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information, design, architecture; information design + architecture

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 Last.fm, 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 del.icio.us, 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, ,