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01 May 2005

The first social bookmarks service: Post-It Notes

Thanks to their material simplicity, they seem more closely related to workplace antiquities like the stapler and the hole-punch than integrated chips. Instead, they’re an exemplary product of their time. Foreshadowing the web, they offered an easy way to link one piece of information to another in a precisely contextual way. Foreshadowing email, they made informal, asynchronous communication with your co-workers a major part of modern office life...

Indeed, as workers tried to keep pace with all the new technologies invading offices in the early 1980s... Post-it Notes were a useful tool to manage such information overload. Not only could you highlight the material that was most important, you could also document, via a quick little note to yourself, why you thought it was worth highlighting...

But the Post-it Note was more than just a practical tool—it was also a psychological one. Compared to the clunky machines of the 1980s that generated all those documents, it was a vision of high-tech minimalism. Its edges were sharp and square, with no ugly binding, no perforations, no metal rings. Its color, a subtle but attention-getting yellow, was somehow like the color of thought itself, a lightbulb going off in your head. Devoid of any other graphic elements, it had the effect of a clean, calming, blank screen. And, yet, for all its streamlined efficiency, it was playful and user-friendly, a simple embodiment of the same values that would inform the development of Apple’s Macintosh...

Post-it Notes... were dynamic, customizable, business casual. They inspired spontaneity, rapid ideation, free association. You could link one seemingly unrelated idea to another without worrying about any logical cohesion of ideas; that’s what the glue was for.

Greg Beato's Twenty-Five Years of Post-it Notes, in The Rake (via Kottke), is a fascinating tale of product development. It even foreshadows the insidiousness of comment and trackback spam:

Over time, these devious ads have remained consistently effective. In 2004, a pair of university researchers conducted a series of “Letter from J.” mailings, then wrote about their experiment in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Amongst their findings: “Attaching the Post-it Note resulted in 5.6 percent of the people asking for a free sample, whereas only three percent asked for a sample when they received the ad without the attached Post-it Note.”

Posted at 11:28 AM in Social software | Permalink