Posts filed under ‘information literacy’

Your Big Brother could be evil if he wanted to be

Don’t be evil,” says Google, but after reading Googling Security by Conti, I expect the temptations have got to be unreal.
I read on John Battelle’s blog that Google is now allowing users to change the information that comes up in “vanity searches.”  The price is that you must have a Google profile.  And the ranking of the “yous” will be affected by how complete your user profile is.
Google, and other online advertisers, expect to make money by knowing you better.  Google wants to know you really really well.
The implications are scary in a Big Brother, Hal, Skynet, AI sort of way.
As Conti points out repeatedly in his book, the more personalized the online service, the more you hemorrhage potentially sensitive information.
Alright, I am the REAL me, so let’s make sure I’m listed correctly on Google….  These friendly words appear on creating a Google Profile: “The more information you provide, the easier it will be for friends to find you.”  TO FIND YOU.  That’s sort of frightening in what’s left unsaid.  Like maybe not everyone is your friend?
And continuing the profile setup…”Your profile is not yet eligible to be featured in Google search results.  To have your profile featured, add more information about yourself.”
I wonder if you can turn this off later? Probably not.  And *never* on Google’s servers….  I got freaked out and stopped.
Right now YOU are the STRONG link in connecting your address, your phone, social security, and credit card numbers, your medical and family history, your credit record, how many traffic tickets you’ve received, your personal and your professional online profiles, like your “home” and “work” email accounts, and all the varied and “private” interests you’ve ever shared with the oracle of Google. 
The technology exists: it’s no stretch of the imagination at all to contemplate machine-based connection making. 
Richard K. Morgan is a science fiction author who does a brilliant job weaving tales of the near, and usually dystopic future.  In his novel TH1RTE3N, Morgan describes the AI-empowered n djinns that pull data from “the feeds” to make these sorts of connections.  As is typical with a lot of science fiction, the future is now and we’re helping Google to create it.


April 23, 2009 at 12:50 pm Leave a comment

Dumb comments from the Dumbest Generation

I finished The Dumbest Generation by Bauerlein.  I’m too dumb to take the time to post  a complete response yet, but…

He’s right, and he offers no solutions.  Only gripes.   I guess he does suggest that reading more BOOKS would help – or reading more books seems to be correlated with being smarter. And then I think that’s a clue to where his arguments fall down, as he implicitly discounts web-based reading.

As information consumers we’re overwhelmed with too much stuff coming at us.  That we’re making poor choices on what to focus on is obvious.  But we can’t keep up with everything.

A number of sources that look like they provide interesting counterpoints to this dumb book.

Bit literacy and Information Anxiety

Changes in curriculum in the UK

Innumeracy by Paulos points out deficiencies in math literacy AND offers solutions.

A post from JOHO by David Weinburger about some other posts by Stephen Johnson and Clay Shirky about the future of news.

And while Bauerlein points at the under 30 crowd in his book, it’s not just our kids that are having trouble.   From the report “Information behaviour of the researcher of the future,” “In a real sense, we are all Google generation now” and “from undergraduates to professors, people exhibit a strong tendency towards shallow, horizontal,`flicking’ behaviour in digital libraries. Power browsing and viewing appear to be the norm for all. The popularity of abstracts among older researchers rather gives the game away. Society is dumbing down.”

March 27, 2009 at 1:41 pm Leave a comment

A dumb book about The Dumbest Generation

The Dumbest Generation, Bauerlein – I expected to read this book siding with the author, as I’ve been frustrated with the kids’ levels of math literacy lately….

I find I’m arguing with the author page-by-page now.  He’s got some good points, but he’s also missing many.  I am reminded of the load of steaming crap: Cult of the Amateur, by Keen. 

For overexcited and breathless tome on one side of the fence I guess there’s its inflammatory titled double on the other side.  We’ll see if I can get through this.

He’s mentioned several books I’ve read like Marc Prensky’s Don’t Bother me mom, I’m learning refering to him as a futurist.  I think Marc is report current events;  Kurzweil is a futurist – and Bauerlein hasn’t even touched “The Singularity” or Kurzweil’s idea of merged human-machine intelligence yet….

March 17, 2009 at 4:04 pm 1 comment

We Couldn’t Say It in Print If It Wasn’t True

Avoiding scams and malicious disinformation is pretty easy once you learn your way around, but sometimes bad information can be hard to spot.

 “You can’t believe everything you read” is as relevant today as it has ever been.  Using information requires evaluation of information resources.  This goes for all information resources, the Web, and sites like Wikipedia (the encyclopedia anyone can edit), as well as traditional printed media.

The director of the British Library sums it up ( “It is a much bigger theme of media literacy and critical thinking skills – not just trusting what Google gets you. I think you have to triangulate these things, at the very least.” 

Traditional publishing processes might make it more difficult to spread incorrect or inaccurate information in books or other printed material.  On the Web, however, anyone can publish anything at any time, whether it is factual or not.  One thing that limits the spread of inaccurate information on the Web is that everyone is publishing information, accurate or otherwise, and all of it is lost in the noise.

Some entertaining websites, designed to point out the hazards of believing everything you read, are the DHMO Homepage ( and the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus page (

There are Billions and Billions of sources of information that are inadvertently or even purposely inaccurate….  And that reminds me of Carl Sagan’s book, “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” which predated both the Web, as we know it, and the Google Generation, which is all of us now (  Sagan encourages us to use “scientific thinking” when encountering new information using a “Baloney Detection Kit,” a set of tools to help us construct a good argument as well as recognize a bad one.

The Baloney Detection Kit promotes, for example, independent confirmation of facts, debates from all points of view, quantification, separation of variables, and ensuring hypotheses can actually be tested.  The Kit also provides tools for detecting common fallacies of logic, such as confusing correlation and causation, arguing from authority, and the drawing conclusions from inadequate sample size. The Baloney Detection Kit is summarized here:

It is irresponsible, and sometimes even dangerous (BAN DHMO NOW!), to approach new information without using a critical eye.  Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit is a valuable set of questions you should always be asking yourself.


Google Generation
“We are all the Google generation, the young and old, the professor and the student and the teacher and the child.”

Information literacy in education
For example, see “Big Six”

Examples pointing out risks of poor Information Literacy
Tree Octopus:

Critical thinking and the web

Evaluating resources like Wikipedia
‘“For God’s sake, you’re in college,” he said. “Don’t cite the encyclopedia.”’

