A few people sent me links to this during the week.... just now got a chance to read it.

Evslin, who was the guy driving the initial development of Exchange Server at Microsoft, says:

There were several competing efforts under way in Redmond to build the Notes-killer.  One of them was mine: Microsoft Exchange Server.  Exchange was behind schedule for release when I took it over and slipped even further as we tired to shoehorn in features that would one-up or at least match the information-handling capabilities of Notes.  Trouble was that Exchange was also the long-overdue replacement for DOS-based Microsoft Mail. ...

Another effort was Cairo (a future release of NT) championed by Jim Allchin of Banyan Vines fame.  Here the information was managed at the operating system level rather than in the email server.  The database guys had their own effort underway.  "Ren and Stimpy" was the code name for Brian MacDonald's brilliant concept in a personal information manager (PIM) which eventually became the Outlook client.

We all argued long and hard and as loudly as only Microsoft people can do about which of these was the correct solution, which should own the APIs used by Office for information management, and which ideas were brain dead.  Bill kept the competition alive by not deciding between us.  I think he wanted to see what emerged.

But every one of these solutions -- including the bogyman, Notes -- was hierarchical.  There were folders within folders within folders.  Sure, there were key word searches.  And categories could be assigned.  Different views could be produced.  But we all assumed that most people would approach information through the categories they assigned the information to.
Interesting insight into what life was like inside the other guys' machine, even if a somewhat biased perspective on it.  He uses terms (elsewhere) in the entry like "increasingly irrelevant niche" to describe the product that is still #1 in the market over his own creation, but OK.

Let's move on to focus on what his point is -- that flat unlinked searches (such as google) are winning over hierarchies.  I don't disagree -- after all, despite Evslin's characterization, one of Notes's actual strengths is its lack of required hierarchy!   Notes has incorporated full-text search capabilities since early versions...long before Microsoft offered anything of the sort for their collaboration tools.  And the Notes search can work across databases, too.  So, I think we're actually in violent agreement on the concept, just disagreeing as to what Notes actually does and can do.

To make the point -- I am one of those people who doesn't use folders in e-mail (I know, I know).  I used to in cc:Mail, but when I moved to Notes, I learned to rely on the full-text index and sortable columns.  At this point, the time (even with swiftfile) I'd spend filing e-mail doesn't bring me any real value in terms of organizing my day.  Now when you add the embedded thread view in Notes 7's mail, it gets really interesting -- even though that's a hierarchy, it is one that blends the best of both metaphors.

You should go read Evslin's full article, and some of the trackbacks/comments.  One more time, I agree with his overall assertion about flat information retreival...just differ on some of the characterizations of products that did and do (or didn't and don't) have this capability.
Link: Tom Evslin: The flattening of almost everything #2: Information retreival >

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