One Thing

If you could have an application, a product or a service do one thing, what would it be?

Let’s narrow the scope a bit. Let’s limit ourselves to information management, something along the lines of what an application like Journler does. Maybe something these kinds of applications already do that is essential for you, or something you’d like them to do.

What would it be?

Let’s imagine this one thing is eminently usable, providing enough value that it could exist as a standalone product or service. This isn’t just a feature; it’s a fully fledged product. If the application did this one thing and nothing else, you’d still use it. And let’s not worry about whether you’d pay for it or how much it might be worth, only that you’d make it a part of your routine.

What one thing would you use all the time?

But let’s not limit ourselves to a particular platform. Maybe it’s an application, maybe it’s something built right into the Finder or the OS. Maybe it’s a web service or even just a Chrome or Safari extension. Maybe it’s a mobile phone application. Maybe it sits somewhere between these and connects them together. It might even connect to or fully be in the physical world.

Just one thing. What does this product do that is so useful to you, wherever and however it does it?

Finally let’s be careful to keep it one thing. It’s easy to get carried away and one thing becomes two things becomes four becomes many things. “Well I’d like to be able to share files and control who has access to them and how long they can be shared.” What about simply share files: “I want to right-click a file and share it with another person.” Sure there is underlying complexity but we can worry about the details later.

One thing. If you could have a product or a service do one thing that helped you manage the information in your personal or professional life, what would that one thing be?


28 Replies to “One Thing”

  1. Hi Phil: My vote for the One Thing would be a space-time calendar-map of some sort. (I mentioned this briefly in a comment in your previous post.) I’m surprised how unexplored this idea seems to be. The Quora question How can I view my calendar events on a map? mentions a new iPhone app called TimeJoy. It looks amazing, but there are many other possibilities in this problem space. Space and time are two of the basic categories in which we live our lives, and they have remained largely segregated. How can we bring them together into One Thing?

    1. One point i forgot: and add network storage. So the user can store the data on a NAS and it can be reached form every computers in the building. Wherever he/she likes to sit.

      And you could take it a step further separate the data storage completely from Journler and make storage on dropbox, amazon s3, etc. possible.

      Makes Journler an even more fantastic app. As you can read in other posts people are still very enthusiastic about Journler and did not find a true replacement.

    2. Yes, I concur. I like the idea of being able to continue with journler. It was a fantastic product. I would like to use for the rest of my life, and I bet others feel the same and would pay for the updates.

      You can integrate journler into new models. I also use another software program called DevonPro. If you did a journlerPro version I think it would be a hit.

      I also like the idea of setting goals on a timeline and delivering “products” according to your agendas (personal or business).

      Honestly, I would like to use journler for my personal journaling and then use DevonPro for research organization. what if I could combine these two things?

      Feel free to publish if you want.

  2. The big thing in technical writing these days is *reuse*. Break the source into chunks that can be reused, remixed if you like, making details consistent in all ways. But to get there, we have to analyze thousands of pages, hundreds of thousands of words, to find those common chunks. The job is made more difficult when there are strings that should be consistent but aren’t (“Type this command” vs “Enter the following command”).

    Plagiarism checkers are similar, but in this case we’re trying to *encourage* plagiarism, and do it across a specific, internal collection of topics.

    1. Larry, if I understand you correctly, one term for what you have described is snippet management. As the “See also” section of the Wikipedia article on snippet management points out, related ideas include: autocomplete, design pattern, refactoring, revision control. Another related idea is: glossary. It sounds as if you are looking for an artificial intelligence engine that could analyze a corpus of texts and suggest patterns that could then be added (manually or automatically) to snippet management software.

      1. The content management system (CMS) would store snippets alongside topics, graphics, and the like. That’s the easy part. The hard part is spidering the entire CMS, looking for identical and nearly-identical strings that could be turned into snippets. But yeah, an AI engine that analyzes the text and flags potential reuse is the gist of it.

  3. Here’s another vote for the One Thing (vote early, vote often!), again copied from a comment on your previous post: a continuous text/markdown/html file editor that can display multiple files in one scrolling view like “Scrivenings” mode in Scrivener but for any text/markdown/html files. Someone asked about this on Stack Exchange and didn’t receive any good answers: What text editors let you view and edit multiple files in a single long page (similar to Scrivener’s Scrivenings mode)?

  4. Hi, first of all, I am so glad to hear from you again.
    My only wish would be a “journaling and entry based information manager for the Macintosh®. Whether (I’d be) looking for a straightforward diary or a full featured PIM or GTD system, (it) has the flexibility to meet (my) needs.”
    Sorry to be provocative and bring back memories ; of course, that would be Journler.
    Add plain text export, maybe markdown (but ?), sync with an IOS app for sure.
    By the way, Journeyer still runs fine under El Captan 10.11.6. I wish I had not tried (and tried, etc…) so many apps to replace it when I was thinking it would stop functioning.