Baloney detection kit and scientific skepticism

January 5, 2009 at 2:47 pm Leave a comment

How I Found Keeping Found Things Found

Obivously I liked it, I took a lot of notes, but I was also frustrated.  I guess I was looking for more solutions and not an encyclopedic overview of PIM.  However, this is a good complement to Bit Literacy, which is all solution and not as much background.

Keeping Found Things Found – Jones

This site states the audience for this book as: “professionals in HCI, data mining and data management, information retrieval, and related areas, plus developers of tools and software that include PIM solutions.”  This is true.  The book illustrates and defines many of the issues we’re having problems with today, but offers few solutions.  There are exceptions though, and the book is more useful to the ‘lay-person’ than Personal Information Management by Jones and Teevan which seems to be exclusively for the researchers in the field of PIM.  This book’s scope is “what about?” rather than “how to?”  This explains why much of the book doesn’t give as practical solutions as I hoped.  Bit Literacy provides many practical solutions, but those solutions will become dated quickly, while the issues in this book will remain issues to think about for PIM in general. 


TOC  (taken, but corrected, from this site!  Someone decided to annotate and elaborate on the titles of the chapters, I guess for clarity.  Jeez.  Here are the titles as they appear in the book.)

I.         Foundations: A study and a practice; A personal space of information; A framework for personal information management.

II.       Activities: Finding and re-finding: From need to information; Keeping and organizing: From information to need; Maintaining for now and for later; Managing privacy and the flow of information; Measuring and evaluating; Making sense of things.

III.      Solutions: Email disappears?; Search gets personal; PIM on the go; PIM on the Web;

IV.   Conclusions: Bringing the pieces together; Finding our way in(to) the future.

V.     References; Index.

Pxi.6 basic questions of Personal Information Management (PIM) Where and how to keep information, at home or at work, on which computer, in which account, in which organization, in what form, as a paper printout, an e-document, an email message, a web-bookmark, or perhaps an in-line reference in some document, where did I put it, how best to organize and maintain all the information accessed and accumulated, is it worth it to organize information into folders, or maybe labels and tags could be used, or maybe nothing at all if we can use search, what about versions, how to be sure the most recent or relevant version is the one retrieved?

Pxvi Peter Morville of Ambient Findability is one of the contributors.

P7.7 Mentions “As we may think” by Bush, right at the beginning!  This is starting well…

P8.5 Many of us can remember the frustration of failing to find an item of information…we may spend precious minutes, sometimes hours looking for lost information. 

Licklider, Man-computer Symbiosis (1960); about 85% of my “thinking” time was spent getting into a position to think, to make a decision, to learn something I needed to know….[M]y choices of what to attempt and what not to attempt were determined to an embarrassingly great extent by considerations of clerical feasibility, not intellectual capability.

P9.3 Information is a means to an end…rarely even a very precious resource. We usually have far too much of it.  Simon, 1971: information consumes attention.  A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

P9.8 PIM is more than decision making and task management, getting things done.  To manage our information is to manage our reality.

P10 Yates (1989) filing cabinets were first available in 1893

P13 Better PIM promises better productivity with clearer understanding of their information and their needs; better strategies relevant to education programs; Age = less working memory, PIM can help provide compensating tools; Personal health information can help patients better manage their treatments.

P14.5 PIM needs to be studied in situations of actual information management…who better to study your own practices of PIM than you?  Tales of PIM website.

P28.4 The information value of a message depends on the recipient of the message and his/her state of knowledge….not absolute but relative to a context that includes the intentions of the sender and the current state of a recipient’s knowledge.

P30.9 Information is converted between forms, e.g. paper, computer screen.  We assume that the information contained is the same, but the information’s impact can be altered.  Following a cookie recipe on a computer screen is different than following a paper-based version; parts of the recipe may be off screen, or in the paper version it might get smudged.

P31.1 Information can be stored and retrieved later; its processing can be deferred.  Information has reach over time and space; can be stored, retrieved, moved copied, transformed, and distributed, and it differs from knowledge, in that some internalized knowledge can be very difficult to articulate.

P33.6 Information is power in that what we know that others do not can give us a real advantage.

P34 Personal information:

1.      Controlled by me

2.      About me

3.      Directed toward me

4.      Sent by me

5.      Experienced by me (already)

6.      Relevant to me

P36.5 Mentions Levy’s Scrolling Forward and his description of a cash register receipt as a document… “…the ability to preserve or freeze some aspect of the world.”

P37.8 I wrote the note “same line” I can’t remember specifically, here, but there is a ton of overlap between this book and the other Personal Information Management.  I am kind of uncomfortable with the amount of overlap.  It’s almost like publishing the same book twice.  This book is a little more colorful and might be more accessible for the lay-audience.

P38.4 Essential to the management of any collection of information items are operations to copy, move, retrieve, and delete these items.

P45 Personal Space of Information (PSI)

·        We have only one PSI – everything informational as it relates to the person.

·        Defined as much by what we would like to be able to do as by what we can currently do.

·        The PSI is external to the person

It contains the information 1. controlled by me, 2. about me, etc. above.  It affects the way we view and interact with the world we inhabit and affects the way we are seen, categorized, and treated by others.  A person has only one PSI.

P46.3 It’s a mistake to focus only on digital information to the exclusion of paper-based information.

P50.6 A quote from Paracelsus!?  “When a man undertakes to create something, he establishes a new heaven as it were, and from it the work that he desires to create flows into him…. For such is the immensity of man that he is greater than heaven and earth.”  Awesome. More quotes.

P56.8 The author drops a lot of “hip” websites and tools, but I think he’s just name-dropping, and listing these out will really date the book in a couple years.

P57.9  Asymmetries in tools of communications and collaboration, Grudin 1988.  1988!?

P59 Key PIM activities: Keeping, Finding/refinding, Meta-level activities

P62.99 Information gathering as foraging

P63.99 Anticipated need, Bruce Information Research 10(3) 2005

P65 Meta-level activities: Organizing, Maintaining, Managing privacy and the flow of Information, Measuring and evaluating, making sense.

P68.9 …impacts that modern tools may be having on our activities of reading and writing, mentions Levy’s Scrolling Forward.

