GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

Thursday, August 24th, 2006
Last week, I got to enjoy a fun afternoon in the studio with David Allen, Robert Peake, and Merlin Mann (43 Folders). David invited us to Ojai to record an upcoming GeekTD podcast. David though it would be interesting to bring together a few geeks with varying approaches to productivity. Merlin talked about how he uses his Mac, Robert talked about the power of Mac and Open Source solutions, and I talked about Lotus Notes as a productivity tool for Getting Things Done. The discussion went all over the place and I have no idea what will end up in the finished version. David asked great questions and tried to keep order, which must have felt like herding cats.

20060818 - DAC GeekTD Recording Adventure with David in Ojai.jpg

David opened the session by stating how cool he thinks Lotus Notes is; he asked why, after 20 years, it seems that  many people who use Notes still don't get the power of Lotus Notes. David shared that he frequently goes into organizations that use Notes only to find that people (and their managers) have no idea what their system can do for them (e.g. that they can create their own databases, participate in discussions, use newsletter summary, agents, collaborate, etc.)

Next,  David asked me what percentage of Lotus Notes I thought people who use Notes really "get." I proposed 20%. David said that in his experience it was less than 10%. I hope we are both wrong. Either number, if true, represents a missed opportunity. We had some interesting discussions on the topic of Lotus Notes as a powerful tool for organizational productivity and why David and I think it's cool. I have to admit that as we discussed other general geek productivity topics, such as "how do you sync your projects and actions between multiple computers?" or "do you use unified messaging?" I couldn't resist the temptation to hold up one of Merlin's 3x5 cards, upon which I'd quickly written ...

20060818 - DAC GeekTD Recording Adventure with David in Ojai 001.jpg

I held up the card several times during the discussion.

We discussed much more than Lotus Notes that day, and Robert and Merlin brought up some very interesting points. I learned a lot from the discussion. Each person in the room could have worn a propeller beanie. As I mentioned, the conversation went all over the place. I suppose that this first discussion was to test the concept and see what happens when you raise the geek factor by four.

It was a fun discussion and I really enjoyed spending the time with David, Robert, and Merlin. It looks like this is something we will do again. I look forward to it. I hope that conversations like this add value to the GTD Tech community.

Mac users: be sure to read Robert's Article, Getting Things Done on a Mac.
Merlin's site, 43 Folders, has a wealth of information on GTD
Notes users: for tips on implementing GTD in Lotus Notes, have a look at this or search here.
Finally, the GTD Forum also has useful information on the above topics, and more.

Discussion/Comments (19):

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

Interesting post. Here are some of my thoughts on Notes.

#1) Way back in the day ('91-93) I worked for a Lotus Notes VAR. The biggest challenge for Lotus was that Groupware was still relatively new, and they didn't clearly articulate it's benefits.

#2) The company I worked for was also a Microsoft VAR. Even though Exchange couldn't do 90% of what Notes could do, MS clearly articulated the benefits of Exchange vs. Notes. MS focused in a on a few key features of integrated email, calendar and access to public folders. MS made easy for people to understand the benefits of these features. As for the database features of Notes, MS released SQL Server based on Sybase technology. Why use Notes as a database, when you could use one based on the SQL standard? Sure, building a database in Notes was easier, but SQL was the 'gold' standard of databases.

#3) Fast forward to today. A lot of companies and individuals now prefer web based or more focused workflow solutions. Look at the rise of ECM, PLM, Wiki, etc. Lotus is more of a Swiss Army knife solution.

Posted at 08/24/2006 12:55:05 by MO

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

The sad side of Notes is, that after all those years it is still pretty unstable and the UI just sucks. I am fully aware about the capabilities of Notes (read several books and did some programming myself), but the way you have to interact with it and the daily "what the $%^&?"s using it ...

... people just tend to search ANY solution, so they do not need to use the Notes Client. In my company for example 80% of the users use the Outlook connector and start Notes only if they need to access a workflow.

Posted at 08/25/2006 2:30:49 by Sven

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

I'm just an end user, at my 2nd company that uses notes.

