The Science of Managing Our Digital Stuff

The Science of Managing Our Digital Stuff

By Ofer Bergman and Steve Whittaker

Why we organize our personal digital data the way we do and how design of new PIM systems can help us manage our information more efficiently.





Why we organize our personal digital data the way we do and how design of new PIM systems can help us manage our information more efficiently.

Each of us has an ever-growing collection of personal digital data: documents, photographs, PowerPoint presentations, videos, music, emails and texts sent and received. To access any of this, we have to find it. The ease (or difficulty) of finding something depends on how we organize our digital stuff. In this book, personal information management (PIM) experts Ofer Bergman and Steve Whittaker explain why we organize our personal digital data the way we do and how the design of new PIM systems can help us manage our collections more efficiently.

Bergman and Whittaker report that many of us use hierarchical folders for our personal digital organizing. Critics of this method point out that information is hidden from sight in folders that are often within other folders so that we have to remember the exact location of information to access it. Because of this, information scientists suggest other methods: search, more flexible than navigating folders; tags, which allow multiple categorizations; and group information management. Yet Bergman and Whittaker have found in their pioneering PIM research that these other methods that work best for public information management don't work as well for personal information management.

Bergman and Whittaker describe personal information collection as curation: we preserve and organize this data to ensure our future access to it. Unlike other information management fields, in PIM the same user organizes and retrieves the information. After explaining the cognitive and psychological reasons that so many prefer folders, Bergman and Whittaker propose the user-subjective approach to PIM, which does not replace folder hierarchies but exploits these unique characteristics of PIM.


$30.00 T ISBN: 9780262035170 296 pp. | 5.375 in x 8 in 21 b&w illus., 4 tables


  • Fascinating.

    Tim Harford

    Financial Times


  • Our digital stuff is increasing by the bucket load each day. How do we manage it? Bergman and Whittaker's important and scientifically grounded book provides a fascinating account of why we persist with seemingly old-fashioned methods when there are alternative seemingly better approaches that have been designed by software companies. Much food for thought.

    Yvonne Rogers

    Professor of Interaction Design, University College London

  • In 1980, personal digital information meant a few dozen files. Today, it is many thousands of files per person. We each curate our own British Museum of digital stuff. Bergman and Whittaker explain how and why we do this, accessibly and authoritatively integrating the psychology and technology of personal information management, and directing that understanding toward future designs.

    John M. Carroll

    Distinguished Professor of Information Sciences and Technology, Pennsylvania State University; author of Making Use

  • As two of the most experienced researchers in the world on personal information management, Bergman and Whittaker have written the go-to book. Drawing on insights from years of research, they point the way to developing much better technologies for dealing with the thorny challenges of keeping, organizing, and using our own digital stuff.

    Abigail Sellen

    Principal Researcher, Microsoft Research; coauthor of The Myth of the Paperless Office

  • Why aren't the information retrieval tools that have partly tamed content on the web equally effective in helping us manage the massive amounts of digital stuff we all have accumulated? Drawing from their own empirical research and fundamental principles of cognitive psychology, Bergman and Whittaker identify the way that our prior knowledge of the content and predictions about context of future use cause hierarchical folders to be both the preferred and most effective methods for managing our digital content. The deep, scientific base for their explanation and applications to new designs for personal information management makes this book stand out.

    Robert Kraut

    Herbert A. Simon Professor of Human-Computer Interaction, Carnegie Mellon University