This is here


information, design, architecture; information design + architecture


For some reason, it’s recently been a veritable jamboree of people trying to find out what kind of regressive freak they are talking to; what deep need is it within my soul that has led me, young and cardiganed in only the sexxxiest manner, to call myself a “librarian.”

I’ve committed to the career with money and time now, and it’s only tangentially related to the last education I had full-time, so maybe it’s only fair that I have to recite endlessly that I got in to it because “I’m interested in information, and how people use information.”

Which has taught me something strange and surprising about some of the people I talk to about this: they hate books. I don’t know why they hate books, but the above smells like comradeship in book-burning they yearn for, apparently, and so out it comes. It’s all online now, isn’t it? Bob Molyneux has something interesting to say about the library’s failings in the digital age, and the easiness with which it as a professional space can host conversations about “information” without ever having had the smarts to be Google, but the most interesting thing about it is the “library function” he talks about.

To “maintain the memory of the human species” is a wonderful goal, and to believe in it doesn’t make people anti-book. What I dislike is the hypercathextic attachment to cataloguing practises that insists on nailing books to shelves. That’s all. That’s also, weirdly, what most people think of librarians as, but apparently my attempt to jump their weird mind-fences only makes things more confusing.

I don’t hate books, I just think sometimes people are ridiculously precious about books. I don’t hate trainers, either, but can we all agree that people who collect them mint are probably not using their trainers to their full advantage?


Filed under: classification systems, Information use, ,

Reading, again (and a metalesson in its perils)

A very odd thing happened to me on my way to writing what I now realise to be a a completely unrelated post about user-generated content…

Two exciting things came to my attention; Nate Hill linked me to Aaron Schmidt, specifically his social database mockup, my reaction to which got bogged down in first hearing about, and then waiting to hear more about, Talis’ Project Xiphos, now finally better explained better over on their Panlibus blog under the explanatory title “Silos Silos Silos”. There’s a lot to both of them, but broadly the former is a social information site that creates a set off tools for users to databases that, in turn, creates a level of metadata for other users, and the latter is a semweb set of technologies for opening up multiple datasets to, amongst other things, radically alter the currently insanely annoying experience of federated information access regimes.

What’s surprising to me is that the initiative to make data interoperable is explicitly courseware, and the one to make it social is implicitly (and slightly reluctantly) so. You’d except that to be the other way around, which to me firms up the idea that libraries host a specific kind of information use, that they served and encouraged by topic-based physical browsing, that they need to now better support with new, non-physical (well, non-linearly-physical, or something) technologies. (TANGENTALLY RELATED ASIDE: last night Stan Cohen, a bright button, said that Google held 338,000 entries on “climate change denial” as if this meant it contained 338,000 items denying climate change. Of course, it does not. It contains 338,000 items discussing the denial of climate change. There’s something about search as the primary form of access that implies you’re finding exactly that encourages a bias in favour of certain desired biases, I feel. He wouldn’t go to 324.243 and become outraged at the quantity of fascist literature encroaching on academia, would he?)

Final point, (WARNING: .pdf) the JISC & SCONUL Library Management Study reports that “[t]he ability to aggregate user behaviour has significant potential for discovery services, based on click streams, context and personalisation. Nevertheless libraries are not yet exploiting intelligence about user habits to enhance their position in the information value chain.” Well, yes.

Filed under: classification systems, Information use, scholarly communication, Semantic Web, User experiences, , ,

Reading machines

Lee Gomes’ Portal column “Why We’re Powerless To Resist Grazing On Endless Web Data” has gone and crystalised some thoughts I had following Matt Webb’s comment here, that “RSS turns us into machines for reading”.

Thoughts that that was wrong. RSS makes more explicit, and more conventionally mechanical, Deleuze and Guattari’s insight that “[a] book itself is a little machine”; that it’s an inert mechanical assemblage that we plug in to, and through us is plugged in to other books, or spaces, or recollections, or artworks. This is, of course, the exact opposite of clarifying how it is that we might show this lines except through their traditional forms of discursive scholarship.

