Posts filed under ‘KM’

Computer-mediated intellectual activities and CoPs

From Technology Review July/August 2008 – Matt Mahoney

Robert Fano knew that the true power of computing lay in its ability to connect people.
In 1970, MIT Ford Professor of Engineering Robert Fano wrote an essay for Technology Review called “Computers in Human Society–For Good or Ill?”

He believed that the computer’s potential lay not in its computational power but in its ability to foster “intellectual communication” and collaboration. (His insight proved true not just for intellectual communication for but every other kind, too.

“Very quickly, [the network] became the storage of knowledge of the community. It was an amazing phenomenon.” The network could, as Fano explained in his essay, become a reservoir for all kinds of research, one accessible to many users.

Intellectual activities have an important common feature–their cooperative nature. One man builds upon the work of others, or he uses data generated by the activities of others, or his own activities generate data which will be used by others. In other words, interaction between people is fundamental to intellectual activities. Thus, if a computer system is to assist people in their intellectual activities, it must facilitate intellectual communication among them.”

I can see a ‘software-first’ pitfall here: you can’t install software and expect the intellectual activities to begin. I think computer-mediated collaborative intellectual pursuits occur where people are already engaged in intellectual pursuits.

A related, a sort of discouraging article in KMworld sort of suggests that premise.

Beginning with the promising title “Building CoPs for knowledge flow” by Dave Snowden [where CoPs stands for Communities of practice – they’re not talking about Robocop turned librarian] he points out that Wenger‘s work with communities of practice are hard to implement in practice, suggesting that CoPs work great in theory, yet those communities Wenger studied had occurred naturally, they hadn’t perhaps followed a recipe book to create them…. as a business might ‘implement’ them.

Snowden suggests a bottom-up rather than top-down route. Rather than a corporate initiative, then, you should bubble CoPs up from below.

He starts by suggesting blogs to do this.

I think blogs are a great way to keep a corporation up to date on projects and initiatives, for example, but I don’t see how a bunch of blogs, each with their own unique voice, encourages community. I guess people would read each others blogs, link between them, comment on each other’s blogs… But who’s got time to follow the link trails as well as type out a post a day…. I guess I don’t really ‘get’ blogs yet.

He continues, suggesting some other things – not just blogs – like document repositories, teaching people how to link to the repository, search engines, helping people move from email attachments to centralized systems… All good things, I suppose, to enable better information retrieval, but I don’t see how it fosters community yet.

The paragraph that sort of bothered me: “Before you know it, you’ll have a searchable, and connected knowledge management system, which adapts quickly to changing context in a way that formal communities never can. If you introduce wikis and change some e-mail behavior, you will have a sustainable KM program.”

So KM = blogs, document control, training, search, and wikis. [see Mr. Snowden’s comments below]

I guess these are all important for information retrieval, and all would enable KM. Of course, technology is important in a KM effort. Even though KM does not equal technology it is an important part of managing our information-overloaded environment.

However, I think communities are enabled by have a spot to put things, but I don’t see the spot to put things as defining the community.

Perhaps things are different with a community covering a large geographical scope where face-to-face community meetings would be difficult.

It’s worth checking out Wenger’s site… And in “Knowledge management as a doughnut:Shaping your knowledge strategy through. communities of practice” he points out that communities of practice are a critical part of knowledge management and KM is the responsibility of those who actually use the knowledge in their activities.

Another practical description of CoPs is available here: Keys to Successful Communities of Practice (Networks)


July 18, 2008 at 2:25 pm 2 comments

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

Collaboration and Wiki as a Tool

Making Agility an Ability,” Alan Alter

The article with this unfortunate buzzword bingo title appeared in Innovations in 2007, and discussed collaboration and wiki as a tool.

 What makes collaboration tools effective? 

  • Full-time team leaders that spend time communicating with each member individually
  • Teams of big-picture, enterprise-level thinkers who have excellent local knowledge
  • Team members need to be rewarded for their work for the teams, and the intellectual capital they contribute to the enterprise
  • Three technologies that  teams found most valuable were instant messaging, audio conferencing, and repositories for content capture and display
  • Collaboration norms and procedures (aka a Network Use Strategy):
    • No one-to-one e-mails among team members, because then it’s not in the repository (electronic means of collecting knowledge, processes and lessons-learned), and some people see it while others don’t.
    • Use the repository and don’t have one-on-one conversations.
    • Check the repository once a day,
    • Leave information on how you can be reached.
    • Regular audio conferences described as the lifeblood of the team. They are held as frequently as once a week, and all team members are mandated to attend.  Videoconferencing was expensive, disruptive, and distracting. With audio conferences, people could take the call from their home at 11 p.m., rather than [going] to the office for a videoconference.

