With some reluctance I am finally releasing a very early version of a new personal information manager dubbed “South Lake”. Test release only, macOS only. Use at your own risk!
South Lake clearly draws inspiration from Journler and other similar applications. I still have an intense interest in personal information management and in developing a product that researchers and writers of all kinds really inhabit, something that is essential to cognitive activity in an era of personal computers and mobile devices. How can I best accomplish this? Journler was one attempt. South Lake is another.
The intent is to produce a project based information manager in which documents and text entries are both primary sources. Ultimately the application would also support sophisticated organizational capabilities such as smart folders, tagging and auto-tagging, and machine learning based recommendation and natural language processing (see also, suggested tags, related research, etc). You could potentially import thousands of documents and have them immediately organized or you could build repositories of information from scratch. It would also support internal and external linking and search indexing, ideally to any kind of data (think contacts, emails, google docs, etc).
This is an extremely early release. A lot doesn’t work or doesn’t work properly, but it should give you a sense for the vision. I have a number of reservations about the product and the direction I’ve taken it so far, but I finally decided that I should release it and start a conversation about what a product like this ultimately looks like.
How You Can Help
I am releasing the application at such an early stage in order to begin a conversation with potential customers about how development might proceed. That means I need your help! Please try the application and let me know what you think. Specifically I am hoping to answer a few questions:
- Am I building the right product? Is this even the right tool for what you’re doing, or am I way off the mark? I am open to the possibility that this isn’t the right application and that I should be building something else entirely. What other kinds of cognitive tools could I be working on?
- Am I supporting the right use cases? What kind of information management do you need: scientific, legal, personal, literary? Are there particular needs you would like addressed?
- How can I differentiate this (or another) product from similar, competing products? You have a number of options for general personal information management and some more specifically tailored to your profession. Why use this one?
Feel free to engage in that conversation here or via email. I’ve made my email address available within the application.
There are a number of reasons why I am uncomfortable releasing South Lake.
Personally it is difficult to revisit this space after giving so much time to Journler and ultimately failing with that product. I also remember what it was like running an indie software outfit and I’m not sure if I’m ready to commit to that again. I know that I can really only succeed with the help of others, but will I be able to find partners and build a team? I also can’t say for sure if this is even what I want to build, or if I want to be building software at all. Fear of missing out, fear of failure and fear of commitment are powerful if spurious motivations for pursing some other activity.
Technically I’m dissatisfied with the development stack I selected and worry about the technical debt I may be accruing. South Lake is a macOS native application written in Swift. I value the native macOS experience and have come to enjoy writing Swift code, but dependency management on the platform is a disaster and I am extremely reluctant to lock myself or my customers into a walled garden. Consequently I selected database and search libraries that are not native to the Mac, but I am skeptical of their reliability (the database anyway) and now regret that decision.
I also don’t know how important web based, cross platform or mobile compatibility is, but I have to assume that need exists. If I start with a macOS native application it is difficult to transition to a more widely compatible product. It is not pleasant to maintain multiple code bases and almost impossible as a single developer. The alternative is a web based application from the beginning or native applications that rely on web technologies for their core. If I’m going to change the software stack I need to do that sooner rather than later.
Financially I now have a major expense in my life which is also the reason why the initial development came to an abrupt and silent end: I’m a first time homeowner! I now have a monthly mortgage payment, and independent software development is financially uncertain work, especially at such an early stage. To pursue the project safely I might need some amount of financing but I don’t have experience raising money. The alternative is client or corporate work which both pay exceptionally well right now.
I express these reservations not as deal breakers but to be transparent with the project risks I’ve identified, risks which also affect the customers who might use South Lake. I welcome any feedback you have about them as well. =)
Thanks for reading, and I hope to hear from you.