~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~ INFORMATION FLOW #1 ~~~ Ramana Rao ~~~ rao@xxxxxxxxxxx ~~ ~The Technology, Design, and Business of Making Information Make Sense ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Years ago, John Seeley Brown, former head of Xerox PARC, would hurl at audiences the challenge: Is it really Information Overload we are suffering from? Or is it Information Underload? Since then, I've only seen a million diagrams showing the supposed hierarchy: Data --> Information --> Knowledge --> Wisdom. In these frameworks, often Knowledge means actionable Information, something like, the right information at the right time and place to support some decision or action. So let me update John's insight:
"Are we suffering from Information Overload or Knowledge Underload?"
-- John Seeley Brown
~~~ IN THIS ISSUE ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
* Whence and Why Information Flow? * Why Now for Enterprise Categorization? * What are the interesting questions? * Internet Links
~~~ Whence and Why Information Flow ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Certain things I've been saying for years feel awfully tired to me by now. Yet there remains the undeniable disappointment that many of these thoughts really aren't widely appreciated yet.
Perhaps the only intended use of the Web was to access information in support of knowledge work. Yet, there has been no adoption of fundamental innovations for end user interaction with information that would really take us to the next level. In fact, it has mainly been a process of getting back to where user interfaces were before we regressed to the simplistic "page" model of Web browsers in exchange for access to a much richer variety of networked services. (A pragmatic deal that I wouldn't deny.)
The systems we use to find, understand, and use information often impede our tasks and create overheads that are unrelated to our actual end goals. Of course, it overstates the case to say that you can't use the current Internet to find and apply information. In fact, a whole new generation seems to do just fine. Kind of.
Yet, things could be a lot better for users. For all the magic powers of computation, our current electronic workspaces and tools feel quite pale at times against the rich physical world. We continue to celebrate aspects of the library, the office, the kitchen table, paper and books, and meeting room surfaces. How can we achieve the same richness in our electronic workspaces and tools?
A design stance I like is to look at how things are without introducing new technology, which really turns out to be a "Same As It Ever Was" stance. Certainly technology can change the system, but often in the race for the new way, we lose sight of natural realities. Unlike with the social laws *of* humanity, you can not violate natural laws *about* humanity. You can go 100 miles an hour, but you can't hit the brakes in less than 100 milliseconds. We must design around what we were before we were born, around what will always be true with or without the technology.
And this leads me to Information Flow as a good focal point for the quest toward rich interaction between humans and information.
Information flows across the various borders that define our social and individual realities: the borders between and within organizations, between producers and consumers, between representations in the world and in our head. Natural laws of representation, cognition, social behavior, and economics govern these flows and borders. Software systems can obstruct, divert, redirect or accelerate the flow of information and the flow of user experience in the quest toward understanding and acts based on it.
The focus on information flow really allows narrower questions about technology design and implementation to be placed into the context of broader questions about deployment and impact. Not just about specific techniques of information visualization or automated organization of text documents on the intranet, but also about an organization leveraging its content and knowledge and integrating information from public and commercial sources into its own particular worldview. Not just about shaving costs from the content production processes, but about finding new revenue streams by repurposing or contextualizing data, information, content, etc.
The only technologies and approaches for interacting with information that will ultimately get adopted are ones that respect the natural and stable laws of information flow and that are attuned to the realities of how information flows now. I look forward to exploring this space with many of you over the coming months ... and yes, I'm sure, years.
~~~ Why Now for Enterprise Categorization ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The pendulum of large company attention swings back and forth between the Intranet and the Internet. With the bubble burst, and return to the background 1994 level of paranoia about little creatures eating them in the night, the entrenched and stable dinosaurs return to their usual pace of "continuous" improvement. And hence it appears we are swinging back to the Intranet, with enterprises focusing on leveraging their proprietary content and getting the right information to the right person at the right time.
Now, the old first idea of "let's get a search engine" is becoming the first old idea. After years of Internet searching, people now get that search isn't enough. Then quite often people think, Yahoo!. Remember that one Yahoo! beat the 4 search engines that shared the privilege of paying $5,000,000 dollars each in 1995 to Netscape for placement. Sure Yahoo! won for several reasons, but I believe that their victory does have something to do with the end user appeal and value of a high-quality browseable directory.
So the second idea is gaining steam in the enterprise: make a directory for the Intranet. The hitch ... Yahoo! or the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal system or any of the really successful classification structure required humans. Can that be afforded just for the say 10-100k people on an Intranet? Certainly not in this period of cost-cutting. Especially, when among the first to go are in fact the very humans most likely by training and by disposition to provide the service of organizing informaiton for other humans. The Librarians, among the most under-appreciated of corporate denizens. This, to be continued in some other issue.
Enter "enterprise categorization" products. The promise: you build a tree of topics (called a taxonomy or a ontology) perhaps with discovery tools to help make you more productive and then this categorization engine will put all them documents into the moby tree. Check out the link to a survey article below.
~~~ What are the Interesting Questions? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
One of my standard crank comments about so-called business intelligence software, reports, charts, and search engines, is that they presume you know the question. I could probably find a dozen quotes some thing along the lines of: It's the question, not the answer. (A good toy tasks to test out your Super-Searcher skills.)
So what are the interesting questions? I have a list with ones I've been asking for a long time, and I'll start sharing them in the next issue. Meanwhile, I bet somebody out there has a way of asking or, even better something I would really celebrate, a completely different question that I would gladly substitute for one of mine.
*** I will pay for a great question! ***
Okay, a small payment. I will send you a copy of Understanding USA, a book by Richard Saul Wurman, in which I created the chapter on Ecology. Send me your questions or thoughts: mailto:rao@xxxxxxxxxxx
~~~ Internet Links ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Intelligent Enterprise: Taxonomies Put Content in Context This survey article outlines the key concepts of categorization. The approaches taken by different vendors along with customer case studies of a number of vendors are presented. http://www.transformmag.com/db_area/archs/2001/12/tfm0112f1.shtml
>> NEED TO ADD 2-3 Links <<<
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Copyright 2002 Ramana Rao. All rights reserved. Ramana Rao is Founder and CTO of Inxight Software. Reproduction of material from Information Flow without permission is prohibited.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Archived at: http://www.ramanarao.com/informationflow/archive/informationflow01.html
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