Wikis were suggested as a useful tool

  • Wiki technology is helpful, browser-based, fast, and simple. Wikis are open, anyone can modify their content and structure, and all content is open for review.
  • It’s okay to change other people’s work
  • Do work on the wiki.
  • Have a very active champion and sponsor
  • Do it on the wiki, look it up on the wiki, don’t send me e-mail, put it on the wiki.
  •  “Wabisabi” a Japanese word, “the beauty of imperfection,” keep the wiki simple, and not too perfect and final looking, because potential authors may feel threatened by a wiki that looks too professional.
  • Integrate the wiki into the work process, rather than just serving as a knowledge repository, and it will probably survive.


Other resources were mentioned:

 “The Wiki in your Company: Lessons for collaborative knowledge management” Majchrzak.  Google ‘Ann Majchrzak wiki’ for corporate wiki wisdom, for example, Factors The Improve Wiki Success: Alignment of Goals, A Culture of Collaboration, Community Custodianship, Clearly Defined Rules for Posting Content, Monitoring User Behavior

January 23, 2008 at 10:32 am Leave a comment

Wikis at work

As opposed to a previous post on the successful corporate wiki….  here are a few real examples, and some suggestions for making a wiki work within a corporate environment:

The November 26, 2007 eWeek cover story, entitled Wikis at Work, describes the implementation of wikis in a corporate environment and offers comments and tips for better wiki deployment.

  • User participation is difficult to gauge
  • Users may view wikis as yet another application that IT is pushing them to learn— that’s going to interfere with e-mail, voice mail, meetings, and to-do lists
  • A wiki succeeds when enough individuals are involved with the wiki that other users want to contribute and be involved
  • Define how users might want to use the wiki before allowing live content to be published
  • Just building a wiki won’t necessarily attract participation. A core group of active users needs to be pulled together to form the community supporting the wiki.
  • Soliciting contributions will work only if users find the wiki environment easy to work in…use a wiki that incorporates a WYSIWYG editor
  • Directory integration is important so users don’t need additional credentials for wiki access

I couldn’t find the list online, but here are a few of the 25 tips for a better wiki deployment:

  • Only 10 percent of wiki contributions might be valuable
  • Find at least one wiki champion
  • Just do it.  Wikis are cheap; failure is a cheap option
  • Keep the information organization simple; overstructuring makes it hard and intimidating to add new content. 
  • Invite users to start participating through commenting on the content
  • Create navigational pages to guide browsing across the wiki – support for a dynamic approach is suggested
  • Remind users to use the wiki search
  • Single all-encompassing wikis seldom work in the enterprise, concepts of spaces or projects are almost always required
  • Start a wiki with those who have a need for it; forcing use is a bad idea

About a year ago, eWeek had another article called Wikis are Alive and Kicking in the Enterprise which discussed Motorola’s use of wikis…. 

  • “Motorola’s collaboration infrastructure contains 17TB of searchable data.”
  • 250 part-time volunteer “knowledge champions” who take responsibility for different subject areas in the Open Text collaboration infrastructure. The group meets biweekly to set governing processes.
  • “Part of the culture is to look up documents. People say, ‘Go look in the wikis.'”
  • some people feel comfortable with the idea that their work is edited by others. Others feel reluctant to add or make changes.
  • An obstacle to wiki adoption is a corporate culture that doesn’t encourage people to change other people’s work.
  • Wikis are not well-suited to some uses.  e-mail might be appropriate for communication with a broad group of employees.  Real-time communication is best done by instant messaging or by telephone.  Direct person-to-person interaction should never be abandoned.

Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN) from the American Chemical Society has frequently mentioned “web 2.0 tools” like wikis, blogs, RSS, and social bookmarking over the past year. In some cases, the context is academic labs and educational uses, but there have been articles about companies using some of these technologies. For example, “Seeing the Forest at Pfizer,” September 3, 2007, is an article about “knowledge engineering,” the development of shared research tools: a wiki (MediaWiki) internally dubbed Pfizerpedia.  The approach:  ‘…post some internal Pfizer content, “turn it on, and see what happens.”‘  Other points:

  • Wiki “curators” minimally administer the site and remove inappropriate entries
  • The  wiki approach affords a much more comprehensive view than blogs or discussion groups… it can…serve as a guide to relevant blogs or discussion groups within Pfizer
  • The wiki provides a way to get information [as well] as a means of promoting personal or team projects
  • The wiki has shown that there is… interest among researchers in sharing information, “a pent-up need to share information.”

