Monday, February 28, 2005

IBM Screen-reading browser

IBM has just released Home Page Reader, a new, accessible "talking Web Browser", which is being targeted at the corporate environment from the looks of things:

"The latest version of Home Page Reader is particularly geared to companies and organizations whose employees use the Internet to gather information they need for their daily work, and to communicate with customers, suppliers and other businesses. It gives users who are blind or visually impaired equal access to content from the Internet, an increasingly important source of information and interaction in business and daily life."

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Even More Folksonomy

Another good folksonomy overview on The Community Engine: Using mapped folksonomy to break corporate silos...very much my opinion as expressed in earlier posts, a viewpoint also taken up by Javier Velasco in his comment on Lou's Bloug post: Damned Addiction.

"Hybrid Classification …?
Wouldn't user tagging be a great way to fill a hierarchical classification… or many?
(...) Keyword-only systems allow for horizontal movements only (into terms that are not necessarily related). What I'm thinking about is the idea of matching keywords to categories, and then users could move randomly though tags as now, but also move into broader terms and thus find ‘brother' categories.
Of course, as we know, a hierarchical classification will never be unbiased: the way we organize the categories will reflect some of our values and priorities. But I'm sure we could find some means for tracking and incorporating hierarchies that emerge from the users.
I once had to build taxonomy for a company where we had a big team of journalists; all of them specialized in their field. The old manual archiving process involved a team of 20 archivists who would tag the hundreds of articles and photographs that came in every day. I remember they had a great model for tagging images, their descriptors would cover time, location, characters, background elements, character's facial expression, character's outfit, and more.
My approach was to have the journalists assign keywords to their articles (or pictures) under some given framework (based on their old archive), and this would allow us to assign the articles to relevant categories with considerable precision. (...)
So now I look at these folksonomy-powered systems and I wonder, why leave it up to there? Why so flat? These systems are offering thousands, probably millions, of volunteers for tagging content for subject matters that they have particular interest and knowledge on. Why not take this further?"

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Social networks made easy by phone

Via Alex Gault of Collaboration Cafe comes this very cool sounding technology from BT, SWORD. BT is pushing small world social networking within corporate environments to boost company directories:

"SWORD works by putting the user at the centre of his or her own universe, updating their personal contacts profile according to the frequency and number of calls they make to colleagues. So as they contact people, SWORD builds up information that increases the chance of providing the right number at the top of the list next time around. The system also locates colleagues’ numbers more quickly, by grouping and ranking them according to various predefined criteria, such as their organisational unit within a large company, or their geographical location."

Computer-aided paper sorting (CAPS)

Another comment via Column Two: William Hudson - who I know from his usability work for the Intranet Benchmarking Forum - has come up with a neat idea to get around some of the difficulties surrounding card-sorting, those being:
1) analysis is repetitive and time-consuming for a human;
2) it's generally easier for people to sort with real cards than onscreen;
3) none of the existing tools seem to merge paper and computer-based approaches.
Read William's piece for an introduction to a neat merger of paper, software and barcode scanning that gets around a) having to do your cluster analysis by hand or b) feeding the results of a paper-based exercise into an analysis engine (NB: you can buy everything you need from Mr Hudson too!).

Distributed IA (Information Architecture)

Within our intranet - owing to lack of resource at present - we delegate the task of structuring sets of intranet pages lower down the hierarchy to our content authors. In some cases, this means the content authors come back to us and request IA help, in others it means they go ahead and architect the sites themselves, with results verging from the reasonably well ordered and user-focused to the slightly chaotic. The first section of our Content Management System user guide takes a couple of pages to carefully introduce the importance of structure, usefulness and usability (without necessarily using those terms), but the impact of this appears to be limited: a few content authors are genuinely interested and "get it", some of the others have just been tasked by a superior to "get on with" creating some intranet content, and therefore do not hold as closely to good practice.

With this in mind, I've been thinking of other ways to communicate the importance of IA to our CMS users without using IA terminology or getting super-complicated. I had a few ideas myself, but was really interested today to read a posting from James Robertson's Column Two on Information Architecture Exercises. James' succinct post also points to a great set of suggestions on Peter Van Dijck's Guide to Ease (with the identical title): I think I may be incorporating some of the suggestions into our core CMS user training...

