The Big Sync in the Sky

While strolling through my Internet neighborhood, I stumbled upon a series of blogposts about syncing to-dos in Things, the GTD application made by Cultured Code1. The blog posts relate to a feature that has obviously been on the top priority list of many user requests, namely to sync to-dos between several machines running Things, e.g. a Mac and an iPhone.

The sync between several machines is currently feasible, mind you. Only, it requires both machines to be connected to the same Wi-FI network. While this may be acceptable for the scenario to sync your mac with your iPhone it is a real pain for syncing a machine at work with a machine at home.

At first, Cultured Code has obviously been very hesitant regarding a “cloud sync” because they saw too much risk in creating conflicts caused by the syncing. And, according to the article, they were convinced that the Wi-Fi sync worked so well that at least in case where the machines to-be-synced had access to the same Wi-Fi network there was hardly any use case for a cloud sync.

But eventually they had to accept that the users would not buy the points made against a cloud sync2 and saw no other option than to eventually give in and come up with a nice concept for syncing to the cloud.

After reading the articles I remembered my copy of Things for iPhone I had installed some time before I seriously started to use a GTD tool. At that time, it was more out of curiosity and I did not really get into the thing3. And yet, it provided me with the ability to play around with the syncing approach implemented into Things to get some hands-on experience with respect to the topic of the blog posts.

So I downloaded an evaluation copy of Things for Mac and started to toy around with the sync functionality. For this, I gradually placed all my to-dos from my Remember The Milk list into Things to find out how it would sync with the iPhone app.

This experiment yielded two results:

  1. The Wi-Fi based syncing between Things for iPhone and Things for Mac works really well and is fully reliable. Once set up there is no further effort than to launch the tool on both platforms and then it will instantaneously sync every change made on one of the platforms.

  2. The more I put to-dos in the list the more I started to like the tool. This was very much unexpected because my initial experience with Things for iPhone was that I simply didn’t understand the concept behind it, i.e. many of its concepts seemed contradictory to my intuitive understanding of how the tool should fulfill its intended purpose.

Given this, I did not even consider Things when I started to evaluate GTD tools for my personal use. As mentioned before, I settled for Remember the Milk (RTM) because it had a full built-in cloud sync4 and I found it less a hassle to use than OmniFocus.

Fast forward to today and with the experience of using a GTD tool for quite some time I happened to come back to using Things with a totally different perspective. Suddenly, it all makes sense and I could see the point behind the vast majority of design decisions that made Things.

I guess it is the change in perspective and the different mindset I acquired using GTD as opposed to the slightly naïve point of view I certainly had when I started to play around with Things for iPhone back when I originally pulled it from the app store.

Plus, the GUI of both the Mac app and the iPhone app is so clean and nice that I started to dislike the web-based GUI of my RTM-account5.

So I couldn’t help switching. There, I said it. See, it just happened and I can literally watch the raised eyebrows of adept OmniFocus users I have discussed the GTD question with at the time I happily set off to use RTM for my stuff. I’m sorry, folks, thats life.

As I have already completed the migration of my to-dos to Things as part of my experiment I’m now fully set up to use Things for my private GTD stuff in the assumption that the Wi-Fi based sync option will someday in the near future be accompanied by the ability to additionally sync to the cloud. In other words, I joined the ranks of Things users patiently waiting for the Big Sync in the Sky.

  1. Which, for some weird coincidence, happens to be my physical neighborhood as well. It’s hardly two kilometers to Cultured Code headquarters as the Nazgûl flies.

  2. What I personally find very intriguing is that they did not go the straight-forward way of placing a database in the cloud and hope for the best. Instead, the blog posts suggest that the syncing technology is based on principles implemented in distributed version control system (DVCS) tools.

  3. Lame pun more or less intended.

  4. It’s hard to get that wrong if the whole tool idea is based on the implementation of a web-based service.

  5. To be clear, the web-based GUI of RTM is very nice and clean, at least as far as web-based GUIs go. But in comparison to a native GUI, especially a well-forged native GUI it is really hard to compete.