A podcast, “How to Start a Wiki” at Buzz Marketing for Technologyhad some good points….  One I can remember suggested starting the wiki with a core group of content editors and let them work for a while.  Then allow these folks to invite another group of content editors, for example, give them five invitations to hand out.  This way you can sort of force-feed the wiki with active users before you roll it out to a community at large.  The goal is to avoid a wiki ghost town as described in Why It’s Not a Wiki World (Yet):  “an individual may want to start a wiki, but if that wiki has no contributors, it may not be very useful.”


November 28, 2007 at 4:57 pm Leave a comment

KM and Organizing Information

A post at Thinking Faster, Organizing Information, describes a real-world example of “doing KM.” A group discusses where to store stuff and how to organize it.  

Fancy software and technology might enable KM, but these sorts of decisions, what I’ve called a “Network-use Strategy” (i.e. “How we agree to use the network”) is a critical piece of KM, in my opinion. 

Why?  To make it easier to find and share information.  How?  By agreeing on a set of guidelines and publishing processes to define where to stick stuff and how to organize it so it’s easy to find again, “….Rather than each person creating and managing their own filing structure… ”

The post continues, asking questions that calls to mind Glut, Everything is Miscellaneous, and Information Anxiety 2, and Sorting Things Out, etc.: sure organization is great, but how?  Folders, context, client, timeframe,  “…Depending on your perspective of the data, any one of these could be an important and valuable first cut at the data.  ” 

A traditional ‘folders within subfolders’ approach might be too constrained here.  As in Sorting Things Out, a top-down “standardized file structure based on a ‘taxonomy’ designed by ‘senior leaders within our team’ ” will be subverted, and the ‘miscellaneous’ folder will grow. 

 Would a faceted (or colon) classification ala Ranganathan work better here?  Or would a style folksonomy allow a self-evolving taxonomy to bubble up.  And how to implement anything in a practical way, i.e. like, really do it rather than just talk about it?

Microsoft’s SharePoint ends up providing a pretty flexible way to both create a structured (folder-like) hierarchical system alongside a flexible metadata scheme.  You end up with a Windows Explorer like view for the most part, but you can continue to add metadata columns to your heart’s content.  These metadata fields can contain free-text ‘tags’ or they might ask you to choose from several predefined keywords.  Once the library contains a load of files, you can slice, dice, organize, filter, present and view based on all this associated metadata.

Making a group decision about which folder that PowerPoint presentation should go in – you can start to hear the frustration in the Thinking Faster post – can be really tough. 

As Weinberger says in Everything is Miscellaneous: “The solution to the overabundance of information is more information.  Add metadata to help categorization.” and “Instead of everything having its place, it’s better if things can get assigned multiple places simultaneously.”  There are probably many ways to do this, but SharePoint is looking pretty useful right now.  Couple this with SharePoint Search and things are looking pretty sweet.

August 28, 2007 at 3:24 pm Leave a comment

Some things from Everything is Miscellaneous by Weinberger

Some things from Everything is Miscellaneous by Weinberger.

I found this to be both a good read and a frustrating read.  A few years ago I read Small Pieces Loosely Joined and really enjoyed it.  It was a bibliography of sorts, and it lead to many other interesting books.  Reading Miscellaneous, it seems I’ve read all the books Weinberger refers to already and more, and I found myself pleased to see some good overview and aggregation, yet disappointed when certain texts did not appear or they were present only in the unfootnoted! note section at the back of the book.

The theme of the book reminds me of my comments about finding the raisins at the grocery store.  There are dramatic effects on ‘organization’ when information and things go from physical entities to digital bits.  This is beginning to affect how we think about information, things, and the world.  Also as Kurzweil suggests “everything – including physical products, once nanotechnology-based manufacturing becomes a reality in about twenty years – is becoming information.” 

P5 Information is easy.  Space, time, and atoms are hard.

In physical space, some things are nearer than others.
Physical objects can be only in one spot at any one time.
Physical space is shared.
Human physical abilities are limited.
The organization of the store needs to be orderly and neat.

