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    LAB NOTES
    LAB NOTES
    LN 005
    02•06•2021

    Associated items

    Our lives are filled with digital things that all relate to each other in different ways, but are contained within their own siloed apps (notes, calendars, todo lists, emails, documents, and so on).

    As I develop my concept for the future of the operating system, a key fundamental stands out: we should be able to easily associate things with other things.

    As discussed in last week’s LN 004, we can open multiple things — of any type — in browsing paths as we navigate our work. These browsing paths serve as a context for some specific body of work or train of thought.

    Now imagine that as we open those things, the system automatically records their association — this note is related to that todo list, this email is related to that document — for instant recall in the future, surfacing these connections as associated items.


    Consider: Say you receive an email about a meeting on Wednesday. You open the attached meeting agenda. You also create a new calendar event for the meeting. And — without doing anything more than that — you move on to the next thing in your day.

    Video showing a browser path with an email open, and the user opens its attachment, then creates an event.

    Now if we move over to your calendar and open that event, you’ll see that the system automatically surfaces these associated items — the meeting agenda and the email thread about the meeting. We can open them instantly.

    Video showing the user opening the event in their calendar, then seeing the associated PDF and email thread, which the user opens.

    On the day of the meeting, when the system notifies us that the meeting will begin soon, it surfaces the associated items in the notification. We can immediately pull up any of these items — to see recent replies to the email thread, to read the meeting agenda, or as shown in the demo below, to let everyone know we’ll be a few minutes late to the meeting.

    Video showing the home screen of the OS, where an event notification pops up along with the associated PDF and email thread, which the user opens and types a reply.

    This is just one example, but the power of associated items runs deep. It allows us to keep things which are related close together, even if those things are from different places within our system.

    Consider another example: you could create a reminder when you’re in a browsing path, and without adding anything to the reminder, the system will automatically make everything in the path immediately available to you when the reminder comes up.

    Video showing the user creating a reminder at the end of a browsing path with many different items in it, then when the reminder comes up, clicking to open all of those items inline.

    The system can handle most of the heavy lifting by simply paying attention to how we move through our items within different contexts, but we can further manage the associations manually as we like.


    The many different things we use on our personal computers all relate. Associated items is one way my concept for the operating system of the future exercises this fundamental understanding. The system can pay attention to how we browse through our things, and autonomously resurface what we need when and where we need it, often without us even having to declare that association.


    Something spark a thought? Send me an email or come chat on Twitter.


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