P69.3 Access to large amounts of digital information is surely changing our habits of writing.  Legitimate reuses of information can represent a considerable savings in time, e.g. reusing a presentation for a new audience.  By reusing the presentation, we then effectively reuse the hours of work it took to put the original presentation together.  [Reward me for the cut-n-paste: why do we tell students to “put it in their own words?”]

P71.3 PKM – personal knowledge management – sounds sexier than PIM, though often the word Information should be used in the context instead of Knowledge – knowledge is what’s in people’s heads, implicit, hard to articulate.

P71.9 our external representations of tasks and time are themselves information…at some point we’re forced to externalize and to depend on external tools….what is task management without at least a to-do list.

P72.5 First RSS mention under a heading ‘Managing information flow,’ as an example.

P76.5 In a world increasingly defined by the information we receive and send, PIM – the ability to manage this information – is one of life’s essential skills.

P81.4 Finding is as much about interaction as about end result, we can be successful and find something but be frustrated unless the process is reasonably short and trouble-free, and we may find serendipitous information during our search that offers a benefit.  Finding is about the journey as well as the destination.

P83 Finding activities involve dimensions of information ownership and whether the information has been experienced before leading to a Gartner-group quadrant-like figure.

P85.1 Problems in finding activities often originate as earlier failures of keeping and organizing.

P87.8 Berry-picking model of search, Bates, 1989. “The Design of Browsing and Berrypicking Techniques for the Online Search Interface,” Online, 13(5) 407

P91.6 (2004) Knowledge workers spend 15 to 35 percent of their workday finding information.

P93 Finding is multi-step, interplay between recall and recognition.  Initial searches may provide words or phrase that help guide the next search attempt

P94 generic methods of search or finding (Bates, 2002):

·        One extreme = Browsing – when the user is not sure what they’re looking for or are unable to remember keywords, content, properties.

·        The other extreme = Linking – a desired item is fully specified, e.g. a full reference to an article

·        Directed searching – stuff in between browsing and linking.  E.g. full-text searching.

Also teleporting where people jump to the information they seek, and orienteering where people employ a stepwise navigation to the information they need.

P98.5 research failures are also more likely when information is fragmented.

P100.4  But separation of information by device or email account can also be useful, e.g. home and work email.  Seperations can help divide information into manageable regions.  Even better is when separations are under our control; we should be able to remove separations when we need to.  E.g. My to-do list has views sorted by work, home, and all.

P101.3 information fragmentation is by definition, bad.

P102.5 keeping information in view can help to keep them in mind, like piles of paper on a desk, emails in an inbox, files on the computer desktop…until the piles recede into the background mess, messages scroll out of view, and the computer desktop is too cluttered.

P103.2 In many instances, the need is not for a single information item but rather for a set of items whose members may be scattered in different forms within different organizations.  E.g. calendars….  When all items in a set need to be retrieved, chances of failure increase with the size of the set…. Output interference – retrieval of the first items interfere with the retrieval of later items, e.g. the last one or two people in a group are the hardest to remember.

P106 [In re-finding] Sometimes context matters, and we know exactly what we’re looking for.  Other times our ability to recognize an item is totally dependant on its occurrence in a context of occurrence.

P107.3 In interactions with our information, space often does matter.  The visible fabric of information can operate as a powerful extension to our internal, overtaxed, and limited working memories.

P108.5 Try keeping your own log and count the number of times:

1.      Look for a document, either to open and check some fact, reuse some information, edit, or send to someone else.

2.      Look back through your inbox for emails you’ve not yet processed, or search for replies to a message you sent out, or look for messages from a particular person.

3.      Check and recheck your calendar – to search for upcoming events or to see when you have free time to schedule something

4.      Return to various web sites to check news, or look up information

5.      Look for a song or a picture or a funny story

6.      Incidents of finding like the above when prompted while filling out a form (e.g. expense report)

In our effort to find or refind information for our current task, we often get off track and look at other information instead….not always bad…but we leave the context of our work.

P109.7 Wayfinding, Lynch (1960) The image of the City. Morville’s Ambient Findability is mentioned.  The journey to find information is important.  Paths, Districts, Edges, Nodes, landmarks

P113.4 Recognizing the needed information is often heavily influenced by the context surrounding its access.

P113.7  There is certainly evidence that people are creatures of habit in their access to information, taking the same sequence of steps, or the same route each time they need to access an information item such as a web page or a file…even though we suspect there are shortcuts.

P118 Practical tips!  Sort-of solutions! Finally at page 118!  What now for you and me?

Practical suggestions apply to each essential step in finding.

1.       Reminding/remembering to look.  Look at your surroundings, your desktop, your inbox, your calendar, paper documents, digital documents, bookmarks, e.g. at the start of the day.

2.      Recall.  If you have information in multiple places, make a list of these that’s easy to recall.  Implement at least an informal method of version management. Use your friends and colleagues are information sources too (and reciprocate) – instead of searching for contact information through old email messages, just ask again.

3.      Recognition.  Make information easy to recognize.  Use better names for documents, bookmarks, email subject lines  …is worth a few seconds before you send it out so that you are more likely to recognize and attend to replies in the inbox later.   In group collaboration, some minutes spend agreeing on subject-line conventions can be an investment that pays for itself many times over.

4.      Repeat?  Is the complete set of information needed?  There is no ‘complete set’ of information anytime the web is involved.

Other suggestions.

1.      Get a desktop search facility. Use it.  They are free…but recognize its limitations. Search is only one of several tools supporting several methods of finding.

2.      Note the bits and pieces of information you find and re-find.  Write these down for easy reference.  A contacts application or even just a scrap of paper at hand can help.

3.      Begin with the end in mind (ala Covey).  What are you trying to find?  Where will you need the information?  What needs are you trying to meet?

4.      Become a student of your own finding activities.  When finding fails, learn from it.  Many of the problems with finding information originate and are best dealt with during the keeping and organizing of the information.

P123.4  Finding and keeping are reciprocal activities.  Sort of like throwing yourself a ball into the future.

P125.1 keeping and organizing are related but different.  Placing a document in a folder is keeping.  Deciding on a scheme for how folders should be created, named, and related to one another is organizing.

P126.1 keeping activities are a common occurrence; organizing activities occur less frequently.  Organizing is a meta-level activity focused on a personal information collection (PIC), rather than on one individual information item.

P126.4 As in Personal Information Management, with Jones as co-author, here there is another a little story and cast of characters displaying their flawed PIM.

