Brad Feld

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My Quest For A Personal Dashboard

Oct 12, 2009
Category Education

I ingest a ton of information on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.  My process for doing it today is entirely manual.  I’m starting to look around for a way to automate this using the metaphor of a “personal dashboard”, not dissimilar to the idea from the 1980’s of an EIS (“executive information system”).  Let me explain.

  • Daily: I have an information processing routine each morning that is web-based.  I open a folder in Firefox that contains 14 tabs.  I then go through all of them – most, but not all are news related.  A few are interactive and require data from me.  I then scan through my tweets from the previous night.  I then review my “Daily” email folder – most of the items are “daily reports” from a variety of companies I’m an investor in.  Next up, my RSS feeds.  Finally, I process whatever email came in from the previous night.
  • Weekly: I have a weekly tab in Firefox.  There are only 5 tabs here and they shift around a little.  But – they reference a variety of text and numerical data that I check on a weekly basis.
  • Monthly: I get financial statements (balance sheet, income statement, cash flow statement) along with board packages from all of the companies I’m an investor in along with all of my personal financial information.
  • Quarterly: Similar to monthly, but for the quarter. 
  • Annual: Similar to monthly, but for the year.  I also generate a variety of other “annual data” much of it to do with either money or fitness.

My Daily routine takes around an hour.  Weekly, which includes reviewing my upcoming calendar, takes about 30 minutes.  I don’t know how long Monthly, Quarterly, or Annual take as they are usually spread out over multiple days.

In theory, I’m using Firefox and Outlook as my personal dashboards to get to this data and then viewing it in a variety of apps including Excel, Adobe, and Word.  However, this is really unsatisfying as the data is (a) in different formats, (b) impossible to search effectively, (c) not persistent, and (d) difficult to handle or manipulate.

My guess is I need both an (a) ingestion and (b) presentation layer.  The ingestion layer seems straightforward – the software I’d use for my personal dashboard should be able to generate an XML template for each “type of data”.  I should be able to configure this (or – optimally – the ingestion layer should be able to figure this out automatically).  The ingestion layer should be able to handle different types of inputs – html files, xml files, emails, or some other quasi-API.  So – “Glue”.

The presentation layer is a little harder for me to get my mind around.  A year ago I would have said “hmtl is fine – just give it to me in Firefox via a web page.”  In some cases this is fine, but I want finer grained control over how this stuff is displayed.  Some of the web pages I look at are formatted worse and are less flexible than the DEC-based EISes I played with in the 1980’s.  In many cases we haven’t made any progress on the presentation layer not withstanding all the efforts of Edward Tufte.  So – “HCI”.

I’m hopeful that in a decade I’ll have a much more effective way of dealing with my periodic information routine.  Until then, I’m searching for companies working on both the ingestion layer and presentation layer (preferably both).  Feel free to give me a shout if this is something you are working on.