Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Information Transfer

A classic office tool for information transfer is email. Modeled after the postal-mail people in offices around the world (and at home, at the beach, around the campfire etc.) send notes and other information snippets to other co-workers. However, email has fallen to prey to the same albatross as its physical cousin; how to discern what is important and what is not-so-important.  There are classic methods for determining which stuff is important such as the importance rating (usually some form of !!!!) or possibly treating everything from a particular email address as important. 

The popular Google email service  Gmail introduced a new feature a while ago called priority inbox. The basis for the service is that Gmail pays attention to which emails you read, and reply to in order to infer which emails are important. The system then sets the important messages aside and marks them for immediate review. I have been using the feature for a few weeks and so far the service has done a rather good job deciding which emails are more important than others. It does this by understanding which email messages we open and which we respond to etc. 

However, the greater facet to this development is that it turns email from an information delivery system to an information ranking system. The system already pays attention to which messages we read (which is a de-facto importance ranking unto itself) the next step is to deepen the relationship between the content and the ruleset. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Joy of Information

The title of this post may be idealistic, and sugary, but that’s how I feel about information. That’s the reason that I went to library school; connecting people to information. There is nothing that makes me happier than knowing someone found a book, quote, or online article via a taxonomy I designed or reference help. The nature of the content is irrelevant. Whether the person is looking for War and Peace or the latest Harlequin novel or trying to find a map of the Galapagos Islands the search is the important factor. I believe the search for understanding is a key factor in the human condition. Many actions that seem grounded in the mundane have roots in the search for understanding. Attending school, travel or having a conversation with the stranger all come from a search for understanding. Some could argue how does the latest romance novel help people understand the world? I would respond that the enjoyment of novels might lead to better understanding of oneself or simply give someone an evenings escape so they can better face the next day. Either way the person gains insight into the world.