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Codename Nemo is a desktop application for people who are frustrated with cluttered file folders. Nemo introduces a new user interface that makes handling files easier and faster, so says Anders Rune Jensen, Lead Software Developer for Nemo. Unlike current desktop search tools, Jensen says Nemo offers multiple ways of searching for—and finding—files.

What problems does Codename Nemo solve?

Codename Nemo is a completely new way of managing files. The current approach is that users manually group files into a hierarchy of folders. Lately this approach has been augmented with the ability to search in the content to make it easier to find files without having to remember where they were put. Search tools such as Spotlight and folders metaphor is showing its age.

“Nemo is a complete departure from the mindset of folders,” says Jensen. “Instead, we view the process of finding your files again as a recollection process. In such a process, it is well-known in psychology that the mind does not recall information by absolute terms such as the path of a file, but rather in terms of small, fragmented clues. When you think of a person, you might recall that he drives a motorcycle, what his nickname is, or that he wears a cowboy hat, but not what his full name is.”

Codename Nemo allows users to input several clues to narrow the search results into a manageable set of results in which the file in question can be found. It does this by integrating already known elements such as a calender view to specify time, a list of file types, the ability to put labels on files and free-text content search.

Example: Image search

If you know that you used an image sometime in the past year, you can have Nemo show you a list of files by month.

Then, you can narrow your results by limiting your results to those dates that contain an image.

Now we have a more manageable set of results, but it’s still hard to find the exact image we’re looking for, so we use other memory clues to help hone in on the desired file. In this case, I recall that the image file had something to do with a product called “Mono Develop”. Selecting the “monodevelop” label retrieves a list of only two image files.

“What is interesting is that the steps for finding a file can be done in an any order, there are more than one way to get to the file, says Jensen. “This is important because people don’t necessarily recall the same clues and in the same order. Another thing to notice is that content search tools such as Spotlight probably wouldn’t have helped you find the file unless your knew part of the filename.”

“A nice side-effect of this approach is that it reduces the time spent managing the files because most clues can be automatically gathered,” Jensen says. “For instance,

the fact that the files are shown in a calendar based on when they were modified makes it possible to use time alone as the only clue in many situations.”

Why Do We Need Codename Nemo?

Most knowledge workers struggle to manage an increasing amount of documents and other file types on their computers. This is how businesses work these days, it’s a part of everyday life. And, the information overload is not showing signs of slowing down any time soon. Each and every day, more and more documents and files are created, creating a need for increasingly creative methods of keeping track of their whereabouts.

Sure, it’s possible to manage documents in a rigorous folder structure. It takes work—and a lot of discipline. But, most folks don’t have the time (nor the inclination) to follow well-intentioned file naming schemes and archiving processes. Instead, they do whatever is most convenient for them, even when those actions are violations of official processes.

Jensen and team invented Nemo to tackle these and other challenges. “We asked ourselves,” Jensen says, “why should people care about dull things if we can figure out a way to make the computer do the boring stuff for them? So we began studying what others had done and research papers about the human recollection process. We quickly found out that we had to come up with a new kind of interface to tackle these challenges. We have been working on different prototypes for the last 1 1/2 year on and off, but we’re finally getting there.”

Interestingly, Jensen says, while talking to people about their new service, most knowledge workers say they can recall a situation where they knew a particular file was stored somewhere, but they couldn’t remember the exact location. In most cases, knowledge workers admitted to either spending a considerable amount of time tracking down the file or, in some cases, failing to find it at all. In the latter situation, those searching for information they can’t find gave up, and recreated the content.

“People are being forced to resort to recreating documents that are stored somewhere on their computer simply because they can’t find them,” Jensen says. “That’s not right.”

Jensen works for iola, a young software house started in 2006 by three computer scientist based in Aalborg, Denmark. The focus of the firm is on building solutions that are attractive, simple to use and make a difference.