Now that JemDrive is live I’d like to share a bit about how the app came to be, and what I think it has to contribute to people’s lives.

JemDrive exists because I have a great memory and I don’t need to write anything down. Or anyway, that’s the approach I started out my adult life with. And it worked great for more than a handful of years, until eventually it started crumbling at the edges. It’s the context switching that got me.

The solution seemed clear - write stuff down. And I did, using various apps and schemes, and it worked, somewhat. But notes themselves can be messy, and it was hard to make it stick. What did stick, after a while, is:

  • a holistic view of information: notes AND files, side by side. It’s all information. Files don’t exist in a vacuum, they come with context (social, professional, creative, etc). Context is what we write down in a note. I want the files to live in the notes, next to their context.
  • low tech[1]: text-files and folders. The data should be accessible using a text editor and/or file explorer, don’t tie me to a single app or service. It should be accessible in 20 years, from any platform.
  • sync: it must be accessible across devices (phone, laptop, etc.)
  • write it down when it happens. 95% of the time, if I didn’t write it down when it happened I never wrote it down at all
  • WHEN is a key word: organizing things FIRST by topic, and THEN chronologically is a powerful storage format.
  • A month is a great length of time for grouping files together: if I take any one topic and put all the files related to it from the span of a single month into one folder, I can usually find what I want in there.
  • encryption. Information in our digital age increasingly includes many secrets: passwords, PINs, recovery questions, etc. These need a safe place I can store them.

(You can check out the technical overview for a description of how JemDrive is designed to tick these boxes)

Timelines came about when I tried to roll up all of these requirements into a methodology. The first iterations were ad-hoc, but when leaving my previous employment at IBM gave me an opportunity that included resources to launch my own app, I decided to make it more official and JemDrive was born: as Confucius said, if you never try, your startup will never become a success [2].

Being accustomed now to storing files in JemDrive with their context right beside them, it’s hard to emphasize how bleak and messy a folder full of files seems, when the only context is their file/folder names[3]. Like a poem that’s been cut up into individual words and all the words mixed up in a bowl. Sure, the poem’s not lost, all the words are right there - in the bowl. And yet… it’s a lot of work to piece it together whenever we want to read the second verse. Bowls are great for breakfast cereal, not so much for poems. Or information.

Most storage tools offload the work of tracking the context into your brain, giving you a search engine as a compromise so you can try to stitch it all together later. And they’re relying on it getting messy so that you’ll pay for more storage when it gets full. The promise of cheap limitless storage seduces us into disorganization, to the benefit of the platform holding us hostage later on.

That’s why a “holistic view of information” is beneficial: keeping the context of our information is important, just like the order is for poems. And the mother of all contexts is time: time is one thread that ties everything we do together. Which is why timelines are used in JemDrive, and why using them can give us a more organized digital life.

Of course there are many ways to organize your data, without JemDrive or timelines. With enough discipline anyone can have a perfectly organized computer. And yet… most of us don’t. So if you’ve ever felt like it shouldn’t be that hard, and why do things get messy so quickly… then JemDrive might be for you.

If you’re interested in trying it out, I suggest installing JemDrive on a device that is near you often - a phone, a computer, a tablet - and creating timelines for just one or two things that are happening in your life: anything from buying a new car, planning a vacation or trying to write a book. When something related to those topics happens, try jotting down the important parts in the timeline - even briefly for 2 minutes. Adding to a timeline in JemDrive is a bit like writing an email: open the app, choose the topic, write a few lines, add an attachment. Easy. After a few weeks - yes, it takes time! - you’ll see the benefit.

And if you have questions or comments, come find us on discord or get in touch by email

[1] pen and paper would be best, but my attempts at carrying a physical notebook around were again frustrating - I forgot it too often, searching through it was hard, etc. For better or worse I’m already fully conditioned to have my smartphone / laptop close at hand at all times, so that’s the next choice.

[2] I suspect many note-taking apps were born at a similar time, due to legions of developers being stuck at home and thinking hey, that awesome note-taking methodology I home-brewed would make a killer app

[3] of course there are exceptions. Collections of things that are all very similar (100 photos from my trip to the moon) often belong in a folder together without a note describing each of them. The folder itself though probably has some interesting context that’s worth remembering