1. The UI is sucky. It is like they asked "how can we annoy Windows users?" and they succeeded.

2. This particular company uses more of Note's capabilities for databases - but really doesn't teach us how to take advantage of them. And with massive cuts in recent years, there is little support for new activites.

3. One of my biggest gripes - Notes doesn't seem to play well with desktop search utilities like Google Desktop or Copernic. I have to make dual filing sytems for my Notes documents and for files and attachments that I want to be able to search on. And I have to do dual searches in both places to find stuff.

Posted at 08/25/2006 9:30:14 by Dave Gill

GeekTD: Link to podcast?

Somewhat off topic, but where's the link to the podcast? I'd love to subscribe to it! :)

Posted at 08/25/2006 12:41:43 by Bryan Villarin

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

Where can we get the podcast?

Posted at 08/25/2006 13:49:57 by Joel

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

The UI stuff is well discussed elsewhere, but what I find incredible that commenter Dave Gill holds the deficiencies of products like Google Desktop or Copernic against Notes! It isn't Notes' job to play well with those products! It is their job to play well with Notes! For goodness, sake... Notes has had great native full text searching for a decade longer than these tools have existed, so it's blatantly obvious that it is possible to get at the data and index it.

Posted at 08/27/2006 11:11:25 by Richard Schwartz

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

I agree with Richard, Google just needs to adjust their serach to crawl the notes dbs or indexes.

Is the UI really that bad? Is Outlook really that great? Working on both I must agree neither is genius.

But what I like about Outlook is marginal next to what I can do with Notes.

Notes is a flat db, not relational by nature.

Thus it has limitations in some people's eyes but on a personal level how many people out there create access dbs regularly? Now how many can use any one of existing templates in Notes and have you good to go within a few minutes? Mileage/gas tracking? Hours at a site? document tracking? The list is endless and yet so few people even realize the first step is up to them, get out there and do something. If you wait for the system to do it for you, then you probably will not have a job soon. Creativity is at the heart of Lotus and always was, if you were from the open minded thinking side of life. If you are from the 'because I said so" side of life then you just don't get it and never will. You probably also have lots of turnover under you.

As an aside, I think Camry's suck as a UI(well exterior appearance) but that hasn't stopped it from becoming a huge seller for Toyota.

Posted at 08/27/2006 18:40:00 by Keith Brooks

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

Turns out that Google Desktop Search has a Notes indexer that works just fine. I installed the "Enterprise" GDS with the Notes connector, then installed the "Regular" GDS update, and all seems to work well. Searches find files on the hd as well my Notes-based mail messages and attachments. The setup pretty much rocks. (It needs a local replica of the mail file).

And I just don't get this whole Notes UI sucks thing.

An application that has for over 10 years come out of the box with :

- off-line applications (with full security),

- full-text search,

- connectivity through any network type (which mattered before TCP/IP was ubiquitous),

- full PKI security and on-disk encryption,

- the choice of four different programming languages,

- 100% customizability of all the built-in applications,

- on-the-fly rendering of applications to the web, multi-platform server and client,

- embedded standards support for an alphabet soup of APIs (SMTP, NNTP, POP, HTTP, Web Services, COM, Java, SSL, LDAP, etc.) and

- 100% backwards compatibility and interoperation for over a dozen years of investment protection

just MIGHT have a UI with a few more menu choices than other applications. But the UI doesn't SUCK.

A mail connection is a mail connection in Outlook just like it is in Notes. Both are a pain to set up and maintain. A list of documents is a list of documents. You have to learn how to navigate them usefully. A mail message gets composed in a a new window. You have to learn what each field means.

I have read complaints about having to use F9 versus F5 to refresh? Really? That makes a UI suck? Wow.


Whew. That was quite an unexpected rant.

Anyway, I'm as confused as Eric about why so few users "get" Notes, but I don't think there's any evidence that MORE people really make Outlook do more than simple email.

More competitive advantage for us, I guess.

