explanation, just a box that popped up in an unfamiliar window saying that I had an important choice to make.

This has to be dodgy, right? A virus. Someone trying to steal my data.

The only important choice I have to make right now is what to have for dinner.

No, it’s the European Union ruling against Microsoft, telling them that they have to provide users with a choice of browser. A browser ballot. Yay! I get to vote!

It’s like returning home after your cleaner has been only to find someone took your wooden floor away, and left you a note saying you have an important choice to make. You need to choose what type of floor you would like to use from now on. Wait, you surely bought that floor along with the rest of the house? Like five years ago!

NO! Because a floor is distinctly different to a house. Lots of different people make floors! You should be given a choice! Otherwise it’s unfair on everyone who makes floors!

What the hell? Where is my floor? It’s my house, get out!

This only applies to Microsoft, mind. Your floor would only be temporarily removed if you bought a Microsoft house as your home, not an Apple one, or a Ubuntu one. Oh, and it only applies to Microsoft Homes purchased in the last 10 years. Oh, and it doesn’t apply to Microsoft Mansions (i.e. servers) or mobile homes of any sort (iPod, Windows Mobile). Only middle class homes. It’s because Microsoft are the Barratt Homes of computers. Their bigness makes them inherently bad.

Ok so the difficulty with this metaphor is that everyone in the world knows the difference between a floor and a house, but not everyone in the world knows the difference between a browser and an operating system. You, dear reader, are excused if you do not know the difference, deep down. It’s okay. You are quite normal.

Wait. Even worse to think. More people will vote in this arbitrary browser ballot in the UK than will vote in the general election. Many, many more people. That is so wrong it hurts.

Back on topic, let’s get this straight.

Anyone who actually knows what a browser is has already made their choice.

The remainder (75% of actual people – that is – living human beings with souls who just want to go on the internet without any hassles) do not care.

They will have a decision process forced upon them, be told the decision is important, (what, like abortion? Like looking for a new job?) and then be confounded with a load of options they don’t understand. If they click the window away, it will install a shortcut to the desktop, and come up again on next reboot.

I work in the field of IT Consultancy, and I can testify that to the majority of users, this decision is not as important as who to vote for on X Factor.

The consequence: IT Support will be picking up the pieces, after the sorry mess caused by a load of unsuspecting users who accidentally installed the wrong browser because they had no idea where to click, thus losing all of their settings, saved passwords, and not to mention being bloody confounded because the browser they chose didn’t have the latest version of Adobe Flash, etc.

Make it go away.

My mother doesn’t even know the difference between the address bar and a mouse. Give her a change of browser and she will have to go to night classes again just to learn how to do a Google search. Seriously.

Hell, even the BBC, in tech articles, regularly get operating system and browser confused. That’s how tech savvy we are: rightly or wrongly, our own media can’t even get it right. (Cringe.)

In the name of liberation, choice, freedom? It smacks of jealousy, of fanatical technocracy. It’s almost a religious war. Sure as anything isn’t politics. Or regulation for that matter.

The global tech industry requires solid, effective, and rational sector regulation. The EU has proven its worthlessness once again by entirely missing the point and unleashing its mindless red tape on an easy target. Path of least resistance. What a weak bunch.

It’s micro legislation, and it undermines the fact that the industry is suffering a dearth of real regulation, such as in cyber security, or in the environmental challenges.

Nit-picking at the big guy on a tiny point of interest does nobody any favours.

It’s straight bananas, except far worse.

It sure as anything wasn’t for anti-monopoly reasons because for one, browsers are not a major source of income for anyone (except those who only make browsers… cough cough) and secondly because this will do nothing to put a leash onto the fact Microsoft have cornered the corporate IT market – where the money is.

This is the techno-democracy-brigade equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theatre.

I’m starting to feel sorry for large conglomerates (for the random outburst of legislation that clearly applies to nobody else) and feeling anger towards libertarian organisations who supposedly want the world to be a better place.

I’m starting to mutter under my breath words like political correctness gone MAD, and I sound like one of those awful Daily Mail readers.

What’s going on with the world?

Feb 10

How to get things done

The whole concept of consolidating one’s thoughts into a list is something that fascinates me.

Why? Because I’m not a listy kind of person. I’m very much an improviser in life, I don’t like to be tied-down to systems or structures, I love to see how things go before I commit – but I still find myself having to write lists.

Herein lies a paradox, and here is the crux of this paradox: because I don’t naturally tend towards structure, and because my brain is so disorderly, and because I am not a natural multitasker, and because I think too much all of the time, (and because the number of clauses in this sentence reflects how my brain works), the only way of getting through my day is to write a list.

It’s a battleplan for actually getting things done.

Otherwise, I am easily overcome with the small things clouding the bigger picture.

