The Fifteen Minute Test

by Charles Miller on July 21, 2003

When I started using OS X, two applications that were highly recommended were Tinderbox and Spring, both applications that promised to revolutionise the way I would store and retrieve information. I would try Haystack as well, but I'm told it's still really slow, and it's not available for OS X anyway. I'm always interested in innovative ways to organise the huge amount of information I tend to just leave in text files all over the place.

I produce information at a prodigious rate. The blog helps me record some of the bigger ideas, but I download a lot, I write a lot. I have random OmniOutliner files lying all over the place that I wish would just magically arrange themselves into an uber-information-store. I'm lazy damnit. My computer has all this processing power and spends 99% of its time idling, why can't it organise itself? Why do I have to intervene at all?

The other side of my laziness, however, lies in the “Fifteen Minute Test”. This was never a conscious decision, I didn't turn around one day and impose this test on new software, it just came from having a full-time job, and wanting to spend at least some time away from the computer. The Fifteen Minute Test. I'll install a demo and play with it, but if after about a quarter of an hour I haven't found something impressive that the application will do for me, something interesting and novel that promises to streamline my nerd-life, I'll turn it off, and probably won't ever try it again.

One of the reasons I switched from Linux to OS X as my primary platform was because I don't have time to play around with software any more. I want it to work in predictable, obvious ways, and OS X (mostly) does that for me. I don't have time to spend all day messing with my Apache configuration file or installing a new MTA just to see if it will rescue me from Sendmail, and I don't have the time to submit myself to a new GUI application with an unfamiliar metaphor and confusing interface in the vain hope that it might eventually become easier.

Maybe that means I'm not an alpha nerd any more. In twenty years some ten year old kid is going to try to teach me how to use the descendent of Tinderbox because I never caught on at the beginning, and Just Don't Understand...

Still, I think I'm more tolerant than most. So if you're coming up with the next big paradigm shift that will change the world, ask yourself: “How can I pass the fifteen minute test?”

Update: James Strachan suggests I check out Voodoopad, a wiki-like information manager. It seems like a neat idea, as Wikis definitely passed the 15 minute test for me.

Update 2: Voodoopad not only passes the fifteen minute test, it passes the three minute test. If only it had outlining support, it would be fantastic.

Previously: Dear Mum

Next: On Convergance.