    1. Hi Chris,

      I’am very curious about Journler on Mac OS X 10.11. With me, on 10.8 Journler crashes on startup. On 10.7 i had Journler working with my Journal on a NAS. Could work with it from different iMacs.

      My new iMac with 10.11 or 10.12 will arrive in about 2 weeks.
      You think a fresh install of Journler might work? Which journler version did you install?
      And then import my already existing journal?
      Or how did you do it…?

      1. Hi, sorry for the very late reply.
        I’m running OS X 10.11.6 on my mid-2010 iMac.
        My version of Journeyer is 2.6b4
        I didn’t really “install” Journler, I just gradually transferred my data from old Mac to new Mac and gradually updated the OS.
        To answer your question , I don’t know how I did it…I just did.

  5. The one thing for me is to be able to take notes alongside of things I read. To find these notes again in contexts where I need to have them at hand. To connect notes that are related. To agglomerate notes to notes in order to develop thoughts, ideas, concepts.

      1. All of it. Sometimes PDF which I annotate, highlight etc. (and extract parts into other documents where I develop my thoughts (what I miss most is an *easy* way to drag some sentences out of a given document and get them as a citation with an easy backlink toi the source, so when I think, “hmm, what exactly was the context of THAT?”, a simple click would bring me back to it)), sometimes web pages (although I prefer to extract only the content (text and images) as RTF/RTFD), sometimes simple text files, sometimes printed books.

        One of the most useful things Journler provided were the linking possibilities. I linked document A to document B by a simple drag, and document B was linked backwards to document A as well: invaluable. Sadly, while the naked texts and pictures usually can be saved after the demise of a certain software, these links (that represent a lot of work, information and usefulness!) usually disappear with the software that created it.

        As far as I see, the concept of South Lake offers no place for this kind of linking – easy and two-sided. “Hard-wiring” one document via HTML to another may be possible, but is a lot of work, will lose the link when the target document changes its place, and the target document knows nothing about the link: If that would be sufficient, I could achieve the same with any editor, couldn’t I?

      2. Andreas is right: Journler’s automatic two-way linking (or automatic backlinking) is a killer feature that is not available in any other Mac app as far as I know, not even in DEVONthink, which in many other aspects is an acceptable alternative to Journler.

        You could extract this feature into an app that only does One Thing: maintains a database of two-way links using its own URI scheme (such as Journler’s URI scheme journler://). You drag a file to the app and it adds the file to its database and pops up a window with a URL that you can copy (somewhat like a URL-shortening service such as or In any text editing app, you select some text and either link directly to URL you have already copied or else press a hotkey and a contextual menu or window appears that lets you select a file in the database to link to. (The link that gets inserted then uses the app’s URI scheme.) You press a different hotkey to see a list of files that link to the current file. Or it could be a menu bar app, and all of these functions are in a system-wide menu. There it is: One Thing, probably relatively easy to program (compared to Journler), that Journler had and nobody else is offering.

      3. I think the two-way linking app that I described above is a brilliant idea, but on second thought the idea of copying and pasting URLs wouldn’t work for at least a couple of reasons: First, it’s too complicated; social networks such as Facebook work so well because they allow people to share links who couldn’t figure out how to copy and paste a URL to save their lives, and Journler’s two-way linking was successful because it was similarly user-friendly. Second, it wouldn’t work because the app wouldn’t “know” where you pasted the URL, and therefore wouldn’t be able to track backlinks.

        It would have to be something like a menu bar app (with keyboard shortcuts and even with Siri integration), with the URI scheme relatively invisible to the user just as Journler’s URI scheme (journler://) was relatively invisible to the user. The icon of the menu bar app could change every time you opened or selected a file that is linked to other file(s). This very simple idea would open a lot of possibilities.

    1. DEVONsphere Express is a menu bar app that shows “related items” by using Devon Technologies’ artificial intelligence engine. The app that I proposed above could have a somewhat similar interface, but it would show files that you have explicitly linked (just like Journler), rather than files that someone else’s algorithm has selected for you.

  6. I think one thing I’d really use is a simple iPhone voice memo application that automatically transcribes what I say, making it searchable. Notes on the iPhone with transcription.

  7. Hello Philip,

    Really love the Journler software that you produced (and saddened to see it’s demise). Downloaded South Lake, really like the concept—A LOT. Two features that I think would be invaluable:

    1. Import of Journler files
    2. iPhone/iPad compatibility.

    Hope that this isn’t the end of the road, but beginning of something evening better.

  8. To be able to drag my tasks into a calendar so it becomes a scheduled event. I had a calendar like that and I miss it. I’m astonished that i can’t find it again or anything like it.

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