We’ve recently moved into a nice new house and starting to set up our life. Due to the specifics of our setup and rolling from the success of using Trello to organize the purchase of the house and our wedding, we’re on the lookout for a way to organize ourselves in the long-term.
While I like old-school methods of keeping a house organized like whiteboards or corkboards, that isn’t as useful in today’s mobile-centric world. A mobile moves with you while a board stays put. In Silicon-Valley speak, we’d like to decentralize the family whiteboard.
Things we’re looking for:
- We experimented with sharing calendars but our base calendar providers wouldn’t interoperate. I managed to import my partner’s calendar into mine… and now it’s an undifferentiated tangle of events. It’d be nice if we can view and edit each other’s calendars, but not have to import them.
- To do lists
- My partner keeps a note on her phone as her perpetual to-do list. It’s not very scalable, and I can’t access it. It’s also not very well compartmentalized (as some to-do processes become). It’d be nice to have to-do lists with some agility and flexibility to them without it collapsing into a mess.
- Contact lists
- Have the ability to share and curate contacts. Many of the contact lists for phones have contact details but are business-oriented. I’d prefer something a bit more social (birthdays, likes, dislikes, links to partners and family, useful notes like allergies).
- File sharing
- It’d be neat to be able to drag in files and have them shared, synced and tagged. We found during house-hunting we had to constantly email each other files or wrestle with Dropbox.
- Data dashboard
- Eventually I’d love to replace the ol’ kitchen whiteboard with a thin tablet-like screen that could interactively provide info about the house. How’s the mortgage going? Is next month looking busy? Do we have bills coming up? How’s our cashflow? How old is that milk? Having answers to those sorts of questions – viewable at a glance in the kitchen – would be great.
- Platform agnostic setup
- We use a variety of devices and that’ll only get broader over time. Locking into anything vendor-specific (like Apple) will be counter-productive.
- I’d prefer to run the service myself – partly for security, partly to tinker.
- Easy to use
- My partner is tech-competent but not a tech-lover. Any program that gets in the way doesn’t get used. After a short learning curve, Trello and Google Docs seemed to be about right in terms of power vs ease-of-use.
While my natural instinct is to just write something myself, that’s just optimism and yak shaving. Really I want a home-oriented groupware solution, rather than something geared for business. Options I’ve looked into:
- Obviously. You could probably fake a bunch of the workflows in Trello, but that platform is designed for push, not pull, and isn’t readily set up for automation. And the calendar support is a little lacklustre. It’s a pretty good first stab though, overall.
- Google Docs, Calendar and the like are quite good. There’s a lot of individual apps, so you don’t have everything in one place. It’s also hard to put a barrier between home life and everything else. You want to make a bridge, but not let them bleed over onto one another. All these services are on Google’s servers which is both good and bad. Mostly good, but I was stung by Google Reader.
- A neat, personal cloud server. The extra apps make it look capable, but it wants to be Dropbox first and the other apps second.
- Another self-hosted cloud. Leans a little less on file-sharing than ownCloud, but also has apps.
- Non-self-hosted but definitely geared towards a family. Recommended by a friend.
- I’m totally into org-mode, but my partner would not be. Plus org-mode on mobile is a little tricky (though Orgzly does a good job).
I’ve also looked at the APIs involved for a roll-your-own. You can fake a lot of it (just be a front-end to individual services like Dropbox). Mobile use is tricky unless you make a web app.
Cynthia Armistead seems to be the only person on the Internet looking into this in any great depth, and some of her ideas are fascinating.
In any case, there’s lots to think about (and be entranced by).