(This review is part of the Traveling Geeks tech tour of Paris. David Spark (@dspark) is the founder of Spark Media Solutions and a tech journalist that blogs at Spark Minute and can be heard and seen regularly on ABC Radio and on John C. Dvorak’s “Cranky Geeks.”)
For the first stop for the Traveling Geeks trip to Paris, we stopped by the offices of Pearltrees, a Web bookmarking, organizing, and organizing tool. Sitting inside their offices I could have been sitting at any Web 2.0 company in Silicon Valley. Very open work atmosphere. Brightly fluorescent lit rooms with everyone worked around big conference tables.
I had met with Patrice Lamonthe, Pearltrees’ CEO, back in San Francisco. Now I was his guest in his office. When I first received a demo, I immediately started making comparisons to Delicious, a bookmarking program that I use heavily. I use Delicious because it allows me to quickly bookmark and tag sites that I see that I know one day I’m going to need and use. What I like most about Delicious is the speed of bookmarking, tagging, and organizing. I can quickly “file” something away without going through the arduous task of filing.
While I kept making comparisons to Delicious, I soon realized through my conversation with Patrice that my comparison was misdirected. The goal of Pearltrees is to reach the type of people who enjoy the process of organizing. They’re trying to reach the person who likes organizing their record collection, MP3s, books, and other personal effects. And then Pearltrees is social, connecting other people who like organizing and discovering.
I have one harsh criticism of the product that I believe is extremely fixable. While on first look, Pearltrees appears very cool. The drag-and-drop interface has a fun type of gravity to it. It moves, expands, and has a character of its own. All the information spokes out in a mindmapping-style of organization. You’ve seen these types of programs before, but when have you ever seen this style of organization actually work?
I’ve never seen a successful deployment of a mindmapping-style program. Have you? The reason is it’s extremely hard to read. Any designer will tell you that it’s important to line up content so people can read it. With a spoked map, where do your eyes go? It’s hard to follow a hierarchy. You can look at it as a snapshot, but you can’t really read it at great length comfortably.
There’s no doubt that this mindmapping look is what differentiates Pearltrees and Lamonthe rallies behind it. I asked if Pearltees could also be mapped more linearly in a folder like structure. He said they’re considering it as an option, but he didn’t seem too excited about it.
Personally, I like Delicious because I don’t want to waste my time organizing my content. I like the speed of it. There was a time I did enjoy organizing my stuff, but I don’t anymore. There is definitely an audience for having fun with organization. I just think that Pearltrees’ front end, the mindmapping look, which is what you see first, could scare some organization lovers away.