Of quests and bookmarks

I'd like to see more software nudge people in the direction of GTD's low-stress productivity.


World of Warcraft organizes your quests according to where you discovered them, not according to where you can make progress on them. You can easily have your character in the right town but forget to advance one of your quests.

Since the game's quest organization is so unwieldy, it limits players to 25 quests. This forces some players to abandon quests with the intent of picking them up again later. But more importantly, "only write down the most important stuff" is the wrong message to send to our children.

Having to maintain your own lists outside of the game makes playing the game too much like work. If instead, the game subtly taught players how to work effectively, they might have more time to play.


Thunderbird's default set of color labels reflects priorities and reasons (important, work, personal, to do, later). These labels don't really help move messages out of the inbox.

Instead, Thunderbird should suggest contexts and non-action sets (home, office, errands, waiting for reply, reference).


Firefox has the distinction of containing three dangerous stuff magnets: the bookmarks menu, the bookmarks toolbar, and session restore. I've seen several coworkers fall into the session restore trap, and it's not pretty: with hundreds of tabs, Firefox can take minutes to start.

I like Jono's suggestion of replacing bookmarks with features that speak more directly to use cases like to-read, sharing, and reference. Firefox 3's tags make reference possible but not much else.

To-read is the trickiest, since it can't really be organized. Separating to-read from sharing and reference is enough to keep those other categories clean, but to-read has to work if it's going to be used. Maybe Firefox can include hints about how to use to-read effectively, like having an "airplane" button you click to open all of them in tabs just before you disconnect from the tubes. Or maybe Firefox can keep those items ready for reading without the overhead of having them open in tabs all the time.


What other software could encourage people to discover contexts and the next-action principle? Where else can workflows be improved, so collection buckets are emptied naturally, and users don't need to make a special effort to "stay organized"?

6 Responses to “Of quests and bookmarks”

  1. Boriss Says:

    I’m just going to play devil’s advocate on everything you say because being contrary is fun.

    1. WoW

    First of all, finding out where to complete a quest is the whole point of the quest. Second of all, limiting quests to 25 items teaches prioritization. Picking 25 things to give priority and then having several things limited to memory (people that make lists outside the game are lame) is a good real life less for depending on tools (the game’s quest tracker) for some tasks and memory/the self (what other quests can I take) for others. Also, because the game shows you where you can start quests, those things aren’t truly regulated to memory.

    2. Thunderbird

    The reason the labels are editable is so that you can go crazy GTD on it. The defaults are just that. I’d be surprised if many people using labels are just using the defaults.


    That would be cool. Sorry, too tired to devil’s advocate on this one for now, talk to me in the morning.

  2. Boriss Says:

    Now I’m going to rebut what I said, because I like flame warring with myself.

    1. All serious WoW players actually install an extension to show where the quest ends, so clearly the fun is not in finding the end. Only allowing 25 things doesn’t teach prioritization, but over-reliance on machines without encouraging any use of short-term memory.

    2. The defaults in software gives users a base to work from – they encourage a method of use. People are probably less likely to make their own labels if the defaults are close to what they would like, or even seem moderately applicable to their life.

    3. Fail.

  3. Boriss Says:

    Ok, Boriss is an idiot. Clearly what some total WoW dorks do doesn’t detract from the goal of the actual game – some people will always ruin things. The game as it stands shows beginnings of quests, not places of progress. This is the intent and jeopardy in a quest, regardless of if some people want to take the fun out of it.

    Also, your labels conjecture is clearly false. Labels speak to very personal methods for organization, and to say that people naturally fit into the defaults of a system is ludicrous. If a user is advanced enough to use labels, I guarantee that they are making their own.

  4. bwmaister Says:

    what I want to see is somebody taking advantage of all the tags i’ve applied and notifying me when I do a search for (a) one of my tags or (b) a page that other people have marked with one or more of the same tags as I’ve marked something I want to read as.

    In case that wasn’t clear, here is a flow:
    I search for c++ debugger
    google shows me some stuff, at the same time Xmarks (or weave, or surf canyon, or…) injects a pretty div that says “hey you tagged this gdb tutorial”

    thems some bookmark’s i wouldn’t need to remember that I had.

  5. Jono Says:

    Hi Jesse!
    Thanks for linking to my post and running with it.
    I don’t know much about GTD, but it seems like it’s a good principle in general to design software around helping people to… well, get things done.

    I completely fail at keeping my (Gmail) inbox below 3,000 messages, because I get so many things that seem too important to delete, but that don’t require any specific action either, and I don’t know what to do with them. I’m getting better at tagging-and-archiving them, but I look at most of my folders so rarely that I don’t know why I bother saving things. I try to use stars to mark emails that require responses or other action, but that doesn’t do me any good once the starred email scrolls off the front page. I have a constant low-level worry that I lost something important in the flood of trivia.

    Anyway, I like how you drew the connection between task management in bookmarks, in email, and in games. This is a thought-provoking post. Thanks!

  6. Jeri Says:

    hey I didn’t know you play WoW