P129.1  Keeping things where they need to be found….extra vacuum cleaner bags behind the couch in the living room….Put information where we think well need it again.  Reminds me of stigmergy….  “Stigmergy is a mechanism of spontaneous, indirect coordination between agents or actions, where the trace left in the environment by an action stimulates the performance of a subsequent action, by the same or a different agent. Stigmergy is a form of self-organization. It produces complex, apparently intelligent structures, without need for any planning, control, or even communication between the agents. As such it supports efficient collaboration between extremely simple agents, who lack any memory, intelligence or even awareness of each other.”  But that’s not really it either.  Mnemonic?  But that’s not really it either.  Here and ideas in GTD and in the paper by Heylighen and Vidal – traces in the environment are left on purpose to aid or stimulate next actions.  How about mowing the lawn?  The mowed parts of the lawn show where to mow next?  But a mowed lawn doesn’t seem all that intelligent.

P132.6 One essential decision is ‘filing’ or ‘piling.’  Filing takes manual and mental effort; filing correctly is prone to failure, and once filed, out of sight out of mind.  As a pile grows the access and visibility of its items are reduced.

P133.1 Less than 10% of information stored on a web or file ever is ever accessed once it is put there….the cost of storage is going down, but the cost of finding rises as desired information is diluted by all the information you don’t want…it’s not  just laziness that causes this buildup of never-used information…it’s lack of information literacy and basic tools to track versions and archive or delete obsolete information…we lack the fundamental information literacy to be able to effectively anticipate what information we are likely to need in the future…we are too afraid to get rid of anything.

P134 keeping options: keep everything, keep nothing, keep automatically. Keeping everything is easier as storage capacities increase, but human capacity to attend is not increasing.  Keeping nothing, since everything is only a Google search away is limited when other people control that information and may label it and organize it differently than we do – or they may delete it or move it.  We can’t find what we forget to look for and we may need to keep a local reminder about information out there.

P137.1 File systems keep track of metadata, like date, application type, size, but if the range of automatically created metadata were more exhaustive, we could better connect disparate information based on this more advanced framework.

P139.5 Personal information collections (PICs) are islands of relative structure and coherence in our Personal Space of Information (PSI).  Important kinds: reference collections and project collections.

P140.4 file naming conventions example…notice that several properties are embedded in article file names…begin with author field, year of publication, abbreviated form or title. Why?  Why not use the file properties dialogs where you can modify many of these examples of metadata?  Naming files this way is fast and easy.  Filling in values for properties is not.  In the example, organization is relatively flat with respect to folders and subfolders.  The organization is in the structure file name; and one property is the key – sorted by author name.

P145.9 Folder hierarchies are more than just the organization of information for re-access.  They can provide information, for example, a summary of the information within… a visible, external representation to a mapping from information to need….a rough representation for a plan to completing a project

P148 “we can’t wait for new tools to help us keep and organize better.  What can we do now? 

·        Reminding/remembering to look.  With the information in hand you’re apt to be overconfident in your ability to find it later: “How could I forget?”  Set reminders, send email messaged, make appointments in your calendar – do what it takes to remember.  Think about the circumstances of need later on…  Where? When? How (in what form) will you need the information later… make use of your attentional surfaces…where do you look, what do you notice?  Computer desktop…drag a copy of the information you need into a special appointment in your calendar….the fridge?

·        Recall.  Pick an organizational scheme and stick to it. Don’t let two inconsistent schemes overlap or coexist.  E.g.  Make the organization scheme and definitions clear and consistent. Don’t use trips and travel tags at the same time.

·        Recognition.  Don’t be afraid to use long descriptive names for files.  Rename web references too if possible.  In group contexts use conventions for subject lines.

·        Repeat.  Group together (by tag or folder) items you are certain to need together again later.  Or group references to these.

·        When making keeping decisions about what to keep, always consider two costs: cost of a false positive and the cost of a miss.  What is the downside of keeping information that is never used?  What can happen if information is not kept but is needed later? If the cost of misses is higher, we may keep information even if we suspect we don’t need to, or the reverse if the cost of false positives is higher.  The more we keep, the harder it might be to find stuff in the noise.

·        Make reference collections, make project collections.  Make collections for items that you use repeatedly.  Make these flat if you can, and organize by properties.  Make folders fore ach of your major projects with subfolder standing for subprojects and tasks.  Do this top-down if you know the structure of the project (like others before it) or simply pile everything into the folder at first, and build a structure of subfolders over time as the subprojects and tasks become apparent.

·        Pick your battles.  Don’t organize everything.

P151 not everything is worth our time and trouble to keep and organize.  …we should give special attention to the creation of reference collections – collections of items we may use repeatedly – and project collections – collections of items relating to a specific project we want to complete.

P155.8 Maintaining for later… digital photos in 30 years, old computers, password protected…Our information legacy is not only for us, but also for those who survive us….

This book’s scope is made clear: “what about?” rather than “how to?”  This explains why much of the book doesn’t give as practical solutions as I hoped.  Bit Literacy provides many practical solutions, but those solutions will become dated quickly, while the issues in this book will remain issues to think about for PIM in general. 

P158 with physical storage, space limitations force decisions about what to keep and what to throw away.  Digital storage may free us from the deletion paradox, where we spend an inordinate amount of time deciding what information items of lowest value to delete.  ‘Old magazine effect’ an old item is difficult to discard because its potential value at the point of decision is literally more visible than are the ongoing costs of keeping the item – costs of space and clutter, e.g. looking through a table of contents we may see a number of interesting articles (Jones 2004) “Finders, Keepers?” First Monday. But keeping track of all that information can create special problems: information fragmentation, increased storage = delayed decisions and lost context, little help or guidance for archival tasks, catastrophic loss.

P160.2 what do we keep and why?  Precious irreplaceable information, e.g. family pictures, extremely difficult to replace information, e.g. legal documents, reference collections, e.g. music, cookbooks, working information, e.g. current projects.  Each type of information has its own lifetime and its degree of difficulty for replacement. 

P161.6 If we’re no longer limited by physical storage, we are, as human beings, still limited by our capacity to attend. Attentional surfaces, e.g. desktop, inbox, personal website, notes and papers held up by magnets on the refrigerator door (see Notes on Fridge Surfaces I also liked this paper: List making in the Home), needs to be cleared of the old stuff to retain their attention getting power.  Some attentional surfaces are renewed without our intervention like the email inbox.

