Dec 26 2008
Spacefem.com: Dewey Decimal System Meme. Some seasonal silliness!
Dec 26 2008
Spacefem.com: Dewey Decimal System Meme. Some seasonal silliness!
Dec 21 2008
Knowledge angels are not Christmas decorations 2.0 but are “those people in information industries who are the most expert, understand innovations in their sector and add the most value to a company” according to an article on Alphagalileo. The phrase is based on “business angels” and one of the researchers who coined it stated: “Other possible names, such as, for instance, ‘consulting wizards’, ’services magicians’, ‘knowledge-intensive demons’ or any further hybrid creatures resulting from the crossing of a management handbook and a magic trading cards, would sound less attractive.”
It will be interesting to see how long it takes for the phrase to start appearing on CVs!
Dec 16 2008
The National Centre for Text Mining is “the first publicly-funded text mining centre in the world”. It is an initiative of Manchester and Liverpool universities, working with the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Tokyo. They appear to be working mainly on biology texts at the moment, but I enjoyed the explanations of their techniques and processes, despite the technicality. There are links to events and seminars that are aimed at the scientific community but some would probably be of interest to more general semantic web enthusiasts.
Dec 14 2008
The Social Life of Information by John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid is an info classic. It’s one of those delightful books that manages to be very erudite, cover a huge range of theory, but reads effortlessly and even had me laughing out loud from time to time. (My favourite anecdote was that BT’s answer to homeworkers’ sense of isolation was to pipe a soundtrack of canned background noise and chatter into their offices!)
Essentially, the book argues that information and information technology cannot be separated from its social context and ignoring the human factors in technology adoption and use leads to fundamental misunderstandings of what it can and does do. This may mean overestimating the potential of information technology to change pre-existing institutions and practices, on both a personal and collective scale, and underestimating the ability of people to adapt technology to suit their ends rather than those envisaged by the technologists.
The authors argue that many “infoenthusiasts” miss subtleties of communication, such as the implicit social negotiations that take place in face-to-face conversations or the social meanings conveyed by a document printed on high quality paper or a book with expensive leather binding. Such nuances are easily lost when the words from such communications are removed from their original context and placed in a new environment - such as an electronic database.
Similarly, although personalisation is often touted as a great advance - you can have your own uniquley customised version of a website or a newspaper - such personalisation diminishes the power of the information source to act as a binding-point for a community. If we all have different versions of the newspaper, then we can’t assume we share common knowledge of the same stories. We then have to put additional work into reconnecting and recreating our knowledge communities, so the benefits of personalisation do not come without costs.
The importance of negotiation, collaboration, and improvisation is argued to be highly significant but extremely hard to build into automated systems. The social nature of language and the complexities of learning how to be a member of a community of practice, including knowing when to break or bend rules, are also essential to how human beings operate but extremely difficult to replicate in technological systems.
The theme of balance runs throughout the book - for example between the need to control processes while allowing freedom for innovation in companies or between the need for communication amongst companies and the need to protect intellectual property (knowledge in companies was often either seen as too “sticky” - hard to transfer and use - or too “leaky” - flowing too easily to competitors). At an institutional level, balance is needed between the importance of stability for building trust and openness to evolution (the perception of the value of a degree is bound up with the established reputation of an educational institution).
I found this very interesting, as my brother has been trying to persuade me that Daoism with its emphasis on things moving gradually from one state to another is a more productive way at looking at complex systems than the Aristotelian view that something can be in one category, or its opposite, but never both at once. (Here is a sisterly plug for an article he has written on the application of Daoist ideas to environmentalism). It also fits in with the idea of balancing the stability of an ordered taxonomy with the fast-flowing nature of folksonomies and of finding a way of using social media to support rather than compete with more formalised knowledge management practice. Brown and Duguid say: “For all the advantages of fluidity, we should not forget that fixity still has its charms. Most of us prefer the checks we receive and the contracts we write to remain stable”, which seems particularly apt given the global credit crisis!
Dec 08 2008
The Fractal Nature of Knowledge « Not Otherwise Categorized… is Seth Earley’s response to a question about whether we “need more categories” as knowledge becomes more specialised. He points out that “categories are only meaningful given a specific scale” and that the level of abstraction you need depends on the context.
The metaphor of the fractal nature of knowledge strikes me as quite a good one in this respect - a knowledge organisation system should allow you to pan out or zoom in to get different views, but obviously there are practical limits (Borges’s map of the empire that is the same size as the empire itself) so you have to make a selection - in both breadth and depth. Seth Earley notes that “Communities of Practice can coalesce around extremely arcane branches of knowledge” and they could well need a very “fine grain” that no-one else in their organisation would ever use.
