Monday, November 23, 2009

Information Wranglers

I ran across a great article recently called the Death of Taxonomies by Theresa Regli over at CMSwatch. I would recommend the article to anyone working/interested in the taxonomy/ontology space. While the title may read like a 1930s headline the article is rather upbeat about the future of taxonomies (and by extension taxonomists).

Death of Taxonomies by Thereas Regali ( Published on: 11.13.2009 and Accessed on: 11.23.2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

the Human Element

The automation trend in the information management industry has been building momentum for many years. Data scrappers/manipulators pull data from different sites to aggregate results for several services like Kayak (for travels plans) and Indeed (for jobs). The question continually arises about whether human intervention is actually required for data management or should we simply submit to the machines. I think that neither having a solely human or machine driven system is preferable to a hybrid version. Given certain parameters certain computer programs can successfully maneuver through a site to gather information with better consistency and speed than a single human operator. Though those same rules that allow the program to scrap the data can also mean that it pulls in too much information, too little or simply the wrong data entirely.

For instance, recently I had been tagging photos from a trip to an aquarium. During the process my photo organizing software (iPhoto) runs a facial matching software program to find faces in my pictures and then asks me "Is this Bob?" etc. If the photo is of the person in question then I click "yes" and the software tags the photo with that persons name. This feature is supposed to save me time and let me search through my photos more quickly. Though many times the software is correct there are sometimes when it makes an error by matching the wrong name to face or goes off the deep end completely. While cataloging the photos from the aquarium it pulls up a picture of a seahorse amidst an entire field of corral. Amidst the corral the software has sketched a box and indicates that it believes a face is hidden amongst the corral. The parameters behind the software read the information about the photo as including a face, but in reality it just happened to be a bit of corral that fit the profile. Humans may be less precise and more variable than an auto-tagging program, but they are capable of thinking outside the given parameters. A human being is not bound by those same rules that make the software think a human face is hiding in the corral. That's why a hybrid model works best.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Mobile Information Management

Over the last week I dropped my old cell phone for the last time. The phone had been with me for over two years and was the basic clamshell model with little or no extra features beyond being a phone. It was my first cell phone and while I am sad at it’s passing I have upgraded to an iPhone and have been enjoying the benefits that come with a smart phone. While I am enjoying the phone as a communications platform I am more intrigued with the device as a productivity/knowledge management tool.

The smartphone is the revolutionizing the economy/business landscape much as the computer did during the early 1980s. Workers carry ing smart phones* cannot only communicate easier, but with features like web surfing and fully featured applications the device has many possibilities for business applications.

The iPhone has already revamped my entire workflow; when I don’t have access to a particular person’s contact information I can look-up their information and then call/e-mail them from a single device. After the call I can alter my calendar to add meetings, change my schedule or add tasks. When I get back to the office the device has sink via the “cloud” via the Mobile Me service to my Macbook keeping me up to date.

While the above example is only applicable on an individual scale technology service companies are developing mobile applications for their clients. For instance, Sales Force, a popular CRM software application (SaS) has applications for Blackberry, iPhone and Windows Mobile devices. The world is getting mobile in terms of information demands and the information professionals need to keep pace with their clients.

*The phone industry is currently pitching cell phones as educational tools, which would make their usage even more ubiquitous.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Personal Information Management

Technology is often seen as the answer rather than a tool. (I'm as guilty of this as anyone.) Technology will solve our problems even if we are not sure how or why. Too often people think that the more shiny or fancy a technology the better it will improve our life. This is most often true in knowledge management (either organization-wide or personal). The focus is on the system rather than the results. There is no need to invest in a high technology solution when a so-called old technology solution will work.

For instance the often overlooked idea notebook. A simply spiral or perfect bound notebook where you write down ideas for work, thoughts or other notations for later. I find I often get ideas for projects going on at work at the oddest moments so I find a notebook helps me organize my thoughts and save them for later. Though this solution might not work for everyone it works pretty well for my injunction with an ongoing cycle of task management applications. The explosion in the smartphone market has given many people the perfect tool to help them stay on top of their life. And I say If you are a fan of your Blackberry or iPhone and it works then more power to you. (There are some great note-keeping applications for the iphone like Evernote). I’ve also tried different software solutions and am constantly looking for the next great productivity application, but really that is just window dressing. Knowledge management truly begins with the person or organization.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Science Fiction/Fantasy Taxonomy

In the last blog post I mentioned how building a kitchen sink taxonomy ended up deadened in the search capabilities because it dulled the specificity. Below is a taxonomy I build that includes several different facets for the different genres within science/fiction and fantasy literature. Rather than simply labeled all books as fiction the taxonomy includes the different sub-genres that make up each niche genre.

