42: interoperability and computational knowledge a fun early ride….

May 18, 2009
Ever felt happy using your computer? Well today I had one of those rare moments, when my face smiled from ear to ear while tryin’ the infamous new quest to human knowledge. WolframAlpha, is still in the first crawling modes, but computational knowledge have never been so easy to reach [intro-show]. WA won’t answer all my questions to life, universe and everything [D. Adams], but you bet I will be unbeatable in any Pub Quiz going forward using Cuil, Blinkx and WolframAlfa in a nice combo of Question:Answer sessions, topped with a pint of Guiness.

If the answer is 42 ( my age very soon, still being a man in his prime, 41), we all ask ourselfs what is the question?

Well, in my practice working with information management issues, I pretty often ran across interoperability problems when diving into the wast informtion environment of any large scale corporate landscape. Business Intelligence crowds, wish their cubes and datawarehouse binary & digits filled respositories could be as fluent as WA to the end-users never ending quest to make up new possible matchmaking efforts. Even before getting there, we need to take all the data to the laundry. From my very narrow perspective, I forsee WA-fused apps in the corporate landscape where internal data will be matched real-time with WA engine public domain knowledge. As intel inside logo, we will get apps all over the place with WA enabled.

Math will be the most sexy major subject of them all: imagine a classroom at University crowded with newly enlighted pupils, and equally gender based 😉

I wish I had a snippet of brain capacity from Dr Wolfram, but hell no. I am a mediocre ‘wannabe’… Well in times of crowdsourcing You don’t have to be the smartest IQ wise person. Good enough will do, and adding time and spritit and networking skills to the pot, will give even you a taste of knowledge/expert amongst peers and friends. This is why I found it a bit strange that, apart from the community at the site, there were no visible way to connect users using the WA-engine? and by that visualise new ground breaking ways of constructing clever questions…. well I am pretty sure that this will be amended in WBeta or even before that.

Well now I gotta invent ‘clever’ questions, and that isn’t all to easy. I have the answer, 42 but will I do with that? Friends, that is what we all will see in the future that is a bit sunnier today.


Put into Context: an artform

May 6, 2009

Being a Information Architect practitioner apart from my research agenda, daily engages me in “put in context” issues related to end-user experience and content. Context is a real treat when used in a pragmatic and common sensical way, but I might also be blurred by the mash-up of realities we all are facing. IRL and on-line roles and realities and context have been absolutely blended, and sometimes confused us to ‘who we really are’ in life 😉

Everyday practice within IA deals alot with captureing ‘wayfinding’ principles to the domain at hand, with language constructs that communicate to the end-users. Be it tedious taxonomy & ontology updates into a controlled vocabulary, refinement of search experience through logs and stats, endless discussions dealing with redesign of large websites. As humans we like context! we navigate through life with contexual road-signs: but ones in a while we get lost! No doubt about it…..very stressful experience.

This recent post from IA peers at IA Summit 2009, is a very good walkthrough of the evolving work practice and academic wordviews. Enjoy!

Outstanding quest/question: How do we “guide” the users in content provision to ‘put things in context’?

Further down the road of findability ……


Citizen (in)sanity: What Enterprise 2.0 unleash into the E-Government Mash-up Soup?

March 30, 2009

The expectations too forthcoming e-government is huge! As citizen we expect the different ‘service bodies’ that is reflected as the state, region/county, city or neighbourhood to act in a new agile and flexible manner. Transparency to the public sector is by all means something we see as a true democracy milestone. This new agenda for the public sector, regardless if it is police, hospitals, schools or other domains unleashes pretty obvious glitches in the tapestry. In many cases we as citizens fail to reach out to the service providers, simply because we don’t know or care how they are organised and whom is set as responsible and who to contact. Many everyday needs from us citizens, reflect end-user scenarios where we would like to have a public sector that acted as one layered service provider with simple and easy access, but reality check show us it is truly a maze we enter. Inter-organisational relations and shortcomings into the well-known social norms of power and knowledge sharing, stresses that we as citizens fall in between different service providers.

In a world prior to Internet and ‘Googlish’ instant access to information and services, this would still hold up in court. Bureaucracies have this inbuilt aura: hence Franz Kafka’s very illustrative and still vital trilogy, the Castle, the Trial and America. Now we as citizens don’t accept these loose ends and no means tinkering: We want perfect information delivery instantly regardless of were about we are, being at office, at home or moving around.

