guterman.clips.Agenda.HowItWorks

Those of you who don't have time for the endless process for installing Lotus Agenda may want to know how it works. If you're interested in the program's theoretical underpinnings, the development team's initial positioning statement is available online, but here's how the program feels:

Agenda was just as unusual in 1988 as it is in 1998, for different reasons. Whereas now its text interface, blue-and-gray screens and tabbed menu structure differentiate it from all Windows programs, back then what was strange about Agenda was not how it looked so much as what it did, or sought to do. Its user interface wasn't fundamentally different from 1-2-3, the previous program imagined by Lotus Development founder Mitch Kapor, at least as far as many basic tasks were concerned, which may be a key to what the program's unstated goal was: to manipulate ideas as efficiently as 1-2-3 managed numbers.

A typical Agenda screen is divided into three columns: one in which you enter the specific piece of information ("Call Mom," "Sell Yahoo stock," "Memorize Hamlet," etc.), one for date, and one for priority. Those left-side specific pieces of information can be further divided into categories ("Calls," "Memos," "Ideas," etc.). Without doing any manipulation of your data structure, then, Agenda lets you view your data in four ways: organized by category, specific piece of information, date, and priority. Then you can assign your specific pieces of information to more than one category. And without noticing it, any words in a specific piece of information that are also names of categories automatically are filed into that category as well as any others you want to stick it into. For example, if you have categories called "Mary," "Sally," and "Sales" and you have a specific piece of information that reads "Tell Mary that Sally needs sales reports today," the item will automatically show up into those three categories--plus, because you used the word "today," Agenda will file the item by date, too.

This may seem like a lot of redundancy, but it turns out to be an efficient way of storing and deploying information. By placing specific items into multiple categories, any view you choose will reveal all relevant items. In other words, Agenda manages its database of information in the opposite way of traditional databases. In relational database-management programs like Access and Paradox, you build a structure for your data first. Only after the structure is set can you enter data. With Agenda, you input your ideas while they're hot, and then work with the program to figure out where they belong in your structure-in-progress.

That's the basic structure of Agenda: categories, items, dates, and priorities. Most of the rest of the program is dedicated to manipulating that structure. You can add notes, create multiple filtered views, use indexing and outlining features, you can even a feature with the charming name "Kaleidoscope" to change the colors you're staring at.

In mid-1998, you may examine the list of features and say, "Big deal. That's what all PIMs try to do these days." Before you turn cynical remember two things:

  1. Agenda did it first
  2. After you play with the program for more than a few minutes, you'll agree that even in its ugly DOS clothes, Agenda is organized more elegantly than nearly all of its descendants.

 

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