P13 The solution to the overabundance of information is more information.  Add metadata to help catagorization.

P14 The digital world thereby allows us to transcend the most fundamental rule of ordering the real world: Instead of everything having its place, it’s better if things can get assigned multiple places simultaneously.

P18 the first order of order is organization of the things themselves, e.g. silverware in drawers.  Second order of order might be a card catalog, separation information about the first order objects from the objects themselves. 

P19 the problem with the first two orders of order goes back to the fact that they arrange atoms.  Atoms take up room; atoms tend to be unstable over time.  But now we have bits, this is the third order of order and it removes the limitations we’ve assumed were inevitable in how we organize information.

P22 We have entire industries and institutions built on the fact that paper order severely limits how things can be organized.  Museums, educational curricula, newspapers…  are all based on the assumption that in the second-order world we need experts  to go through information, ideas, and knowledge and put them neatly away.  But now we can route around the second order.  It is changing how we think the world itself is organized and …who we think has the authority to tell us so.

P26 Precisely because alphabetical order is unnatural and arbitrary, it took a long time to be accepted.  He walks through examples of alphabetical lists and criticisms thereof through history.  Alphabetization had trouble taking root not just because it’s conceptually confusing – space, time and atoms conspire to make it hard to alphabetize information that is not yet complete.  You end up leaving blank space for additional items.

P31 In the third order of order though, ideas become unglued….other scholars shelve them differently, as may anyone who enters a bookstore to browse.  In the digital order, all shelvings are provisional.

P32 Plato in Phaedrus talks about reality having natural joints and compares knowing the world with butchering an animal: A skilled thinker, like someone skilled at carving the drumsticks off a turkey, has to know where the joints are.  Arbitrary organizational schemes such as alphabetization make a virtue out of ignoring the joints.  Ian Hacking: The Social Construction of What?  …even reality [is] an invention, an arbitrary [way] of carving up the turkey.  Also mentioned in Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things by Lakoff.

P34 Drawing lines has real consequences, and… elites use arbitrary lines to stay in power. …  [I am reminded of Sorting Things Out again: P 137 The material culture of bureaucracy and empire is not found in pomp and circumstance, nor even in the first instance at the point of a gun, but rather at the point of a list.] Western history began with the ancient Greek belief that not only must the world have joints, but if knowledge is to exist, humans have to be capable of discerning them….  Knowledge is what happens when the joints of our ideas are the same as the joints of nature.  Further, order is beauty…

P42 “envisions a remedy to the flaws in conventional periodic tables by illustrating hydrogen’s ambiguous relationship to the noble gases and halogens while recognizing its relationship to the alkali metals; it also fully integrates the lanthanons and actinons into the design.”

P45 Umberto Eco says, there are many ways to carve a cow but none of them include serving a segment that features the snout connected to the tail.

P52 Speaking of Dewey and the decimal system.  Speaks of the “Memory palace a mnemonic device that dates back to Cicero recalling every victim crushed in a collapsed building (Yates – Art of Memory)

P65 The secret life of lists (to contrast with the Social Life of Information?)  Find Borges “The analytical Language of John Wilkins.”  A list is our most basic way of ordering ideas.

Every list has at least one thing in common; each list is about something.  A list is complied for some reason.  Headings are information about the information that follows; that is they’re metadata.  There are rules for listing metadata, just as there are for listing items. The metadata should be differentiated in appearance, perhaps underlined and capitalized, perhaps written in a different color.  The items have to be laid out to make clear their relationship to the headline, usually by writing them beneath their heading.  This distinctive formatting reveals nesting, one of the most powerful ways of organizing ideas.

P68 Nesting is a fundamental technique of human understanding.  It may even be the fundamental technique, at least at its most primitive form: lumping and splitting.  In the case of a map, a boundary splits off some unit of land and lumps together what’s within the boundary.  Aristotle: metaphysics.  Plato – items we encounter in real life are but poor sketches of the perfect version of each, Plato’s forms.  This sounds like the invariant representations’ in On Intelligence, by Hawkins.

Aristotelian trees…come with assumptions embedded so deep in our tradition of thought that they look like common sense: A well constructed tree gives each thing a place.  If too many items don’t have places and thus have to be shoved into the miscellaneous category (which can be a very informative category to people researching classification systems, Bowker and Starr) then the tree isn’t doing its job.  2. Each thing gets only one spot.  No one category should be too big or too small.  It should be obvious what the defining principle of each category is.

