Karger, CSAIL team tackle heaps of information scraps -- scientifically

December 16, 2008

Information scraps, such as sticky notes, business cards with bits of critical data scribbled across them--a personal phenomenon common to most busy people in today's fast paced world--can accumlate and annoyingly disappear just when the information is needed.

EECS Professor and principal investigator at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, CSAIL, David Karger, and team of EECS graduate students including Michael Bernstein, Max Van Kleek and Katrina Panovich have tackled the post-it notes and other scraps heap problem in an effort to develop a web-based note-taking software tool that streamlines and minimizes the effort needed to store and retrieve useful and usually important information often lost on physical scraps of paper.

The new tool, called list.it will be further tested in preparation for presentation at the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction, the ACM SIGCHI's, conference to be held in Boston next spring. So far, the research team has found from the beta launch that list.it-enabled users can quickly capture information and find it later--using it for storing to-dos, appointments and other information that usually did not make it into more elaborate programs or technology entry tools.

As Michael Bernstein playfully notes on the CSAIL Haystack group blog:

"Note to self: study more notes.

Over the past two years our group has built up a body of research about information scraps--those little bits of personal information you e-mail to yourself, jot down in post-it notes and notebooks, or keep in that miscellaneous.txt file. It's been a wild journey, with a myriad of research output. Today we're fortunate enough to have that research featured in MIT Tech News. Excuse us while we bask in our five minutes of fame.

Today we're proud to announce a new release of our most recent software--list.it--a Firefox add-on designed to help you capture throughts quickly. It's part of our vision to understand how pepole manage this information, and you can help by using the tool. Go to it!"

The project is funded by the Nokia Research Center Cambridge, the National Science Foundation, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Web Science Research Initiative and Quanta Computer.

Since the initial press reporting this project, 'listit' has received continued interest and coverage. In addition, their submitted paper 'Note to Self: Examining Personal Information Keeping in a Lightweight Note-Taking Tool has been nominated for 'best note' by the ACM CHI 2009 conference committee--in advance of the conference scheduled for April 4-9 in Boston.

Co-investigators Michael Bernstein, Greg Vargas and Katrina Panovich Max Van Kleek and advisors David Karger and mc schraefel will present their work at the CHI 2009 conference. Meanwhile they are also working vigorously to design a follow-up study surrounding specific aspects of note-taking, mobility and retrieval. With over 4,000 list.it users and many have volunteered to let the list.it team study their note taking habits, the group will continue with follow-up studies on specific aspects of note-taking, mobility and retrieval leading up to the conference.

In case you got lost in the 'myriad of research output' links in Michael's blog entry above, see these information links below to follow the path toward the development of list.it. Press coverage that has been added since this article first appeared is included immediately below:


  • NYTimes podcast TechTalk for January 21, 2009:This week’s episode features tips for saving cellphone battery life and a chat with Dr. David Karger, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, about a new Firefox browser add-in for jotting down short notes and other scraps of information right in the Web browser.



  • "Why Computers Can't Kill Post-Its--MIT researchers argue that computers need to become as easy to use as those yellow sticky notes" Lee Gomes, Forbes.com, Jan. 22, 2009.



  • Tip of the week/Boston.com-technology

    Grabbing a Post-it note to quickly scribble down information from a Web page can lead to sticky-note buildup on the monitor. If you would like to jot those notes right in the browser while you work, there's a new Firefox plug-in called List.it (short for Latitudinal Information Scrap Trapper that Indexes Things) that does just that.

    List.it creates a sidebar panel in the Firefox window with a box to type or paste in notes and other bits of information. Developed by researchers at MIT, List.it can be downloaded at groups.csail.mit.edu/haystack/listit/. Notes can also be synchronized with other copies of Firefox with the List.it add-on, which is a lot easier than shuttling paper sticky notes between work and home.





  • the MIT News Office December 10 article, "Digging out from piles of sticky notes, Computer scientists devise ways to organize details of everyday life."










Note: there may be more linked notes piled in this article.