A lot has changed over the past 2 years. Maintaining a social life has been reduced to excess screen-time. Work and school became remote endeavors overnight. For many people around the world, the resultant influx of excess data has caused mental fatigue and blurred the lines between school/work/home-life balance. While many of us already had pre-pandemic routines for managing our digital lives, the ensuing crisis brought with it new issues that simply could not be fixed with existing systems. For me, those issues came in the form of too many digital resources (files, websites, slide decks, spreadsheets, etc), and what I will lovingly refer to as “tab hell”, which is the perpetual state of confusion and context-switching that comes from having too many browser tabs open.
Research has found that humans can’t really efficiently multitask at all—instead, our brains hop rapidly from one task to another, losing concentration every time we shift our attention.Colin Ainsworth, Mental Floss, “Yes, You Have Too Many Tabs Open“
While I was happy to see the Google Chrome team develop something to relieve “tab hell”, it was too little, too late. The tab groups were clunky and, more importantly, they did nothing to actually reduce the number of tabs I had open. Alas, “tab hell” just got a fresh coat of paint, and I was still responsible for context-switching as I went about my day. Then came the never-ending tools and apps like OmniFocus, ClickUp, Notion, Teams, Slack, Discord, WebEx, Jabber, SalesForce, Trello, and so on. These tools undoubtedly made things more manageable but still had plenty of short-falls, like when a DNS issue caused many Notion users to lose access to their critical data for hours-on-end. Not to mention, this was just “tab hell” all over again. Each new app came with a new set of notifications, clutter and context-switching.
For the reasons laid out above, I decided to build a local-first app that would let users manage digital resources in whatever structure they felt comfortable with. For instance, with school stuff, I like to keep things organized at the course level, where each course has its own sections for homework, required reading, and online resources. For research and hobbies, I like to organize by topics. And for work stuff at JPL, I prefer to keep things organized at the individual project level. That’s a lot to keep track of! So I knew I needed a system that was flexible, yet still provided the benefits of custom structures like those above. Further, I wanted to reduce redundancy and search time by linking documents with similar characteristics (e.g., if two documents have the same author, discuss similar topics, or any number of arbitrary relationships, they would be connected in some way that would let me exploit those relationships for easier learning and research).
Honestly, a simple description of the system won’t do it justice. Lucky for me (and you), I have a video instead! In fact, this isn’t just any video. I pitched Knowledge Canvas as part of a Product Development contest at UCLA this past summer (2021), and it won first place! The video below is a recording of the pitch my team and I delivered to the judges (a Senior Product Manager at Google, CEO of NuLeep, and Lead Investment Analyst at LGB Capital). Keep in mind that this video was recorded after having only 6 weeks to work on everything, including business plan, market research, and development. As such, the app is dramatically different now and basically looks nothing like the original version. Check the link above to see Knowledge Canvas in its current incarnation.
This post is intended to serve strictly as background info on how Knowledge Canvas came to be (and a bit of bragging rights for winning the contest). I will be releasing an official post on all of the features that have since been baked into Knowledge Canvas and how you can find out more. Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to like the YouTube video and follow subscribe to this site for future development news and updates. Stay tuned!