Tasktop Finds Path to Profits, Via a More Efficient Interface Inspired by Brain Science

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whatever tasks customers need to perform. “We’re the glue,” he says. “We don’t have a direct competitor on the task-focused side.”

And of course, that is still Tasktop’s main thrust—and its key selling point. Kersten says that software developers who use the company’s open-source tool, called Eclipse Mylyn, are typically twice as productive as before. There is a learning curve to using the interface, he admits, but eventually you get “one click multitasking.” Instead of having to open and close windows and files every time you switch tasks (which Kersten says developers do every 11 minutes), the Tasktop tool keeps track of where you are in each task and shows you just what you need.

There is some pretty strong neuroscience behind all this. Dig a little deeper, and Kersten will tell you about the difference between semantic memory (facts and categories) and episodic memory (times, places, context). “For all knowledge workers, semantic memory is completely overloaded,” he says. “What we [Tasktop] do is use episodic memory. We weigh everything by how often you access it. What you see on-screen represents your memory of the task. We make the user interface line up with how your brain works.”

When I talked with Kersten a few weeks ago, it sounded as though big companies like Microsoft were starting to wake up to what Tasktop is doing. Indeed, just last week, Tasktop announced it has formed a partnership with Microsoft to make Eclipse Mylyn work with Windows 7. And Tasktop has had an ongoing partnership with IBM’s Rational Software division, to help improve business management and software engineering for companies.

Besides having been originally inspired by Microsoft board member Maria Klawe, Kersten has another Seattle connection. One of Tasktop’s board members is Neelan Choksi, the co-founder of Lexcycle (maker of Stanza, the e-book iPhone app), who now works at Amazon. Kersten met Choksi at a conference in India a couple years ago, and Choksi’s company at the time, SpringSource, bought Tasktop’s product. Choksi then joined Tasktop’s board in the summer of 2008 and has played an important advisory role ever since, Kersten says.

It will be interesting to see whether Tasktop really has a product for the masses—helping not just software developers to boost their productivity, but most everyone who taps at a keyboard much of the day. The Tasktop tool for developers gets about a million downloads per month, and Kersten says the task-focused interface problem is “mostly solved” for developers. “We’re figuring out how to apply it to the mainstream market,” he says. “We’re working on it, and working with partners.”

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Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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