He adds that “there is no ’standard’ way of organizing knowledge even for a specific process in a specific industry” and describes the way different organisations (businesses, libraries, universities) have different “knowledge consumers” and therefore different classification needs. He also argues that for businesses to gain maiximum value from their knowledge, they should find the “sweet spot” between chaos and control - allowing people to “self-organise” while contributing to the overall goals of the business.
Dec 04 2008
I went on Tuesday to Online 2008 at Olympia. It seemed quieter than last year, so I took advantage of some of the free presentations. I listened to Laurent Le Meur talking about Agence France-Presse (AFP)’s efforts to create a multimedia news database - (Imageforum), Graham Beastall of Soutron Ltd on Taxonomy Development using Sharepoint, Scott Gavin on Knowledge Plaza, and Judith Lewis of i-level on the Dark Side of Social Media.
Le Meur described the need to create a common metadata language to bring together journalists and photographers, who tended to think about subjects very differently. AFP use autocategorisation software (supplied by Temis) but have invested heavily in training it to work well, in other words lots of human input. They imported a number of existing vocabularies from such sources as GeoNames, EuroVoc, and the IPTC’s taxonomy of news categories as a base, selecting 300 of the IPTC’s 1,300 categories to improve software performance. They currently extract and autocategorise people, organisations, locations, points of interest, products, and brands. They would realy like to be able to pick out news events, but language usage is too broad and diffuse for them to have managed this with any success.
Their documentalists and indexers were initially reluctant to work with the new system as it meant a dramatic reduction in the complexity of their indexing work. Previously they could use some 3,000 terms but this was reduced in order to be compatible with the entity extraction software.
For images, they found the key facets were expressions (e.g. smiling), action, aspect (e.g. profile, close-up) and style (e.g. backlit). They are happy with the Antidot faceted navigation system that allows them to choose index fields, but have not been able to incorporate image rights, as they are too complex and vary according to things like location of the user.
Beastall said that users of Sharepoint are not fully exploiting it, with only 4% using it as a tool for search, while 43% use it for collaborative working. He warned that you need to impose discipline in categorisation right from the start of an implementation as once information has “grown wild” it is far harder to retrospectively tidy it up. He also pointed out that people tend to think they know where to find things, but then someone else has a site reorganisation, so if key information wasn’t well indexed, it can be lost.
There is also value in segmenting your information so that you have public areas separate from the main enterprise content management system. Such public areas can then be treated differently in terms of things like security and social working. An interesting take on the taxo/folkso synergy is to let people build their own sites, but to have a central team looking out for good candidates for inclusion in centralised systems, and to bring personal sites in when they are useful, amalgamating to remove duplicates, etc. He encouraged the use of folksonomies as a “fast track” to sit beside the core vocabularies and feed into them, as folksonomies are particularly useful for new and fast-moving areas, but not so good for long term management and control. He cited the websites contentandcode.com - a Microsoft solutions provider, The Information Architecture Institute, a useful article on taxonomies, thesauruses, etc., by metamodel, and the Sharepoint blog vitalskill.com.
Knowledge Plaza is a CMS [Scott Gavin has pointed out that it is actually more a Knowledge Management/Enterprise Search tool - see his comment] that allows a dual taxo/folkso approach, with options for a totally open folkso system, a managed folkso system, where users can use any tag they like, but an administrator effectively builds a thesuarus in the background to link synonyms and prompt future users with preferred terms, and a totally controlled vocabulary.
Social search seemed to be a buzzword this year, and Gavin talked about a function that allowed you to “use people as search engines” but as far as I could tell, this actually meant the system simply recorded everybody’s search results, websites visited, etc., and then allowed other people to run a search on specific people’s collections of information. [Actually, the system runs live Google searches on the websites particular people have looked at, as well as emails, documents, etc associated with them or that are tagged a particular way - see Scott’s comment for more details].
Lewis’s talk wasn’t a cultural critique of the effect of social media on humanity, but a useful practical guide to how to avoid breaking the law and causing damage to brand reputation by using social media badly. Essentially - don’t pose as a genuine customer when you are working for a company and don’t disguise advertisements by making them indistinguishable from articles (which can be a bit of a grey area). She also suggested that it was better to have one company blog and get lots of people to contribute to it to keep it moving, than have lots of company blogs that are hardly ever updated.