February 4, 2009
Follow me on Twitter

Scale and Use

Questions of scale matter a lot to software. They’re easy to get wrong in the design, and even easier to get wrong when writing reviews.

Shawn Blanc begins an extensive and thoughtful review of the task manager Things by observing that the software keeps track of lots of things.

When I first began using Things, I only had a handful of to-do items each day. I had no projects and only a few areas of responsibility.

Currently I have 8 projects, 6 areas of responsibility and close to 100 individual to-do items logged. 16 of the to-do items are in my Today list and there is one straggler task waiting in my Inbox.

But Things is modeled on David Allen’s Getting Things Done , and the whole premise of Getting Things Done is that you need to keep track of many hundreds of things. I’m a very light user of a GTD-like system (using Tinderbox), just for tracking some special projects. And I've got 844 tasks, 94 active projects, and about 3250 archived tasks and projects.

And so Blanc winds up contrasting small scale usage with really small scale usage. That’s understandable: it’s hard to get a handle on large-scale problems. And in this case it doesn’t do much harm, because (a) hundreds of tasks is the realm where Things excels, while its UI is likely to prove unsuitable beyond a few thousand, and (b) Blanc does a really nice job of explaining actual usage scenarios, which many reviewers neglect.