P162.4 The information we use is rarely normalized in the manner of well-designed databases.  We generally copy rather than reference information. Doing so is often easier and more robust in the short run, especially as we work across different applications on different devices. And why not? Storage is cheap. But updates and corrections later can be extremely difficult.

P162.8 Approaches to maintain information:

·        ‘get someone else to maintain…often a household will have one person that keeps track of medical information while the other keeps track of photographs and videos.  Or workgroups may prompt the emergence of informal librarians: “If my colleagues have this why should I store it?

·        Portable hard drive – USB drives

·        Web-backups

·        Web-email backups


P166.2 IT departments and the policies they create are primarily focused on the hazards of information, e.g. Leaked secrets.  Less well-covered are the opportunities that information can offer….information is poorly understood by most organizations.  If you can’t distinguish valuable information from junk, you have to either save all information on the chance that some of it is valuable, or get rid of it all to ensure it can do no harm.  Greater clarity concerning the relative value and threat of information might provide a balanced policy for keeping, organizing and maintaining an organization’s information.

P167.2 if several versions of a document are created, some mechanism of indicating the ‘official version’ is required.  Using contextual information surrounding a document’s access, e.g. a folder titled ‘latest version’ will not support search retrieval vs. wayfinding.  Our preferred method to finding documents is likely to shift from wayfinding to direct search, and direct search will return several different versions.  Attention should be given at the point of publication a method for indicating which version is the correct one, or methods of deleting all other versions.

P172.6 The maintenance of our information space is done for reasons that go beyond retrieval and use of personal information for either now or later.  Our PSI is a reflection of us….tells a story about us.  Mentions iTunes libraries, and I recall Levy’s The Perfect Thing which describes a sort of ‘perception management’ with iTunes libraries.

P173.7 Sometimes management of information is about removing and forgetting rather than saving and remembering.  There are attentional advantages to moving information out of the way when it is no longer needed.  Old information can distract and get in the way.  Sometimes archives were meant for storage, but not necessarily for retrieval.

P174.6 we use paper…as a very flexible, portable, disposable form in which to present information.  Paper printouts can be bent, folded, stuffed in a briefcase, taken with us to be read on the bus or while we wait for a meeting to start…doesn’t need a computer or a power supply.  And when we’re done we can simply throw the printout away, secure in the knowledge that the same information can be printed out again later if needed.  But paper takes up space, and paper-based information is not in a form that can be used by our digitally based tools.  But when keeping information for generations, consideration must return again to the benefits of paper.  Mentions the Dead Sea Scrolls lasting for millennia…  Just read a similar set of comments in C&EN today: “About 60 years ago, the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and scholars have been able to decipher them. What if instead of Dead Sea Scrolls they were “Dead Sea Floppies”? What format would they be in?”  Also, reminded of the great book, Scrolling Forward, by Levy

P175.2 …steps we can take now, without waiting for better tools or better IT support, in order to improve the maintenance of our personal information:

·        Delegate.  We don’t need to maintain everything.  At work or at home different members can agree to maintain different collections

·        Consolidate….all your information on a thumb drive, or at least stop moving information from several computers or gadgets.  Can we simplify and reduce information fragmentation.

·        Back it up!  Send important information between backups via self-addressed emails.  Backups should include email, PDAs, cell phones, as well as hard drives.  Make backups realistic and easy to do – or you won’t.

·        Clean up! But move, don’t delete.  Avoid the delation paradox and the old magazine effects.  Just move old information out of the way with the assurance you could move it back.  Where?  Maybe a folder ‘stuff I moved on <date>’

·        Scrub.  Get rid of projects you will never do.  Get on with life.

·        Adopt a naming convention to highlight the correct version of a file.  Maybe <name of document> followed by ‘current’ and only allow one current.

·        Avoid strange document formats.  Use standard formats like xml, MPEG, JPEG, but realize that these will change too. 

·        Add to this list.

There are more ideas in Bit Literacy.  For example, he suggests a more rigorous filenaming scheme including initials and dates.  And he suggests using text files (for text anyway) to avoid format extinction.  I forget the suggestion for image files.

P177.2 There are concerns that our society may be entering a “digital dark age” for want of a sustainable, coherent policy to guide (and restrain) us in our head-long pursuit of digital conversion of information.  (Kuny 1998).  These societal concerns have their counterpart in the management of our personal information.

P183 “Issues of computer and data security are beyond the scope of this book.”  I don’t remember that Bit Literacy talked about this much either.  Mitnick’s The Art of Deception certainly is a guidebook along these lines as is Schneier’s Beyond Fear.  Referenced a Wikipedia page

P187.2 …young people seem not to care much about privacy…generational shift?  McNealy’s: “you have zero privacy anyway…Get over it.” This youthful nonchalance may fade when age brings careers, families and reputations.

P192.1 …the burden seems to remain with each of us to determine whether the privacy practices of a company or organization provide us with acceptable protection or, at least, acceptable risk when balanced against the services provided.

P196.3 As humans we are wired to attend to the ring of a phone, the appearance of a new email alert, or the blare of a television set.  We can’t easily change our nature, but we can adjust our information flows to create spaces and times when we are relatively protected from these information intrusions. Control of the inflow as well as the outflow….  Attention economy…distractions are attention capture.  We’re wired to attend to movement and “looming” on the periphery of vision, as survival value from predators. Talked about Sesame Street and increased camera cuts… another book I read talked about Sesame Street, Prensky’s book, Don’t Bother Me Mom-I’m Learning?

P.197.4  …as the length of a camera shot goes below a certain duration ca. 2.5 seconds, the memorability and impact of the commercial declines.  Our attention is captured but we remember nothing later.

The “availability heuristic”…the human tendency to estimate frequency or probability by the ease with which instances or associations could be brought to mind.  In my notes I wrote that this reminded me of Paulos’ Innumeracy.  But I don’t remember why. Most people are poor at estimating probability.

P198.4 …ah, now this reminds me of innumeracy “the media tendency to focus on sensational events has been linked to a tendency for people to overestimate the likelihood of those events” also reminds me of Beyond Fear by Schneier.

P198.6 Information diet, in footnote, mappings between information and food…what is a balanced information diet, infobese?  Bit Literacy also talked about this.