Monday, February 21, 2005

Ajax - Not for Cleaning, But for Richer Internet Applications

Jesse James Garrett has an interesting article on what Adaptive Path are calling AJAX, essentially the model that uses DOM and standards to provide richer internet applications (think Gmail, Google maps, Google suggest - think Google, I suppose.) among other things through the retention of state. All I want to know is what's in the Ajax engine?

UPDATE 22/02/2005
A little more on this from Mr Veen: "Scrubbing Innovation into Interaction: Ajax"... with some useful looking links at the end. I feel like I want to ask someone at the Flex-end of Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) what they think about this more in-depth use of existing techniques for a richer experience. Will add a post if I remember to do so.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

More folksonomy

I've just been keeping my eyes on the folksonomy pros and cons discussions (there's a nice overview article on Burningbird) - obviously I'm in complete agreement with regard to flat social categorisation replacing classification systems, but think that it is all a question of value judgement: the folksonomy approach combines personal information retrieval (my tags) with social information retrieval (whereas formal classification will not account for a personal mental space), it connects what you know directly with what others know without you having to give up your worldview to do so. Secondly it allows for the rapid evaluation of a knowledge space - this may not be optimal classification, but it made me think of John Nash and the Nash Equilibrium (as seen in A Beautiful Mind): I know this is not the equilibrium per se: (so apologies for quoting scripture to the Devil's purpose) but the best strategy for a group as a whole may be a compromise solution that is not the optimal solution from a choice. Watch the bar scene in the film with the blonde, and you'll see what I am getting at. With a folksonomy, what we lose in precision, we may gain in rapidity and flexibility as well as connectivity - it's a simple trade-off, and therefore its applicability will depend upon circumstances.
So I've been pondering a little bit more as to how to move from the loose spontaneity of folksonomy to a more controlled vocabulary, and this Porter stemming tool from hackdiary presents one possibility, I suppose. Stemming could be run against a folksonomy (rather than just against a personal user's tagset) to give an initial suggestion as to how to consolidate the tags within - for instance by suggesting synonymous terms. How this information is then dealt with is another matter (consolidating the tags would have a negative impact on personal tagsets, whereas a controlled vocabulary would allow the personal tags to stay, but also be mapped as synonyms etc. to other, "standard" tag descriptors, is my assumption)...

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Seeing where you are going...

I reckon some whiz-kid out there has probably implemented this somewhere already, but I was pondering multimap-style directions and google-map today, and thinking about the mental model that map-type views force us into. Personally, I look at the world with a horizon-point rather than from above, and find the easiest directions to follow are those which give me clear, visual reference points at each major change along my path:
"turn right at Junction 5 at the Red Lion pub onto the B112 heading towards Osmotherley".

In the day and age of Flickr, Keyhole, Mappr and the like, it would be quite nice to have a set of tags to give useful direction hints - particularly if these could be associated with geo-tags from GPS-enabled devices (or manually inputted) - when you use a service like multimap. I guess as well as having a valid latitude and longitude, you'd need to know which direction the photographer was pointing when he/she took the photo, but if it worked it would be very cool to be able to print off a map with photos to verify you were taking the right direction.
So, for the above example, on my hypothetical journey, along with my set of "after 1.5km, turn right onto the B112", I would also have a photo of the Red Lion to reference.
I'm sure there would be enough motivation from clueless, directionally challenged drivers like myself to map key junctions on principle routes.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Knowledge Gap Analysis?

I strongly suggest that you read the Wired article Scientific Method Man that I came across via a SIGIA discussion on expert systems and expert-level knowledge. The technique appears to be a form of knowledge gap analysis to try to find new, possibly untapped directions for research, and seems inherently common-sensical: define the known territory; analyse assumptions; find under-explored areas ( I am simplifying here). Fascinating.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Filtering news for reputation management

There's an interesting post from urlgreyhot on RSS newsfeeds, as I was contemplating the issue of a company knowledge aggregator in the context of intranet news feeds the other day. Apparently the MSN Search Beta and Yahoo News offer RSS feeds (which I must confess I didn't know about - note that there is no news available about me, surprise!) on specific search queries - which is particularly useful for KM workers who need to survey all mentions of a company or issue for feeding and re-distributing news or for reputation management (rather than paying big bucks to outsource this work).