This is something I realised a while ago, and so I started to read about the formalised concepts of GTD (getting things done) proposed by David Allen, became a friend of the 43 folders concept, and investigated list-making websites and programs.

Like any true list junkie, I had to feed my habit. This started, aged 18 (that’s 11 years ago), with an unhealthy dependency on using Microsoft Outlook tasks, and since then I have been a slave to the Palm Pilot (2 different models), early days of Nokia mobile phone tasks, the smartphone in 4 different flavours (Windows Mobile introduced synchronisation of my lists from Outlook to a mobile device – wow!), cloud-based services like Gmail’s task lists, synchonisation of lists across a number of different pieces of technology, not to mention the shunning of all the above and the purchase of the entire range of Moleskine notepads (I was feeling renaissance).

Now I come to think of it, I once spent three weeks trying to find the perfect digital audio dictation device that was waterproof so that I could pin-down the ridiculous number of thoughts and bright ideas that my brain has when I am in the shower, as well as driving in my car. No kidding. What a geek.

Invariably, however, after my foray into this new-fangled paper and pen thing, I came back to technology to help me get productive. How old-fashioned. And of late I have downloaded (and spent too much money on) a few good GTD applications for the iPhone.

I have pondered how much money I’ve invested over the years on systems to help me get things done (Things, TapForms, DropBox, Evernote, Done, Outlook, Pocket Informant, and more), and whether or not this investment has matched the gain in productivity I have encountered. Of course, it hasn’t.

But it has made me feel better. I therefore conclude that everyone needs a hobby, and because I don’t fly kites or own a cat, mine is “finding the perfect way to organise my thoughts”.

Like a junkie, I get excited when I sign-up for a new productivity enhancing website. I get excited when I find out the website will sync with my iPhone so that I can always never forget to not forget to Remember the Milk at all times, always, wherever I am.

Then I’m left high-and-dry 6 months later because I discover one TINY piece of functionality that another application has invented which my favourite To-Do list system doesn’t have.

Such is the curse of perfectionism. No, scrap that. Such is the curse of consumerism.

At this point in my life, I have identified the problem. The problem is me.

I am a fickle consumer of things that could potentially make my life more efficient and better.

Is it really me? Or has the perfect system – at least perfect in my mind – just not been invented yet?

You see, in my head there is a specification for what makes the ultimate list application. (This is like the ‘ultimate hit’ for junkies.)

  • Quick to enter thoughts. I mean, from the moment you have a thought, there should be zero delay in recording it. This also covers the requirement to enter lots of thoughts in succession.
  • Clear delineation of functionality from other apps. A good GTD app should not be my calendar, but because I am task-oriented and not time-oriented, I require some kind of time-based aspect. For example, I want to remember to do something in the future but not to have it cloud my list for the current day.
  • Needs to have multiple lists or contexts. (One for work, one for admin, one for home, etc.)
  • Needs to have multiple views and list types that transcend these contexts. (Things for ‘today’, things for ‘someday’, things for a project, things for a meeting, etc.)
  • Needs to act as a record or log for old thoughts / to-do items. I want to track what I was doing this time a year ago. This time 4 years ago. Therefore it must have an export function, to export to a common format, if and when I move on to another system.
  • Coupled with the above point, it needs to export items so as to be platform-independent. I love my iPhone, and will probably settle on it for at least a few years. And I currently use a PC. But what about in 20 years, when we are commanding computers built-in to coffee tables and the like? Tech has changed so much in the last 10 years, and this will only accelerate in the next 10.
  • Back to the now: needs to sync between different devices, and the cloud. My laptop and desktop PC are used when I need to expand thoughts, and my iPhone is my all-in-one that gets taken everywhere. Ideally, this sync should be done via the ‘cloud’, so everything is backed-up, and so I’ve access even when I lose or forget my laptop or phone. I use the Google cloud, because it’s free, and highly available, and resilient. This allows me to store and sync files, email, you name it. Too many of the best apps are written for Mac and iPhone only. No good for me right now.
  • Needs to be pretty. And ingenious. I can’t handle an ugly bit of software.

It turns out there are a tonne of apps out there that do most of the above, but not all. Perhaps that’s why I keep changing apps, not because I’m a junkie.

The best ones seem to be apps that are not quite as platform independent. Things for iPhone, OmniFocus for iPhone – great apps, but if you want to sync with PC or the cloud, they are limited. And they aren’t that ingenious in terms of their user interface.

Remember the Milk for iPhone, great, but you need to sign up for a subscription to their package.

My latest download is an application for iPhone called Today To-Do by Spielhaus.

The fact it’s my latest indicates it’s my favourite in the evolution of GTD on the iPhone so far (that small sentence betrays a lot of enthusiasm for the application right now), but it doesn’t quite fulfill the whole of the above hit-list… at least not yet.

The first application that does so gets a full, detailed review!