P199.6 An explosion in the world’s supply of information needn’t cause us personal stress unless we’re a “renaissance” scholar hoping to keep pace with it all.  Scholars dropped any pretense of doing this well before the onset of the Renaissance.

The amount of information is rising exponentially while the amount of quality information is increasing only linearly, leading to a steady decline in the density of quality information….this needn’t be cause of personal distress, because we’re blissfully ignorant of the information we’re missing or we’ve found ways of locating the needle in the haystack.

P200.5 Approaches to consider as solutions to a personal breakdown in the processing of information due to overload:

·        Satisfice rather than optimize (Simon 1957)… search until meeting some minimal level of criteria as compared to optimizing which requires that all alternatives be considered in order to locate the very best one.

·        Triage (sort) candidates into no, yes, and maybe categories.  Then focus on maybes.

·        Sample, then optimize within the samples.  E.g. set a limit on the number of resumes you’ll consider…useful in cases where criteria for selection are not well understood ahead of time and the sample is unbiased and representative of the whole.

Manage the channel not the information itself.  Rather than try to ignore the TV, turn it off.

P205.2 steps we can take now to protect our privacy

·        Stay current with virus protection

·        Forms with phone numbers and email addresses – leave blank or use a number that works for you, not for them.

·        Credit card slips – scratch out all but the last four digits.

·        Shred bank statements, health records, etc. before disposing

P208.8…there is no need to wait for tools to protect privacy or be dependant on someone else’s plan.  Each of us can articulate our own privacy plan….

P215.8 at the core of a PIM practice is the creation, maintenance, and use of a mapping between information and need.  Elements that affect this mapping:

·        Schemes of PIM organization, e.g. Naming, tags, property/values

·        Tools of PIM, e.g. computers, phones, thumb drives, paper-based too.

·        Strategies of PIM tie together schemes, tools, and the daily environment, a plan of action

P217.3 Keeping seems easy, but what about finding later.  Forgetting to look is a common failure of finding.  Jones, Dumais, and Bruce 2002 for a description of the “forgetting to look” problem. Proceedings 5th annual meeting of the American society for information science and technology….ASIST 2002, vol 39, 420

P218.6 good tip: one scheme for organizing paid bills – placing in payee folders takes half an hour filing new bills, but they are rarely ever returned to, but just lumping all that months paid bills in one folder saves time and going back to find a particular bill is only a few minutes on those rare cases when needed.

P219.6 a list of specs for PIM tool/scheme, strategy by PIM activity

·        Keeping

o       Help asses usefulness of information

o       Support tagging or filing

·        Finding

o       Help me to remember to look later

o       Help me craft my search

o       Support my recognition

·        Organizing

o       Consolidate or leverage existing organization

o       Support reuse of organizational structures and templates

·        Maintaining

o       Make it easy to move or archive items no longer in active use

o       Backups easy and automatic

o       Preserve usability as formats migrate and change

·        Managing flow

o       Provide controls for incoming and outgoing information

·        Measuring and evaluation

o       Collect useful measures of use of PIM practice

·        Making sense

o       Help me arrange my information in new ways that make useful, new patterns and relationships more apparent.

P223.2 Peoples subjective assessment of a tool may not align with objective measures of their use of it.

P224.1 Usability dimensions

P225.1 Critical incident technique- analyze a failure in PIM immediately

Experience sample method – interruptions throughout the day to gauge PIM

P228.5 the preference of options changes dramatically depending on the framing of the choices.  Same topic in Innumeracy.  Given a choice between number of people dying or number of people saved, even when numerically the same, ‘number saved’ is chosen over ‘400 will die.’  Prospect theory…when choices are framed in terms of relative loss we’re more likely to take a riskier option rather than accept certain loss.  But when choices are framed in terms of relative gain, we’re more likely to take the certain gain over the riskier option that could leave us with nothing.

P232.9  Personal project planner within the KFTF project.  People plan and often express their plans in external representations that range from to-do lists to planning documents, to intricate nestings of folders and sub-folders. Even a simple to do list whether expressed on a scrap of paper or in an electronic document serves as a powerful complement to a person’s often fallible internal memory of a situation

P233.7 Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues.  He kept a book with a page for each virtue with seven columns, one for each day of the week, then all thirteen virtues on the page.  He’d attend to the one virtue letting the other fall as they would, but keeping note of them and marking faults, then he’d move on to the next virtue trying to keep two columns free of spots.  Available as a page on!

P235.1 The basic table in all its many variations is a very effective way to make sense of certain kinds of information.

P238.2 community of PIM

P239.5 echoes of Rush: There is no such thing as not deciding.  Even a decision to postpone or not decide is itself a decision.

4 precious resources: money, energy, attention, time

6 senses of personal information: controlled by me, about me, directed toward me, sent by me, experienced by me, relevant to me

7 kinds of PIM activities: keeping, finding, organizing, maintaining, managing flow, measuring and evaluating, making sense

P246.5 part of sense-making – consume encodons?  Wha? “An instantiated schema. In a sensemaking task, a sensemaker fills out templates or schemas to capture information. For example, he may fill out elements of a table or fill out forms. The filled out items are called encodons.” From

P250.5 Making sense characteristics: breath of focus, items are assessed in the context of their collection.  Depth of focus, understanding underlying relationships and structure, senses are involved – try to ‘see’ things, the bigger picture, manipulation is involved  shuffle…our manipulation of digital information items is mediated by our tools

P252.5 Mendeleev’s periodic chart an example of making sense, asked chemists to send him atomic weights they had obtained, he arranged the cards, looking for patterns, pinned them to the wall, made changes, pinned them to the wall again.

P256.1 making sense is a messy business

What can an IT group do to help…bad IT group: “those people should just decide once and for all what they mean:” believing some final taxonomy of terms that the organization can create once and then use forever.  Good IT group understands there is no such taxonomy…terms that are more stable and those that are in flux….savvy IT group neither building nor delegating navigation, but rather constantly harvesting organizing, and presenting (in the navigation) the vocabulary that users need to find information.