Taxonomy Key:
  • [TT]: “Top Term”: the highest level in the hierarchy that represents a larger group.
  • [PT]: “Primary Term”: The official term for that concept within the taxonomy.
  • [G]: “Group”: The different facets that comprise that taxonomy. Not really a specific term, but more a collection of like-terms.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kitchen Sink Taxonomy

Online shopping sites have revolutionized the retail market. It could be argued that sites like changed the way Americans and the world consume. Rather than traveling to the store and browsing consumers can browse a virtual warehouse and order from the comfort of their armchair. However, lost amid the development of these sites is the value in browsing. These sites are perfect for those situations where the consumer understands what they are looking for or has a product in mind. Though currently most shopping sites do a mediocre if not terrible job of helping people find things they aren’t looking for.

A perfect example of this phenomena is While Amazon sells everything from action figures to appliances I mostly shop there for books. I tend to read mostly within the fantasy and science fiction genre which Amazon carries a decent selection. Now Amazon does do some interesting things to attempt to help users find similar material. They show which percentage of people who bought item X also bought item Y and Z. Or they allow users to tag different entries with keywords that reflects that users perceptions on the item.* However, these are all quantitative efforts which churn out results based on a secret sauce algorithm that lurks on a server buried somewhere deep below Amazon HQ. The site’s qualitative attempts to match users with new material or items is not particularly thought provoking.

I recently found myself staring at the entry on Amazon for Hardwired.

A science/fiction novel from Walter Jon Williams about a cybernetically enhanced warrior battling it out in a future earth. I found the book through a roundabout method that has only been availiable since the internet crept out of its servers in a DARPA mainframe to extend throughout the world. I had been searching for books that were similar to Old Mans War from John Scalzi. I stumbled onto the book about a year ago by way of a friend of a friend and quickly gobbled up the entire series and Mr. Scalzi’s other works. Finding books similar to Scalzi’s work in both quality and genre has been a difficult task (save for Heinlein’s Starship Troopers which I had already read). Thankfully, Mr. Scalzi provides a venue on his site for new authors to display their work he calls the “Big Idea” and I have found that an excellant place to find recommendations. There I ran across a recommendation for Forever War which in turn gave me the link to Hardwired.

Scrolling down the page I came across the subject headings for the title. For any non-librarian types essentially the subject headings are the categories (mystery, fiction etc.) that book falls into that give clues about the books content.

Hardwired Cataloging.png

The folks at Amazon described the book with eight different subject headings that basically said the same thing or attributed certain formats (graphic novel) that don’t apply to the work. Clearly, anyone looking at the subject headings would not get the best idea about what the book was about other than science fiction*. I don’t blame the cataloger or whomever decided to ascribe these traits to the novel. Even the best craftsman can only do so much with substandard tools. There Since sells/catalogs so many items their system for categorization has to cover so many subjects the granularity for the system is blunted. Rather than simply science fiction why not create a further level in the taxonomy to include military science fiction, near future science fiction etc.

Rather than having a single large taxonomy that tries to cover everything at the expense of the granular concepts it would be better to have a several smaller more specific taxonomies that can then be mapped together if need be. Right now keyword searches work cause the amount of information online is manageable. However, anyone who looks past the first two pages of results from any popular search engine will see that the results vary. Customized and specialized taxonomies will help users find the resources, but also the best resources for their needs.
*If you are looking for a better example of tagging see Librarything (Though “better” simply my opinion and in the interest of full disclosure I have met the Librarything Librarian, and the company is headquartered not far from where I grew up. Therefore, a bias on my part should be assumed.)

*Some might answer that the only people to look at subject headings/catergorization are librarians. While I would tend to agree with that assessment I would also argue that if subject headings/catergorization gave more information or were more relevant then maybe more non-librarian users might employe them.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

23 Things Vol. 8: the 23 Things Experience

While late to start and late to finish I complete 23 Things this evening. Since I am a newly minted MLS graduate this is my first real experience being a joiner for an SLA event. I’ll have to admit that I enjoyed the online tutorials and enjoyed building this blog. I am a constant dabbler in technology. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I am an early adopter, but I like to tentatively try new web services or find programs that help me work smarter rather than harder. I will admit that I had experience with several of the services that the 23 Things program outlined, but there were a few that I had not experienced or had not had the chance for trying them first hand.

In the final blog post in the series I thought I might show an alternative or two for some of the services that were shown on the 23 Things modules. I think the staff responsible for developing the program did a great job of showing the technology inherent in many services, and since they couldn’t cover everything I thought I would provide a little context.
        An alternative to You Tube Viddler caters to the business world while You Tube caters more to the consumer market. Much like Paypal wants to be your shopping cart Viddler wants to be your video service.

