Category Archives: information management

Amplification around a tag

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Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog: Amplification around a tag offers an interesting perspective on vocabulary control. Dempsey’s well-referenced article highlights the power of designating a tag for an event so that blogs, tweets, etc. are consistently labelled – pulling them all together and amplifying their impact. He says: “in a sense, the tag becomes the virtual venue for the event’s digital legacy”.

This “gathering around a flag” in the infosphere strikes me as an interesting example of an intersection between branding, marketing, and knowledge management.

Reimagining the Future of Your Desktop

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Thanks to Darren at UCL for this: Reimagining the Future of Your Desktop in 3D. It’s a new way of rendering a desktop, using what they describe as the affordances of physical storage. So, you can heap documents in piles, scatter them, regroup them and so on, very easily. I liked the range of ways of browsing piles of documents and thought it looked like fun, but without using it for a while, can’t be sure that it would save me time in the long run. I fear it would entice me into spending even more time than I do already categorising and re-categorising documents when I should be reading them!

Social Media vs. Knowledge Management

Estimated reading time 1–2 minutes

I was drawn to Venkat’s post on the Enterprise 2.0 blog via What Ralph Knows. Venkat suggests that Knowledge Management and Social Media are in conflict, with younger people preferring an anarchic, organic approach to building knowledge repositories, while older people prefer highly planned structures, and Generation X (of which I am one) remain neutral. I’m always a bit suspicious of generational divisions, as there are plenty of older innovators and young reactionaries, but I must admit I take a “best of both worlds” approach – so I conform to my generational stereotype!

I think the “battle” mirrors the taxonomy/folksonomy debate and experts I’ve asked about this suggest that the best way is to find a synergy. It all depends on the context, what is being organised, and what is needed. So social media are obviously great for certain things, but I’d hate to trust the company’s financial records to a bunch of accountants who said – “oh we don’t bother sorting and storing our files – if we need to prove your tax payments we’ll just stick a post on a forum and see if anyone still has the figures….”

Dead KM Walking

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Estimated reading time 2–3 minutes

This fascinating video (with transcript and follow-up post) on Patrick Lambe’s excellent blog (Green Chameleon) has turned out to be something of a hit, generating quite a discussion.

There’s far more in it than I can do justice to here, but I was struck by two core questions – what is the future for “knowledge management” as a field or practice in itself and what is the future for the phrase “knowledge management”?

I think that “knowledge management” as a practice has always been important and always will be, but the name may well change again and again (I’m sure the basic idea has been referred to as all sorts of things in the past). The lifespan of names is getting shorter and shorter these days, driven by the need to appear innovative and cutting edge all the time. There is also a tension – as people become specialised – to distinguish themselves from each other. This happens in every discipline – biologist, zoologist, ornithologist, herpetologist, virologist, etc. What I am not so sure about is whether “information professional” is accepted and well enough understood as a catch-all, so that “knowledge managers”, “records managers”, “librarians”, “information architects”, “enterprise content managers” etc are all seen as cousins in the same family. I’m also not sure if what is going on at the moment with “knowledge management” is is a kind of vying for dominance of the different terms, so at one point it looked like “knowledge management” would be the one and only catch-all term (rather than “information professional”, “information scientist” etc) and that other terms are now rising to prominence. What I am convinced of, however, is that everybody needs to talk to each other as much as possible and not let names turn into silos. Just as in a taxonomy – the labels are supposed to be signposts, not barriers.

Folksonomies and pace layering in information architecture

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Estimated reading time 1–2 minutes

Pace layering in ia is a paper by D. Grant Campbell and Karl V. Fast from the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, University of Western Ontario. They bring pace layering theories from ecology and environmental science into information architecture, viewing ia as an “ecology”. Basically, ecologists have noted that events occurring over different timescales interact to affect an environment – something like the lowering of the water table would be a slow event, but a flash flood would be a fast event. Only by looking at the ways these differently “paced layers” interact, can you predict how the local environment will respond. They propose that the underlying ia of website, with taxonomies and embedded nvigation structures etc., is a slow layer but that folksonomies bubble away as a fast layer of the site, changing rapidly and responding quickly. They suggest that the most stable structure will be one that can accommodate both fast-moving and slow-moving layers and that the slow layer must be robust and flexible enough to adjust itself to pressures from the fast layer.