P259.6 When a goal is made more real through planning we are better able to recognize the relevance of encountered information

P260.9 Making sense of things…is inherently rewarding in a way that pays for itself

P261.5 Programmable web:, lists of APIs and mashups

P263.5 Post-it notes meetings are called “affinity diagramming method”: 1. make a bunch of cards – easily manipulated information items 1. place all on display so that all can be viewed in a single glance 3. sort items into related groups, form clusters 4. create a header or summary item to stand for the cluster = emergence of shared understanding and a basis for collaboration…bottom-up process for making sense of things: start with a lot of items, relater these to each other, cluster, repeat,. Looking all the while for a structure that might help you make sense of the whole.

P265.4 mindmapping works top-down

P268.5 graduate student who took notes but rarely referred to them later.  The act of taking notes helped her understand the lecture better and also made immediately apparent the points that she didn’t understand in time to ask questions.

P273.3 email is used for task management, document management, contact management…we send emails to ourselves…used as a diary to record memories before they fade, to include reminders of tasks, attach documents as a backup and transfer from place to place

P279.3 we may under estimate the extent to which the interpretation of email information depends on the supplemental information on our own head – memories that were strong at the time of the email conversation but fade with time.

The more elaborate our means of communication, the less we communicate – Priestley

P279.9 getting things done, Allan, is mentioned.  The first time?

P294.8 email advice from

  • Craft your subject line.
  • Limit your recipients.
  • Don’t write in ALL CAPS.
  • Keep it short. The ideal length for an email is five sentences.
  • Quote back
  • Use plain text
  • Control your URLs
  • Don’t FUQ (Fabricate Unanswerable Questions),
  • Don’t FUQ, II. There’s one more type of unanswerable message: the open-ended question that is so broad it should be used in a job interview at Google
  • Attach files infrequently.
  • Ask permission. If you must ask unanswerable questions or attach a file, then first seek permission
  • Chill out.
  • add a good signature. That is, one that includes your name, title, organization, email address, web site, and phone.
  • Never forward something that you think is funny. The odds are that by the time you’ve received it, your recipient already has too, so what is intended as funny is now tedious. However, I do have the Neiman-Marcus recipe for cookies…
  • Turn of the auto-notification – when you lose focus it can take a while to get back to what you were working on.
  • Read the most recent message first
  • Get a spam filter
  • Use the phone for sensitive exchanges
  • Write messages for your enemies.  Never leave a digital or paper trail that can be used against you.
  • Use the subject line
  • One message/one subject
  • Wait.


P301.99 Desktop search Cutrell, Dumais, Teevan 2006 “searching to eliminate personal information management” communications of the ACM, 49(1) 58-64

P306.5 memory is not usually anchored to a specific time but a memorable event…remember the art of memory by Yates

P308.2 search needs to be fast – slow searching is an entirely different experience.


P309.9 in languages that reliably use “white space” characters, words are easily identified. 

P314.1 file folders can be regarded as an expression – very limited selective, and imperfect – of a person’s internal categories.

P325.1 a notebook as a book of paper on which notes may be written it was invented in 1920 by Birchall…in all our discussion or high-tech gadgetry we should not forget the everyday notebook as a very useful gadget in its own right for PIM on the go.  Or the Excel version of the pocketmod.

P329.99 the act of taking the note is often enough to remember the notes content

P353.9 information about us on the web never, ever goes away

P356.5 [web]pages provide not only good content but also an organizing structure….people see out useful structures as well as content…can help a reader organize and understand not only the topical content on the page itself, but also related information that is found elsewhere.

P362.3 making sense of information…read, make notes, highlight, and annotate (with margin notes or the digital equivalent), arrange, rearrange, and summarize… both the act of writing and its visible results help us to think through the plans to be made…RSS brings together information from several sources and mashups as a further integration of information obtained through RSS and other APIs.  This was the first mention of RSS.  RSS was not mentioned in PIM?  A common use of RSS readers as provided by web portals such as Yahoo is to create a customized newspaper….the unix pipe of the internet.  Interesting that RSS is mentioned positively here and negatively in Information Anxiety 2, Wurman.

P365.9 The internet is like alcohol…it accentuates what you would do anyway.  If you want to be a loner, you can be more alone.  If you want to connect, it makes it easier to connect. Esther Dyson

P371.2 …challenge of keeping current information in anticipation of a future need like throwing a ball into the future toward an anticipated need…our throw must be aimed at time place, relevant information device, organization and form.

P395.4 Teaching and learning PIM…In a world where success at school, work and all aspects of life depends critically on an ability to manage information effectively, is it time to think of teaching PIM as a basic skill (in much the same way we talk about teaching the “three Rs” or reading writing and arithmetic?


June 30, 2008 at 1:33 pm 2 comments

Keep it short and sweet

Every time we use Google we make it more intelligent.  But do we, individually, become more intelligent, or less so ? 

We are affected by our technologies.   With a hammer, everything is a nail.  Our tools change the ways we think and talk.  “Steaming mad” and “under pressure” recall the days of the steam engine .  Today we describe the brain, and even the universe, as computers . 

As we move from books to Google, the way we read and retrieve information is affected.  A book suggests objectivity and permanence, while a web page emphasizes speed and disposability.  Why memorize anything when you can Google it (again and again) and power-browse in the search for the right information.   

Concerns about the effect of a new technology on human thinking are not new.  Over 2400 years ago, Socrates complained “[writing] is a remedy for reminding, not remembering… with the appearance but not the reality of wisdom. Future generations will hear much without being properly taught, and will appear wise but not be so, making them difficult to get along with.”   

Today, any one of us plus Google knows more than the smartest of us did 50 years ago. We’re not necessarily smarter, but we certainly know more . 

We don’t lack for information. Today our scarce resource is attention.  Maybe we tend to ‘sample’ more than we used to and forego a deep understanding in a niche area for a shallow understanding over a broad sweep of topics?  If we’re not asking the questions, our kids will: do you really need to remember anything, or can you just quote the snippets from a Google search?  And who will know the difference?  

As our information environment evolves, it’s unlikely that we’ll stop using Google and turn our computers off.  So what to do?  Adapt .  As we publish information, more than ever we have to think about our audience and how they’ll be discovering, accessing, and reading our work. 

Careful attention to subject lines, titles, keywords, and names will make our published content easy to find through searching or browsing.  Concise content and generic formats like text files will aid readability. 

Writing itself is redundant, and usually cntns mr infrmtn thn u nd to dciphr t .  Neo-style guides for writing more effectively abound, and recommendations to “delete half the words and half of what’s left” are more evidence that keeping it short and sweet will encourage people to listen to your message.