Findability is key to all this, from an E-Government perspective. If we as citizens can’t find the information needed to act coherently with the service providers and other citizens the trust decrease rapidly. In many cases E-Government have focused on perfecting the ‘work-flow’ and business processes behind the scenes within different silos of organisational units. Before we as citizens transcend from information seekers into transactional modalities to “ask for a specific service delivery”, we need to find the information. Or cues to interaction with the service providers…

The new transparent open public sector behaviour is something that we as Swedes have set as one of the key take a ways of being citizens in one of the most open societies on earth, but the truth of the matter is that we in several occasions through out our life journey get Kafkaian public sector experiences 😉

A very tangible scenario is emergency response where several different actors need to coordinate their effort to save lives amongst us citizens. Recent research from my fellow researcher (Jonas Landgren) at the Viktoria Institute, and practice have shown obvious glitches that might be solved using open arenas, emerging technologies with a ubiquitous information environments where we as citizens ‘co-act’ in time-critical actions. The term that reflect this emerging social networking is ‘smart mob‘.

There are a set of key elements to future design, one have to consider regardless if one have responsibility to a city web site portal or other more local/specialised information services.

  1. Information interoperability within the network of actors and the ubiquitous information environments. Mashup technologies and simple web oriented architecture (WOA) and to some extent service oriented architecture (SOA). The later hampered with way to complex integration schemes compared to WOA.
  2. Spatial (geographic), and temporal (time) navigation and pathways to information and humans
  3. Genre as means to lever ‘wayfinding‘ in all digital domains. Language constructs, like metadata (i.e. Dublin Core),  controlled vocabularies, ontologies, taxonomies and folksonomies (social tags) are the building blocks to the information architecture, and future semantic web. Healthcare have one very active interest group to cope with these central issues, and more groups do emerge within e-government/public sector.
  4. The need to reach for levels and granularity in information delivery: most users need very local/individual information that is bridged to global information.
  5. Guided Classification and inter-linking in all content provision, to improve information quality and findability.
  6. Decentralised and dispersed governance models, where we as citizens collaborate, have conversations and co-act with service delivery actors. Social Media integrated into daily practice. Transparency stress new ways of working!
  7. Portal top-down tinkering will fail, act in a networked manner. No service stands in the “top”, since end-users will dive into the details and not start their journey in a expanded file-share from hell click trip!

Obviously technology is one mean to this, but most of the design criteria is sound “common sense” human social norms. Lastly do not re-design, refine…. Act in everyday use, and have the word pragmatic as the standard.

All in all many of the search patterns give hands-on fixes, such as the use of facets, best-bet and other means to guide the citizen.

Concluding remarks

Wayfinding and navigation being a citizen is very individual: we start our journeys from different perspectives and with  different levels of knowledge. A ‘Google start’ with a explicit quest in a query, or guessing a “top-node” starting point, i.e the local hospital, city, region or whatever granularity we reach for. Any ambition to make-do of one ‘costume for all purpose’ will be destined to fail! This mash-up behavior unleashes the urgent need to collaborate, and open-up a mixed experience. When we as citizens finally get a clue on to whom we need to engage with to get the set of packaged services needed. There are outstanding and unresolved patterns of integration and disconnected none inter-operative supporting service. In this complex scenery one should apply ‘good enough’ and ‘dead-simple’ integration (i.e RSS, Widgets) to not reach ‘dead-lock nirvana’ with power relations blocking any feasible way of make-do. Here we see notions of future intermediary such as Google Health that takes on the individual/personal health records (PHR).

If the public sector manages to re-format its daily everyday practice to become more Enterprise 2.0 oriented, the emerging citizen social networking and knowledge sharing will be traces of collective action to create innovation commons.

May the force be with you!

Further recent post within Government 2.0: partI & partII leaves a few hints, but my own reflection is that public sector can only act as one with a networking practice across boundaries with all involved actors!

Note: Other related topics, such as Usability, End-User centric development (UX) and participatory design and accessability to name a few have been take for granted!


Serendipity, and the mothers of innovation

March 5, 2009

There is a quest to grasp the Enterprise 2.0 arena both in academia, knowledge management evangelists, and within practice. The terminology is rather blurred and fluffy, but expresses a urgent need to describe the make-do easy going attitude digital natives share towards information seeking, social networking and work practice, that ‘might’ be coupled to a new business setting going forward. In these early days we only sense a notion of the general direction, but fail to prove the evidence. Mostly we share corporate stories, that gives us all the feeling of being part of the change. As researcher and practitioner, I also fall into the simple means of explaining the change in the bedrock of web 2.0 technologies. Artifacts have always changed our human social behavior, but it isn’t that obvious what technology at hand that will gives us such a big leap forward, that we in the history lessons later will reflect upon this as “revolution” in contrast to “evolution”. Timely given the fact that it is exact 200 years ago, since Charles Darvin, made a big step for mankind!

Being digital emigrant, but rather grown up, having used Internet since 1989, my simple stab at this change, is that the social tendencies we now are facing was the bedrock to why I started to use usenet newsgroups, mailing-lists, ftp and other obscure IP protocols. Sharing is in the spines of all this, what has changed is the ubiquitous information environment, and ease-of-use for people outside nerdy Unix worlds (where I started off). Network theory explains these changes in pretty simple means, that makes sense to us all.