The service lets users imbed the Viddler player in their site while changing the players look and adding the users logo/brand to the player.

Web Personalities/Service that Use Viddler:
  • Wine Library TV (Gary Vaynerchuk’s video blog)
Twitter, Plurk (Microblogging)

The trend toward microblogging has exploded in the past few years. Mircoblogging refers to short text messages (normally no more than 140 characters) that are sent out in bursts to a select group of followers. They include information like “waiting for the train” or “check out this link:”. Different people have used the services for different purposes. I personally didn’t quite understand the allure until trying it out and now I can understand for those who like to remain in close contact with their friends, colleagues or family it could be an invaluable tool.

Though what began as true inside baseball with only the techno-elite participating has made large strides toward the mainstream. Newly installed President Obama has won accolades from many for using social media services including Twitter to help him get elected. Celebrities like Britney Spears have also moved into the microblogging sphere. There are different services that offer microblogging, but the one with the visibility is Twitter which pioneered the model.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

23 Things Vol. 7: Online Collaboration Tools

The next section on the 23 Things site brings everything together from the previous modules. While previous we went over RSS feeds or tagging the next module is about online software. There are several services that help users organize their workflow to help work smarter rather than harder. Some of the ones that the module highlighted: Remember the Milk, Zoho Docs and Mindomo though there are several other services out there as well. The main draw for the services is they help aggregate content on the web or your wholly created content to make your work easier. Another benefit is that since the data lives in the cloud you can access it from anywhere with a working internet connection.

For those interested in learning more about developing their organization kung-fu there are some great websites that provide excellant content for helping users work better. The well-known site Lifehacker is well-known for providing innovative solutions for life’s problems both big and small. Though my personal favorite is the 43 Folders site created by the talented Merlin Mann (who is kinda like the Confucius of the productivity space). The site is a mix of general ruminations on living amid the information packed 21st century and general ruminations on life. While note particularly always relevant to the your situation Merlin is always interesting to read and most often amusing in some capacity.

One site that I stumbled across that is both a great collaboration tool and a rather neat database management system or DBMS is Dabble DB. The site brings the usability of blogger or type-pad to the database space online. It allows for importation of data from a website or spreadsheet or for the user simply begin entering data from the start. They also have unique pricing structure. They have a thirty day free trial and then you either choose to play of the premium service or you release your data on a creative commons license (i.e. give everyone access). I signed up for a free trial account and have some ideas about how to use the site, but I will definitely have to play with the interface more. For a good tutorial about the product check this little video put together by the dev team behind the site.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

23 Things Vol. 6: Wikis and Collaboration Software

The sixth module in the 23 Things list covers Wikis specifically and collaborative software in general. I particular interest in knowledge management and skills shares so I am always looking for new ways to share information and collaborate over projects. For all the focus on Wikis I think emphasizing the technology might be a mistake. (However, 23 Things generally about introducing the SLA community to new technologies so I could be missing the boat so to speak.) Focusing solely on the tool and not on the organization culture is a mistake. I have observed offices currently undergo the transition to Sharepoint, but the organization still relies on a largely feudal culture. Units within the organization guard their knowledge and powers that be don’t encourage an open sharing environment. Collaboration requires buy-in from all the involved parties or any tool is going to be underutilized.

Wikis can be valuable tool for supporting a collaborative, sharing environment, but can’t create it from nothing. Though when trying to implement a sharing portal or tool it is important to understand the organization needs versus the software capabilities. Wikis do several things well: low barrier for content creation, open source solutions, high cultural visibility, but they are not perfect. The general benefit for Wikis: the simplicity; can be their undoing. Wikis generally don’t scale without heavy forethought and controls that stifle the organic growth. Monitoring the content and maintaining quality control can be difficult since every user can add/subtract content. Wiki software is ideal for a small business, or small business unit, but organizations can out-grow the software package. Though there are enterprise solutions like Sharepoint that better suited to large organizations (with large budgets and dedicated IT staff).

I have my apprehensions about Wikis aside there are some Wiki sites that I enjoy. The most relevant site is the Library Success website moderated by Meredith Farkas.

Another is the human power search engine Mahalo which employs Wiki technology with a nice user interface layered on top.

Wikis and other collaborative tools can organizations large, small and in between build their knowledge base and help enrich their work force. New employees could belong to a new hire wiki where they could share information like whom to talk to in HR about getting your travel expenses reimbursed, where is the best dry cleaners near the office, and how to best approach a particular type of customer. The information management/knowledge management team could monitor the wiki topics for information that could graduate onto the general organization intranet.