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Personal Information vs Group Information vs Organisational Information

Not a particularly scintillating title, I know, but I'm just trying to ponder the different information clouds, their interaction and utility from a knowledge management perspective. What sparked this line of thought was a) more thinking about "folksonomies" (or as Peter Merholz points out - collective categorizations/group taggings, as they are flat not taxonomical - i.e. define the relationships between elements) and b) remembering a comment on KM from James Robertson, where he (sensibly, I think) suggested avoiding the use of "knowledge sharing" as a business aim (instead pointing out that all "sharing" should be tied to a specific business task or activity that the audience is already aware of and engaged in). You'll have to excuse me, as this is likely to be a stream-of-consciousness posting rather than anything particularly structured...

Getting back to real basics, what appears to be key in KM is certainly not the individual as an individual, but tying the individual into groups and groups into organisational objectives, because, let's face it, KM is about making businesses work better. These three key areas: the individual, the group (informal or formal) and the "organization" (just another group, but one that acts as a definite entity) each have information or knowledge clouds which he/she/they need to create, manage and develop over time. As an organization is made up of groups, and these groups are made up of individuals, the activities of these specific groups, and the interactions between them (social networkers of the world unite) - the movement of activity, understanding and knowledge from each end of this line to the other is of key importance. I know this is all stating the obvious, but it is very important to keep this in mind with all KM-type activity: connectivity is key.

This all fits back into folksonomy via Peter M's post on self-centredness in group tagging:
"One of the key emerging trends we're seeing with things like and
Flickr is the merging of personal information architecture and
public/shared/group/emergent information architecture. And one of the things
we're seeing in the *use* of these systems is self-centeredness -- how else do
you explain the prevalence of "me" on Flickr?".

I find this a particularly important quote given a comment from John Udell that Google has proven that relevance is a collective issue. I tend to disagree, what delicious shows (as does frustration with returned search results) is that relevance is both a collective and a personal issue. To paraphrase the famous saying:
one man's meat is another man's poison (is everybody's dead animal)".

Delicious allows for a kind of personal reputation management (links I find useful) which has the added advantage of - via a large user base - revealing a collective categorisation of assets. Where this might fit into corporate KM initiatives might be in tying individual categorisation systems into the group and organisational classification structure - I posted about this a few days ago with Enterprise Distributed Categorisation. Surely this type of categorisation tool can be used to:
  • help the individual in categorising and retrieving his/her artefacts;
  • allow the individual to share his or her categorisation with others (via an rss feed e.g. .../username/tag/rss) ;
  • aid the organisation in rapidly developing a classification (based on clustering of terms etc.) for the retrieval of organisational artefacts;
  • allow the individual to link his/her tags to the classification via a mapping from the "folksonomy" to a controlled vocabulary;
  • allow for a path for new terms to be suggested for the classification (continued log analysis of popular terms)
The nice thing about this is that it ties usage to both business goals and personal goals (in fact, they are both allied: personal KM is important to the business too) without necessarily imposing the business classification on the individual or the individual on the business. Likewise, as it is motivated by enlightened self-interest first, and collective interest second, it is less likely to become moribund owing to lack of usage - the burden of metadata is high, at least, perhaps, this approach may lighten the burden.

Search, for instance, could be optimised for both an individual's tags (personal relevance - a nice move down the line of trusted search) and the organisational classification (general/social relevance). This seems to be such an obvious benefit that I am convinced some bright spark out there must already have implemented this - any takers?

[NB: On a secondary note, the development of useful "social" meaning from self-motivated action is also evident in the New Scientist article, "Google's Search for Meaning", where searches on the Google index are used to define distances of meanings between concepts in order to develop an ontology - very cunning.]