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~~ INFORMATION FLOW #1 ~~~ Ramana Rao ~~~ rao @ inxight.com ~~

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 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

How can we achieve the same richness in our electronic workspaces and
tools that many of our physical world equivalents have?

We continue to appreciate aspects of the library, the office, the
kitchen table, paper and books, and meeting room surfaces. For all
the magic powers of computation, our current electronic workspaces and
tools feel quite pale at times against the rich physical world. One
aspect of the paleness is "underload": we often don't get critical
"metadata" and "higher level features" about content, and are forced to
plough through things to see whether we are interested.

It makes sense, as most designers know by now, to look at how things
are before introducing anything new. 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.

And this leads me to Information Flow as a good focal point for the
quest toward rich interaction between humans and information. The
problem of underload at the level of the person contributes to the yet
larger problem of say, underflow, at the organizational or social

Information flows across the various borders that define our
individual and social realities: yes, the borders between
representations in the world and in our head, but also, those between
producers and consumers, and those among and within organizations.
Natural laws of representation, cognition, social behavior and
economics govern these flows and borders. Software systems or any
other introduced element 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 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 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 high-value private 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 understand
that search isn't enough. Then quite often people think, Yahoo!. Remember
that one Yahoo! beat the four 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. (Corporate portals didn't really end up
being about this.) The hitch ... Yahoo! or the Library of Congress or
Dewey Decimal system or any of the really successful classification
structures require lots of human labor. 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,
those most likely to provide the service of organizing information 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 an 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, something like: It's the question, not the answer. (A good
toy tasks to test out your Super-Searcher skills.)

So what are the interesting questions? There are the ones that 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, a
completely different question that I would gladly substitute for one of

*** 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.

~~~ Internet Links ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Transform Magazine: 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.

EContent: Behind the Firewall Column (Jan & Feb 2002) by Martin White
According to industry-hand Martin White turned Intranet consultant,
companies should be investing in their intranets, for five reasons. The
Jan column ends with Winston Churchill's comment about 1940 & WWII,
being the "end of the beginning" not the "beginning of the end". I
might say that is true of the classic search paradigm, and Martin has
things to say about this in the 2nd link.

Copyright 2002 Ramana Rao. All rights reserved. Reproduction of
material from Information Flow without permission is prohibited. You
may forward this issue only in its entirety.

Ramana Rao is a Founder and CTO of Inxight Software, Inc.
Archive: http://www.ramanarao.com/informationflow/archive/2002-05.html
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