Turning the corporate landscape inside out, as proclaimed by Wikinomics author D. Tapscott, or other related works. Will that present a new Enterprise 2.0 arena for all of us?

I think, the answer is yes! but without proven evidence and data we stand small in this sandbox. The scent of emerging change is in our face. The Mash-up soup economy we now are facing stresses the need to network to survive. What all business managers fear is arbitrary decision making (even if that is what they practice daily), and losing control? The killer application is the in-built feature of all humans to have a strong gut feeling for adaptation, and where serendipity will play a key-role. Open-Innovation will give us competitive advantage, if we leverage the networking, and manage (or care taking /cultivate) these changes properly.

Adaptative Organisms, according to Mr Darwin, within nature and elsewhere have three markers to cope with change and risk: Diversity, Autonomy & Responsiveness and Communication (with friends and foo’s). In this simple explaination ones realises how enterprise 2.0 and web 2.0 technologies, regardless of their actual merits being contributions to terminology, fits for purpose. Coping with risk and change will not be possible with traditional management agendas or technologies.

Innovation, and use of technology in this scene grouped together as web 2.0, have been cross-linked with other emerging terms such as intranet 2.0?

or enterprise content management 2.0 or information seeking 2.0. From a sales-pitch point of view, it makes sense if you are a service or a vendor company in this space. (Disclaimer, hence these slides)

From a researchers point of view, these new terms defocuses from the actual need to explain the change in less marked oriented terminologies that will stand up in court years from now.

There is also mixture of what actually brings value to web 2.0, either realised as intranet 2.0 tinkering or improved information seeking experiences to match people, peers and networks. Truly it is a obvious shift from old school top-down derived knowledge management (codified knowledge) initiatives from late 80s and early 90s. Social Networking is human behavior, but the tools at hand renders different forms of information management, believe it or not! and in these days of dispart teams, groups and people ICT is the mediator. Not the camp fire where storries were told! The fascination with social media relates to us being social creatures, listening to the grapewine to survive in our group.

Knowledge Sharing, is in dire need of experience not only capabilities to cope with search and social media, and into this hot pot of loose ends and no means, the mash-up soup boils. To become competitive and unleash serendipity to the work place one need to bridge generation gaps!

Misconceptions, and rumors of “loss of control”?

In recent posts in both popular press, and elsewhere many “sayers” and “knowabouts” express the fear of losing control, when releasing the powers in-built to web 2.0 tinkering.

Problemet är att spårbarheten försvinner om skapande av information ges helt fria tyglar.

Traceability in any digital domain in No problem, even so, the open-arenas as with wiki’s, leave very fluid tangible traces of contribution in the logs, and within an internal setting all entries into social media will be connected to strong end-user profiling and security! Much better than the old school document centric way of solving collaboration, with work-in-progress documents tossed around, and where the changes will be lost over time, and the miss-use of corrupted temples makes it even more complex. For most organisations, it is only a matter of enforcing information management policies, standards, guidelines, procedures, governanace models and tools to increase the traceability, and features for future need to retention.

In the Enterprise Content Management arena, and especially within the practice amongst large intranet owners within the communication networks, the loss of control of published material on the intranet is really tangible. Control over the editorial processes and a strong force to use the channel as push, have given most corporations intranets that are indifferent for everyday users.

– De måste förstå skillnaden mellan en blogg och formell information som skapats av intranätets redaktörer. Om inte den mognaden finns måste man först utbilda medarbetarna, säger Fredrik Ring, ansvarig för enterprise content management på Logica.

There is obvious differences between push and pull and mass-collaborative environments, and in the end-user experience this should be pretty easy to illustrate with genres, and visible markers. People aren’t stupid! The real value is set, when intranet managers will realise this, and mash-up their push-angst to intertwingle information flows, based on end-users actual needs, not only corporate ambition to use the intranet as their vehicle.

In the story  Tower of Babylon, human communication and problems related to reach out, outside your community illustrated our human errors. Border Objects, being language constructs have always been the means to cross-link practices, languages and cultures.

En viktig del i tänkandet bakom Enterprise 2.0 är klassificering, taggning, av information för att öka sökbarheten

Information Management and Information Architecture practices and practitioner have worked with ontologies, taxonomies, and controlled vocabularies and information models to bring order into the unstructured reality being provisioned by us humans. Good effort, but less used! Hence poor findability across all digital information environments. Social Tagging and folksonomies raised great expectations from IM and IA folks, including myself. It is a great promise in the networked society to rebuild the Tower of Babylon?  but there are still hurdles to cope with before we reach the promised land.