NASIG 2009: Ambient Findability

Libraries, Serials, and the Internet of Things

Presenter: Peter Morville

He’s a librarian that fell in love with the web and moved into working with information architecture. When he first wrote the book Information Architecture, he and his co-author didn’t include a definition of information architecture. With the second edition, they had four definitions: the structural design of shared information environments; the combination of organization, labeling, search, and navigation systems in webs sites and intranet; the art and science of shaping information products and experiences to support usability and finadability; an emerging discipline and community of practice focused on bringing principles of designing and architecture to the digital landscape.

[at this point, my computer crashed, losing all the lovely notes I had taken so far]

Information systems need to use a combination of categories (paying attention to audience and taxonomy), in-text linking, and alphabetical indexes in order to make information findable. We need to start thinking about the information systems of the future. If we examine the trends through findability, we might have a different perspective. What are all the different ways someone might find ____? How do we describe it to make it more findable?

We are drowning in information. We are suffering from information anxiety. Nobel Laureate Economist Herbert Simon said, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Ambient devices are alternate interfaces that bring information to our attention, and Moreville thinks this is a direction that our information systems are moving towards. What can we now do when our devices know where we are? Now that we can do it, how do we want to use it, and in what contexts?

What are our high-value objects, and is it important to make them more findable? RFID can be used to track important but easily hidden physical items, such as wheelchairs in a hospital. What else can we do with it besides inventory books?

In a world where for every object there are thousands of similar objects, how do we describe the uniqueness of each one? Who’s going to do it? Not Microsoft, and not Donald Rumsfeld and his unknown unknown. It’s librarians, of course. Nowadays, metadata is everywhere, turning everyone who creates it into librarians and information architects of sorts.

One of the challenges we have is determine what aspects of our information systems can evolve quickly and what aspects need more time.

In five to ten years from now, we’ll still be starting by entering a keyword or two into a box and hitting “go.” This model is ubiquitous and it works because it acknowledges human psychology of just wanting to get started. Search is not just about the software. It’s a complex, adaptive system that requires us to understand our users so that they not only get started, but also know how to take the next step once they get there.

Some example of best and worse practices for search are on his Flickr. Some user-suggested improvements to search are auto-compete search terms, suggested links or best bets, and for libraries, federated search helps users know where to begin. Faceted navigation goes hand in hand with federated search, which allows users to formulate what in the past would have been very sophisticated Boolean queries. It also helps them to understand the information space they are in by presenting a visual representation of the subset of information.

Morville referenced last year’s presentation by Mike Kuniavsky regarding ubiquitous computing, and he hoped that his presentation has complemented what Kuniavsky had to say.

Libraries are more than just warehouses of materials — they are cathedrals of information that inspire us.

PDF of his slides

NASIG 2008: Information Shadows – Ubiquitous Computing Serializes Everyday Things

Presenter: Mike Kuniavsky

Thinks about how technology and people interact with each other, and how the technological side can be made more interesting or better for the user.

Ubiquitous computing was coined to describe computers that are woven into every day life to the extent that they are indistinguishable from it. The power of technology should not be limited to viewing the world through its limited frame.

When something is cheap, you can have more than one, and with specific and varied uses. This is also a way of thinking of computer and networking technology. When processors were expensive, they had to serve multiple uses. Now that processing power is cheap, we have a wide array of products with different functions which all use these inexpensive processors.

When machine read-able code is meshed with human interface devices such as mobile phones, we are able to deliver even more information than what can be put on the packaging. Metadata can be attached to anything!

When Amazon expanded ISBN to ASINs, it allowed anyone to point to the “handle” for any object sold by Amazon. We can now grab that handle and toss it around as we wish.

For Kuniavsky, a serial is an agreement between a consumer and a publisher who provides a particular type of information in the form of a soft-cover book that arrives regularly in the mail. The paper manifestation of the agreement is one way it is fulfilled, but it’s not the only way.

A time-share condo is like a journal. The form and usage period is fixed, and the occupants are variable. (In this case, it’s as though the time-share condo is subscribed to you.) You own the possibility of an object with some rights to it forever. A vacation club changes the dynamic to owning the right to request a class of things that changes in a way that is predictably different.

Until recently, the logistics of sharing objects has been complex, unless the people involved were highly motivated. Ubiquitous computing gives us the ability to track, trade, and share objects in a way we never could before. Bag Borrow or Steal is a designer bag sharing site. It’s sort of like Netflix for the fashion-obsessed purse fiends.

The trackable metadata of physical objects that allow them to be converted to subscriptions. Technology enables these relationships to be embedded and automated. We are shifting from the ownership of objects to access to them.

Technologists often leave out the information management aspects when talking about the wonders of technology. Librarians and information managers understand how to deal with the digital representations of physical objects. We need to think about how our can work apply to the serialization of everyday objects.

The world needs shadow wranglers.

rfid blocking kit

Ha! The creative geniuses at ThinkGeek have come up with an RFID Blocking Kit t-shirt. The best part? It’s free.

I’m still giggling over the iZilla.

Take the iZilla with you anywhere. It’s like having an entire home entertainment system in a handy 30 pound white briefcase. The iZilla can be powered by a standard 120VAC wall outlet, or runs off 16 D size batteries (not included).