I don’t think I have grasped all the implications of this, but my first impression is that it fits well with the “best of both worlds” approach – encouraging social tagging but not relying on it for critical information management, while using the folksonomic tags as feedback for updating and reviewing taxonomies.

Information Retrieval

Estimated reading time 3–5 minutes

The ISKO event at UCL on Thursday was fascinating. It was a real treat to hear the eminent Brian Vickery summarise the last 75 years of information retrieval developments, setting out the key questions to be answered and the challenges still to be overcome. At 90 years old he has a unique overview, having been a key member of the Classification Research Group and director of SLAIS. He pointed out that most retrieval systems have a particular user community in mind and that this affects the choice of information collected as well as the way the collection is structured. He also argued that being accepted as part of a specialist community involves use of the specialist terminology. I am very interested in the reverse of this – that lack of access to the “rght” terminology is exclusionary. It’s all about shibboleths! He said that key questions at the moment include – whether the costs and effort of building expensive retrieval systems like taxonomies are justified, whether the need for harmonisation is increasing, what is the future for general ontologies, and what needs to be done to improve statistical retrieval systems.

Stephen Robertson from Microsoft Research, who developed search algorithms that still power most of the big search engines today, talked about the TREC competition, which has almost always been won by statistically based searches. He drew a distinction between general purpose search and specialised search for highly specific contexts – such as individual organisations – adding that in general specialist search is lagging behind. He also said that we need to find ways of feeding other sources of knowledge – such as taxonomies – into statistical searching because only by yoking the power of both will we get marked improvements.

Ian Rowlands then talked about the much publicised JISC survey on the “Google generation” concluding that they are much the same as other generations. In all age groups about 20% are expert users of technology and 20% technophobes, with everyone else muddling along in the middle. The JISC project team observed that some people spend a long time looking at online navigation systems, sometimes without accessing any articles at all. It is hard to know whether this counts as success or failure. I can think of scenarios either way – often I just want to know what’s there and will return later, sometimes it means I can rule out a source as useless (which might be a good thing if it has saved me the time of reading through irrelevant articles or might be a bad thing if it means I can’t find what I need).

There was then a very interesting discussion in which people expressed concerns about information overload and the way that students find it hard to distinguish between authoritative and trivial sources. Ian lamented the fact that online you don’t have the visual clues that you had in physical libraries – big chunky leather bound books have an obvious “weight” and authority. Personally, I wonder how much this has been driven by the desire of publishers and teachers to make educational resources “fun”. If all your text books look like adverts and all your online learning resources look like pop videos, how are you going to learn which is which? It is perfectly possible to have an authoritative online style and publishers will produce it if that is what sells best. Throughout my career I have urged “authoritativeness” in design and been told by marketing departments that it isn’t what parents, teachers and kids want – they’ll only buy it if it looks flashy and fluffy! Another issue is the lack of a canon in a post-modern world – but that’s another story!

Here’s a post on the event on Madi Solomon’s Taxonomy Society blog.

SAGE journals free trials

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SAGE will be running a free trial to its entire
portfolio of Information Science journals throughout July and August. To sign up (for access to
journals such as the IFLA Journal, Journal of Information Science and Information
Development) go to
(from the 1st of July). Alternatively email to be informed when the trial goes live.

Sorting Things Out

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Estimated reading time 1–2 minutes

Sorting Things Out – Classification and its Consequences is a joy of a book, crammed with research and insights. It is very well written but is aimed at a serious academic audience, so pretty dense and packed with references. Bowker and Star examine in depth the development of the International Classification of Causes of Death, going back to 17th century archives and considering how something as apparently obvious and clearcut as death is in fact mired in political, religious, and economic biases. They go on to discuss the treatment of TB patients and the development of the Nursing Interventions Classification, again both of which would appear to be “objectively measurable” but are revealed to be complex intertwinings of various pressures. They then assess South Africa’s system of apartheid from the point of view of classification, showing how the arbitrary categorisation of people added to the brutality and cruelty of the regime. The book is not just a stark warning of how dominant regimes can use classification as a tool of oppression, but is also an important investigation of the powerplays involved in all categorisations.