P 71 The passion with which we dispute the details of the trees we’ve constructed demonstrates that we believe, along with Aristotle, that some trees reflect the neat, clean, comprehensive, knowable branching structure of reality itself.  All along, though, our knowledge of the world has assumed the shape of a tree, because that knowledge has been shackled to the physical.  Now that the digitization of information is allowing us to go beyond the physical…the shape of our information is changing.

P77 Nested order not on paper?  [What shape would nested order take if it were not on paper? I don’t remember the context of this note]  Linnaeus’ organization took the shape it did in part because he constructed it out of paper.

P87 Sidetracked home executive.

P100 Ideas about traditional knowledge:

  1. There is one reality the same for all – if two people have contradictory ideas about something factual they can’t both be right [how about one person?].
  2. Reality is not ambiguous, so neither is knowledge.  If something isn’t clear, we just haven’t understood it.
  3. Because knowledge is as big as reality, no one person can comprehend it.  We need people who will act as filters, using their educational experience and clear thinking…to keep bad information away from us and provide us with the very best information
  4. Experts achieve their position by working their way up through social institutions….which groups get funded can determine what a society believes, and funding is often granted by people who know less than the experts.

P102 Four new strategic principles are emerging

  1. filter on the way out, not on the way in…in the third order of order where there’s an abundance of access to an abundance of resources, filtering on the way in decrease the value of that abundance by ruling out items that might be of great value to a few people.  Think long-tail. …take the editorialization out of the peer review process.
  2. Put each leaf on as many branches as possible.  In the real word a leaf can hang from only one branch.
  3. Everything is metadata and everything can be a label. Think Amazon.  Everything is connected and everything is metadata.  The only distinction between metadata and data is that metadata is what you already know and data is what you’re trying to find out.
  4. Give up control.  No one person or group is going to be able to organize, a big pile of miscellaneous information] in all the useful ways.  Let users mix it up for themselves.  The owners of information no longer own the organization of that information,

P134 propsmart , zillow, (next-generation, independent real estate search engines)

P143 Social knowers, speaking of Wikipedia the knowing happened not in one’s brain but in their conversation.  The knowledge exists between the contributors.  Social knowing changes who does the knowing and how, more than it changes the what of knowledge. 

P144 in current-day education knowing is something done by individuals.  It is something that happens inside your brain.  Knowledge could not get any less social.  In fact in those circumstanced when knowledge is social we call it cheating.  Our children are doing their homework socially even though they’re being graded and tested as if they’re doing their work in isolation booths.  Ut in the digital order, their approach is appropriate: Memorizing facts is often now a skill more relevant to quiz shows that to life (I made this same point awhile ago, students should be rewarded for the cut-n-paste).

P157, gmif, 

P160 Michael Polanyi tacit knowledge.  KM systems have done best when they’ve worked quietly, gathering the knowledge generated implicitly in the course of work, organizing emails into webs of information, including who is an expert based on seeing who’s responding most frequently on in-house chats, and building libraries out of the links people send each other.

P165 tags capture only a few bits of information.  Therein lies a paradox of the digital order.  As we pull the leaves from the trees and make a pile of the miscellaneous, we free the leaves from their implicit context.  Thomas Van der Wal folksonomy.

P166 Morville, Ambient Findability says the inability of folksonomies to handle equivalence hierarchy and other semantic relationships cause them to fail miserably at any significant scale.  P168 so Morville may have it backward: tags may become more useful, meaningful, relevant, and clearer the more there are.  I think he truncated Morville’s discussion….  Yes he did.  Morville had more to say:

 p.138,9 Folksonomies flourish in the cornucopia of the commons without noticeable cost….They are an amazing tool for trendspotting…not bad for bookmarking and keeping found things found, but when it comes to findability their inability to handle equivalences, hierarchy, and other semantic relationships causes them to fail miserably at any significant scale.  [But] ontologies, taxonomies, and folkonomies are not mutually exclusive…a hybrid metadata ecology that combines elements of each may be ideal. 

p. 140,141 References Stewart Brand and Pace Layering in buildings as conceptually similar to this discussion of metadata.  Taxonomies and ontologies provide the solid semantic network that connects interface to infrastructure.  And the fast-moving…folksonomies sit on top: flexible, adaptable, and responsive to user feedback.