Posted at 08/27/2006 21:16:24 by Jake White

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

Ed/Eric et al,

Since my good friend Patricia Seybold turned me onto Notes in the early 90's shortly after she had convinced Anderson to buy in, I have been fascinated by the power inherent in the simple informal distributed conversation it so supported. And amazed how few people have ever really taken advantage of it. Just to have a shared database only accessible to me and my wife, and to be able to have my own solo-accessible database that I can use to multi-categorize any digital information, is worth whatever investment Notes requires. And almost nobody in distributed Notes environments I've encountered knows they could do this. Fascinating.


Posted at 08/27/2006 22:03:56 by David Allen

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

I've been trying to provoke this conversation at EdBrill's site for a long time now (I'm sure much to his annoyance).

Instead of repeat myself here, I'll link to the thread. My posts start at #26.

{ Link }

As far as the Notes UI sucking, I think it's a bit of a misnomer. Sure, we don't have the glossy chrome buttons and menubars yet, (coming soon though...) but the actual experience of using Notes is quite non-intuitive without proper training. Most people will, without being told otherwise, try and use Notes like they'd use any other Windows app, only to find that there are 7 different pages where they can set their preferences, all the text fields and navigation menus look at operate differently then they are used to. There is too much there that should be set via policy by the Administrator, that is overwhelming to the user.

Over at Kathy Sierra's blog (co-founder of the Head First series of books { Link } )

there is much talk of a successful UI having nothing to do with the look and feel of a program, but the user's ability to kick ass with the application and feel powerful wielding the tool. There is not enough of an educational/training ecosystem extended to most Notes users. I'm buddies with the guys over at Recor, who make Notes training software. And it's good, I used their Notes5 training courses for end-user/developers/admins and it's why I'm in the Notes universe today. But they had to stop producing the admin and developer tracks because it was too expensive for the amount of sales they were getting. Even for end users, the sales are not what they'd like, because most businesses don't know enough about Notes, and even less about the IBM business Partner landscape.

So not only is Notes a tough sell (even if it's a superior client) but then there are few resources available for learning the platform that would make sense to someone who is not a 7+ year veteran of the platform.

Food for thunk.

Posted at 08/28/2006 11:44:53 by Samuel deHuszar Allen

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

Lotus Notes sucks for me because the 6.03 version I have to live with is locked down in several ways by IT. There are no readily (i.e. Barnes & Noble, Waldenbooks, etc.) books for the older version that lead the 'non-technical' user into what can be done beyond simple e-mail and calendar.

Lotus Notes has no simple support for Palm so you get a misbehaved sync to Palm unless you really understand the program (Yes m-Note can work great but not an intuitive setup and requires understanding the Notes DB structure to maximize its usefulness).

The UI sucks because it is not like MS and most non-techies learned to run a computer in MS Word and Excel. (My first computer was 1973 and had 16 data switches and three command toggle switches as a UI. That sucked in retrospect!)

If there is no corporate level hands-on training and retraining the average user is going to continue to be frustrated by the “bad” Lotus Notes UI that makes them rethink how things are done.

After 11 years on this email client I still can’t find items in the menu structure without going to several topics because I have not discerned the logic to the organization and I need them so rarely compared to my MS apps. That means the LN UI is really better for common tasks but the irritation factor when you do need to find something is much higher.

I can get past many of these issues on a personal level and do, but the overwhelming majority of my colleagues never look for system solutions beyond the corporate walls. They are not in the blogs or forums looking for ways to make it work. If you do find a tool to help in your work, the add-in that workers will pay for out of their own pockets is made to operate with MS applications.

My rant is that a great tool that isn’t used effectively within an organization is a worthless tool. Lotus Notes requires too much knowledge to be a grass roots level, word of mouth solution.

Posted at 09/10/2006 20:23:43 by Bob Knapp

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

I just started using Notes/Blackberry for my new job and while I have only been using GTD for the past year I enjoy this site.

I agree that the UI is difficult to manage and things/actions are just not the way I would naturally think them to be... I have to read the help files for some of the silliest of questions!