The citation is a shitty hyperlink, the index a shitty full-content search, and pagination a physically-contingent and essentially imprecise form of conveying the where of the explanation of a thought. The machines that are other people’s thoughts are now being opened up, and what I and others have been calling “desire paths” are what Matt Jones in a recent interview has said people a calling “information wakes” (although I’m unclear where; would love to know!).

Peter Merholz is right that extending programs that capture this data beyond the computer is inevitable, but Nike+ isn’t beyond the computer; it just extends the extant cable from the computer to the pocket. Is it possible to bridge the physical and digital information areas? The emphasis is that discussion is on building a personal data-set, and from all manner of miscellaneous procedures. It’s tools will be handy, but desire paths are specific and intentional. Libraries are a object-centered social spaces, but their social objects aren’t books; they’re the links between books.

Getting closer to that practical advice, Nate…

Filed under: Information use, , ,

Library use models

Nate Hill’s post about library cards as service avatars, and the Playful Librarian’s about desire lines across (information) architecture tie in to the same thing, and, not to come over all Annoyed Librarian, but it’s not David Lee King’s engines-not-OPACs thing

Libraries are a very odd sort of space, and bound by the kinds of space-y things people run up against all the time, like sequential time and scarcity of resources. None of these really have anything to do with human thought, which is a transitional thing moving from one point to another (accurately, if poorly, rendered in the essay, and it’s emphasis on structure and argument), which libraries attempt to render via classification schemes that create (metaphorical) shelves of related items, and put these on (physical) shelves of metal. These metaphorical shelves are not fixed, and slide across the physical shelves depending on the demands of the (entirely arbitrary) physical dimensions of the resources they consist of.

Everyone already knows that this compromise isn’t ideal. Resources have multiple possible shelf-marks listed on the catalogues themselves, while the indexes of classification systems have multiple routes to the same numbers (this means you, Israel/Palestine/DDC 956). More to the point, books themselves (it’s probably clear I’m talking in the academic context by now) are often collections of threaded essays, rather then a single lengthy one. Even Ranganathan was wrong: the real point is each chapter, each paragraph, each line has it’s reader, each reader her… etc.

The library doesn’t have to simply funnel free resources into advertising-subsidised social networks, as King valorises (although free things and people doing with free things what they will are both important); it — and its related discipline of scholarly communication — already is Hill’s service avatar, but needs to build on the behaviours it already supports and extend these outwards, showing the worn patches of ground between data, across the walled gardens of documents.

Filed under: classification systems, Information use, scholarly communication, ,

Return of portal-based navigation?

Omar Elsayed bought up Google’s mainstreaming of the “site:” search function by putting search boxes for major sites in their results, no doubt further entrenching the behaviour whereby people, lacking a URL for, say, the pub they want to meet are, simply prefix the name “Just put in Google… “.

Is disrupting recommendation systems the main thing about this, as Omar discusses, though? By filtering more and more of our information navigation, not only can Google track us, and then sell to us, better, but it can also allow us to store crap automatically, operating across platforms via sign-ins and circumventing TiVO-for-the-webs like WebMynd.

When TimBL(e) slated Phorm for invading his privacy, he was probably right, but people enjoy making their information navigations public, either showing all the music you listen to, through, or with a greater degree of control, such as RSSing your bookmarks. It’s a development of wearing certain clothes and performing certain behaviours with an eye to displaying what we do or don’t approve of, or what we are or are not interested in.

Everyone already knows that Google’s view of privacy is an interesting one, but then it’s just as much a commonplace that so is ours. The emerging “lifestream” trends will continue to expand on the RSS feeds made by, etc., that turn a behaviour intended to help you remember things that barely registered in your attention and turns it in to a display of you, your interests, and things you’d like to talk about.

It’s clear that much of what’s outlined in the above link is basically horrible, describing communities of interest passing bits of information back and forth forever, doing little to add to this information or generate anything new. But it’s also clear that people want to display and discuss these behaviours. Systems such as Google allow much of our information use to be captured passively and continuously, and its Social Graph APIs, etc. hint at possible reuses for it. More then what this means for how advertisers can get and use our data, the more interesting thing is what it means for how we can use our data to talk to each other, and how this collective data can be leveraged to supplement the broader information environment.

Filed under: Information use, ,