P 173 as we straighten out first and second order messes we feel better because we’re restoring situations to the way they ought to be. …touches a sense of propriety that is deeper – or perhaps just older- than our need to tidy up.  In restoring order we are making the world habitable, fit for humans.  Messiness is a disruption.  Orderliness is the way things are supposed to be.  It is the eleventh commandment, the one that caused the other ten to arrange themselves in neat lines on two symmetric halves of the tablet.

There are practical benefits to being well-ordered.  A library card-catalog dumped on the floor is of no value.  Arranging the cards in neat alphabetical order by author, title, and subject and now you can find the books you’re looking for,,.,  Organizing things neatly in the first two orders of order requires us to make those sorts of decisions….the third order…is a mess from the git-go.

Levy made similar comments in Scrolling Forward.

P177  Messiness has always been with us  – think of Scrolling Forward and Levy’s discussion of keeping chaos at bay.  But our culture has not only struggled against it, it has measure progress by how thoroughly it has tamed it.

P185 speaking of prototype concepts.  Rosch and psychology.  The task of categorization systems is to provide maximum information with the least cognitive effort….most, if not all, categories do not have clear-cut boundaries.  Prototypes [are] culturally relative.  I.e. Political (think of Sorting Things Out).  Invariant representations from On Intelligence.

P 190 links hyperlinks, Berners-Lee….and finally mentions Vannevar Bush.  Suppose all the information stored on computers everywhere were linked.

P195 semantic web sites. 

P193 Something can be 73 percent in a category – Schachter

200 mentions Umberto Eco again – same quote.  Is knowledge being fragmented?  Are we being fragmented along with it?  I think it’s odd that he used this quote again.  Fragmented?  It could be that this book was written as fragmented blog posts that were pasted together.  So yes.

P201 mentions Linked, by Barabasi

P211 Stephen Wolfram one of the creators of complexity theory even thinks phenomena from smoke billowing to galaxies spawning can be explained by a handful of simple formulas.  The Singularity is Near.

P215  Since the commoditization of knowledge includes its easy accessibility, business loses one of its traditional assets.  Information may not want to be free, in Stewart Brand’s memorable phrase, but is sure wants to be dirt cheap.

P217 arXiv preprint server?

P222 Imagining electronic books:  every time a student highlights or annotates a page that information will be used to enhance the public metadata about the book.  Even how long it takes people to get through pages or how often they go back to particular pages will enrich our third-order world, reading will cease to be a one-way activity.  It will become as social as the knowledge….all that metadata, and every use of metadata will enrich the context within which we make sense of what we read and learn.

P224 Now that information is being commoditized it has more value if its set free into the miscellaneous.

P233 To a collector of curios, the dust is metadata. Remember the Social Life of Information and the guy sniffing the envelopes. 

In The Social Life of Information, John Seely Brown, Duguid, is described an historian snorting ancient letters to see if they contained traces of vinegar which was used to try and prevent the spread of Cholera in order to chart the historic spread of the disease. 

[Also you might avoid buying the beer with dust on the shoulders of the bottle.]

As I read the book I was surprised there were no footnotes or references.  Then I hit the notes at the back!  Each chapter had notes! And they were numbered.  Yet there were no numbers in the text at all.  You could look back to see what he references at which point but this is completely bass-ackwards.  Annotation of this text ala John Dee would be great, but I have to return the book today!  Including the approach to notes of using pages numbers at the top would be great.  Notes for pages x-y, for y-z, etc.

I am feeling more and more guilty about dog-earing the books, but I don’t know what else to do – I won’t use those bookdarts and paper falls out, and I need a non fall-out-able way to annotate.  Pencil and paper next to … pencil?

Not specifically mentioned in Weinberger’s book is the difference between bookstores, and libraries, and Amazon.   Why are there never (rarely – Borders had one) public terminals where I can conduct my own search through the bookstores stock?  Libraries excel here.  Not only are books ordered much better, but I can look up exactly what I’m looking for and then go find it on the shelf. I can also browse topic areas.  I get incredibly frustrated at Barnes and Noble trying to a specific book.  On Amazon I will find it within thirty seconds.  The difference of course, is that I have to wait for Amazon to ship it to me, while I can walk out of Barnes and Noble with the book in hand.  Printing on demand would be cool, but I don’t want to fry my printer that way.  E-books?  I haven’t evolved yet.

July 16, 2007 at 1:34 pm 2 comments

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