Posted at 10/19/2006 15:05:59 by Isaac Bowman

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

Most people (and I am certainly one of them) that have used Notes much hate it with a passion because:

1) It does indeed have the user interface from hell;

2) the User interface can be made prettier, but never really any good, since,

3) the conceptual model underlying Notes is obtuse, counter-intuitive, and user-hostile, resulting in an frustratingly narrow rigidity for a tool intended to be a malleable platform, and requiring a completely unacceptable level of training in esoteric single-vendor crap...

4) Notes is quite simply is a helicopter crash (those are always ugly!) when it comes to playing well with others - it does not and cannot be made to interact well with most other modern applications. It is singularly unfitted for use in today's web-based apps/services world. Hideously proprietary binary data formats and painful ad hoc data import/export are only the beginning...

The monolithic walled garden architecture of Notes was outdated and a very bad idea a decade ago - it has NO place in the 21st century world of interoperable Web applications which can be easily mashed up to build really useful solutions to real problems in an open and easy way. Without IBM's armtwisting in large enterprise accounts, this turkey would (and should) have died out years ago.

Groupware is a great idea, and once upon a time, putting up with the pain of Notes was worth it, but that was a LONG time ago, and the world has moved on...

Posted at 11/02/2006 15:43:26 by Dub Dublin

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

People don't get notes because its an unproductivity tool.

I have spent hours trying to create views on todos. All I want are views of incomplete tasks, one for each context/category: @work, @home, etc. I wrote about this at { Link } and started a wiki page at { Link } Nobody seems to have done this. Its trivial in Outlook. You don't need an add in, or to create a database or whatever the notes way is.

Posted at 11/23/2006 6:32:23 by Doug Ransom

re: GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

Doug, you'll need the Notes designer client to customize the mail template. With this tool, you can customize any aspect of the Mail template (or any other template, for that matter).

Posted at 11/30/2006 13:23:30 by Eric Mack

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

I don't imagine I have access to the Notes designer client.

Posted at 11/30/2006 19:43:19 by Doug Ransom

re: GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

Doug, the Notes Designer client is a separate program and is rarely deployed to end-users. I think that IBM would do well to give away the designer client, even a limited version Most wouldn't use it, but some folks, perhaps such as yourself, would use it to customize Lotus Notes and even to develop their own applications.

Sadly, many organizations look at Notes as if it were Excel - they understand the power of Lotus Notes and they are afraid of it. They don't want that much power (I call it creativity) in the hands of the end user. I can understand their support concerns and I'm not advocating that any user should be able to edit any application (The ACL can restrict this anyway) but a free limited designer client would allow more people to innovate with Notes.

In a sense, it's sort of like giving someone Excel without the ability to create formulas.

Indeed, Lotus Notes is powerful out of the box. How much more would it be of people where motivated could tap the power of the designer client. (I hope IBM's reading this.)

Check with your IT department and see if they will allow you to use the designer client on a local database on your desktop.

Posted at 11/30/2006 21:35:26 by Eric Mack

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

I agree that the Notes client is not intuitive for users who really only need email. Most computers have more processing power than those users need.

Some strengths of Lotus Notes over other products are Workflow and Security and rapid app development. One of its uses may be email, but that is not the best use of Notes.

I wish Notes was relational. That is definitely a drawback. For development of workflow applications on the web that are cross-platform, however, Domino is a great choice.

The main problem with Notes, Exchange, Outlook, and all other applications is that they require the end user to put forth effort to read a manual to learn the applications. If that's too much to ask, get a Mac and lose the self-assigned "power user" title.

Posted at 12/26/2006 11:12:46 by AJ Morgs

GeekTD: Why don’t people get Notes?

Strangely enough I've been asked to deliver a presentation to the CEO to explain Notes/Domino.

The CEO is computer literate so I was thinking of going down the database road. ie: Standard places for forms, views code etc across all DBs.

I sometimes wish that I could do some relational things with Notes, but most of the time I get by just fine without them.

A lot of people complain about DBs not being relational and use this against domino. You can get bad data in relational databases same as you can in flat file DBs.

Posted at 12/26/2006 17:06:47 by Gavin Bollard

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