June 24, 2008 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

The Big Switch, by Carr

An insightful book pointing out the similarities and differences between today’s increasingly wired world, as in the Internet, the Web, and computing power and yesteryear’s increasingly wired world, as in electricity, and means of production and distribution.  Pointing out the evolution to electricity as a utility, Carr makes the analogous prediction for ‘computing power.’  And his arguments are persuasive.

I was reminded near the end of the book of the caustic “Cult of the Amateur.”  Carr’s arguments touch on many of the same points, but are no where near as irritating to listen to as Keen’s.

P21 a list of web 2.0 familiars: MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Photobucket, World of Warcraft, Disney’s Club Penguin, YouTube, Joost, WordPress, Google Docs, Rojo, Bloglines…virtual hard drives: omnidrive and box.

P34  …when William the Conqueror surveyed England in 1066 for his Domesday book….?  What’s that?

P68 Software as a service making inroads into corporations…

P70…with SAAS like…they wouldn’t have to buy software licenses or maintenance contracts, or invest in new servers or other equipment, they wouldn’t have to hire consultants to integrate their systems.  Their marketers and salespeople could simply launch their web browsers, click over to the site and start working.  All the software code and all their data resided on Salesforce’s computers.  And when the program needed to be upgraded, the new version simply appeared….

P71 Other corporate software as SAAS:  CRM: RightNow Technologies; Managing personnel: Employease; Transporation: LeanLogistics; Business Intelligence: Oco; Banking services: Digital Insight; Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): Workday, NetSuite,,,,

P72 SAAS sales are booming and will by 2011 account for 25 percent of the business software market.

P94  The shift in skilled employment away form tradesmen and toward what would come to be known as “knowledge workers”…increased the workforce’s educational requirements.  Learning the three R’s in grammar school was no longer enough.  Children needed further and more specialized education to prepare them for the new white-collar jobs….  This sounds like our ‘information literacy’ discussions.

P99  With the advent of the electric iron, ironing was easier, but that led to the expectation that everything was ironed – so it actually increased the amount of ironing being done.   “While women didn’t have to work as hard to do their ironing, they had to do more of it, more often, and with more precision. “  Another case of “now that you can, you are expected to.” 

P118  As utility computing advanced, companies will have to make decisions about what to hold onto and what to turn over to utilities.  Smaller companies will have strong economic incentives to embrace the full utility model, most larger companies will need to carefully balance their past investments in in-house computing with the benefits provided by utilities.  They can be expected to pursue a hybrid approach for many years… In the long run, the IT department is unlikely to survive, at least not in its familiar form….  Business units and even individual employees will be able to control the processing of information directly, without the need for legions of technical specialists.

P120 online picture fixing: Phixr

P142  As user-generated content continues to be commercialized, it seems likely that the largest threat posed by social production….will be to individual professionals – to the journalists, editors, photographers, …and he other information workers who can be replaced…why pay a professional to do something that an amateur is happy to do for free?

P155  As newspapers on online and stories are ‘unbundled’ from each other, journalists will be paid for stories that attract ad clickthroughs, skewing the topics of research toward the sensationalistic.,,,

P157 Online media enthusiasts often point out that we’ll be able to purchase just those things of interest rather than all the other junk that used to be bundled with it.  But the detritus that ends up being culled from our culture may include products that many of us would define as ‘the good stuff.’  What’s sacrificed may not be blandness but quality….the culture of abundance being produced by the World Wide Computer is really just a culture of mediocrity – many miles wide but only a fraction of an inch deep.

P192 Even as the World Wide Computer grants us new opportunities and tools for self-expression and self-fulfillment, it is also given others an unprecedented ability to influence how we think and what we do, to funnel our attention and actions toward their own ends.  The technology’s ultimate social and personal consequences will be determined in large measure y how the tension between the two sides of its nature – liberating and controlling – comes to be resolved.

P208  BitTorrent is now the BitTorrent Entertainment Network?  Wow.

P209 we accept greater control (over us, our information, and our actions) in return for greater convenience.

P216 A 2004 Microsoft patent for transmitting power and data using the human body; a bus that can be used to connect “a network of devices coupled to a single body…can be extended by connoting multiple bodies through physical contact [such as] a handshake.  When two or more bodies are connected physically, the linked bodies form one large bus over which power and/or communications signals can be transmitted….

This reminds me of the drummers in the Diamond Age.


Matthew 20: 17 “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst”

P218 Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service….  A program passes a task to a human to provide the required (as of today) intelligence… like in the Diamond Age again.

P219 220 When we use Google search, our contribution to its intelligence is made unconsciously.  Every link on the web contains a little bit of intelligence; all the links contain a great deal of intelligence….systematically exploits human knowledge and decisions about what is significant.  Every time we write a link or even click on one, we are making the machine a little smarter….  As the computing cloud grows, as it becomes ubiquitous, we will feed ever more intelligence into it.  The transfer of our intelligence into the machine will happen, in other words, whether or not we allow chips or sockets to be embedded in our skulls.

P226  As we put ever more intelligence into the web, will we, individually, become more intelligent, or less so….?  Kevin Kelly: what will surprise us is how dependant we will be on what the Machine knows….We already find it easier to Google something a second or third time rather than remember it ourselves….it will become our memory…when divorced from the Machine [people] won’t feel like themselves – as if they’d have a lobotomy…. [like Manfred Macx in Accelerando by Stross, when he loses his specs, his link to the web].  Kelly: the submergence of our minds and our selves into a greater intelligence will mark the fulfillment of our destiny…  Kaczynski, the unabomber: As machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more of their decisions for them.…also, “Why the Future Doesn’t need us,” by Joy.

P233  All technological change is generational change.  The full power and consequences of a new technology are unleashed only when those who have grown up with it become adults and begin to push their outdated parents to the margins.  As the older generations die, they take with them their knowledge of what was lost when the new technology arrived, and only the sense of what was gained remains.  It’s in this way the progress covers its tracks, perpetually refreshing the illusion that where we are is where we were meant to be….Prensky’s digital natives and immigrants.

P241 In the Notes “SaaS delivery challenges on-premise software” Desisto, et. al. 

The Notes section was never referenced in the text, say through footnotes.  Sort of irritating to come across it now.

YouOS using Amazon web services…



June 5, 2008 at 1:09 pm 1 comment

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