[informationflow] Testing Message

  • From: Ramana Rao <ramanar@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: informationflow@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 18 Jun 2006 11:42:41 -0700

~~      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.

>> 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.

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