The TAO of Topic Maps

Steve Pepper has written a succinct introduction to topic maps, titled The TAO of Topic Maps.

I read this today (17 July) on the subway to MacWorld and feel very excited about topic maps now. Pepper's article presents a view of topic maps and their implications at high enough of a level to communicate the advantages of Topic Maps and with enough theory to make it possible to think about applications using Topic Maps with your existing data sets. Now I have to spend some time reading about XTM on the site to get my head around what one can do and see what people have been doing already.

Thanks, Column Two: KM/CM blog

Swanson's Undiscovered Public Knowledge

Spurred by the Bates article, Eric adds Bradford's Law to the list of Statistical Laws he's cataloging on the Wiki. Digging deeper into the online literature, he finds a jewel in Don Swanson's (Chicago Library School) notion of undiscovered public knowledge. The idea is that there are links implicit among disparate fields and their associated published literatures, but which cannot be easily connected with reverse citation indexing without some analysis. These clusters of related bodies of knowledge that go undiscovered in the separate bodies of information are what he calls "undiscovered bodies of knowledge". Really fascinating and implications of discovering these bodies of knowledge are great. Reminded me of the movie Lorenzo's oil.

After the Dot Bomb: Getting Information Retrieval Right

Lou is pointing to and discussing Marcia Bates' excellent article in First Monday. This is an excellent article for anyone involved in web development. I have often harped on this blog on the issue of looking at the library and information science literature, particularly when it comes to information retrieval and classification issues (being that I'm a librarian, that should come as no surprise). There is already so much experience and knowledge in the IR field that exists that can be leveraged for information systems design on the web, but it is largely ignored by people who aren't aware of it.

Anyway, this is an excellent article, one of the most valuable articles I've read this year. Go read it if you care about how information and how it's used. There is some useful discussion about classification and facetted versus hierarchical classification, an interesting perspective on the present day use and understanding of the term ontology, and most importantly, a discussion of the business issues to consider regarding cost of maintaining systems requiring some form of classification system.

External Search Engine Usability

So it's good to know people are hitting your site with A, B and C keywords from certain search engines... but how good is that information... what is the user really looking for? Jeff Lash explains the Three Ways to Improve External Search Engine Usability.

There are three methods that can be used in improving how links to your site appears on external search engines, and how relevant and useful the resulting pages those links point to are:

  • Recreating search logs
  • Cognitive walkthrough
  • Usability testing
eDesign Magazine

I'll be the first to admit I was a bit skeptical when I heard about eDesign, “The Magazine of Interactive Design and Commerce.” After reading the June 2002 issue, though, I'm impressed. This could quite possibly be the best print magazine for information architects and related practitioners.

There are some very cool articles in this issue; JJG is interviewed for the cover story on “specialized design botiques,” there's a great branding feature on National Geographic, and any magazine that features an ad from Frog Design can't be all that bad.

The magazine itself is quite beautiful, a nice mix of aesthetically pleasing communication design and lots of relevant, interesting content.

Most of the articles aren't available online, unfortunately, and there don't seem to be any free industry subscriptions available, but, with so many magazines relying on ad revenue alone, the business model makes sense, and I wouldn't mind paying $30 for six bi-monthly issues, a design annual, and the chance to help a smart and worthy publication stay in business.

Emotion and Design - Don Norman essay

Great essay in ACM SIGCHI Interactions from Don Norman - Emotion and Design: Attractive Things Work Better. And Christina points out Jakob's latest User Empowerment and the Fun Factor. Don's rubbing off on our Danish amigo. Good to see traditional HCI folks start to recognize the value of design.

Also see previous 'coverage' of this welcome shift in early May here on ia/


Been pretty slow here the past week. I've been tied up with a few big things -- selling my house, preparing to launch a site, a volunteer project, and trying to enjoy the summer despite the 100 degree weather. In any case, I expect to take a break from this blog for the next few weeks, so blogging from me will be sparse. Feel free to continue submitting news without me!


Information design: What is it? Who needs it?

The AIGA Design Forum has a few articles on Information Design by Eric Spiekermann, Terry Irwin and Nigel Holmes. Hopefully some discussion will follow on the forum.

Thanks, WebWord

ASIS&T Bulletin June/July 2002

In the June/July Bulletin, Andrew Dillon reports on the IA Summit and a few articles discuss the issue of Vocabulary Control and Design on the Web.

Forrester Report: When Can Web Analytics Drive Design?

Forrester has an interesting "Brief" on tools to help drive the design of websites. Membership may be required.

"Complex site redesigns require input from multiple sources. But for focused design changes, data gathered from analytics tools may be enough to make a reliable call. "

Faceted classification of information

Knowledge Management Connection summarizes/defines faceted classification for the KM crowd.

Given the significant difficulties in categorizing books, papers, and articles using traditional library classification techniques, it would seem next to impossible for humans to classify the small chunks of rapidly changing information that characterize information-intensive business environments. But it’s not. Library and information science professionals have already provided the foundations of an alternative to traditional classification techniques: faceted classification.

Thanks, Jeffrey Veen

mc.clintock maps contents of house

Christina pointed to mc.clintock, which has mapped the contents of a house using floor plans to navigate by room and showing photos and illustrations of furniture. Clicking on furniture allows you to navigate to screens showing the contents of that furniture. Wow, what an incredible inventory of stuff! I would have liked if the floor plans labeled at least some of the rooms (study, bedroom), though. It's hard to tell from the initial page what's what until you cursor over a region. Here's an example from a series of floor plans I did of my house using OmniGraffle. I don't think I'll inventory any of my house's contents though.

Marti Hearst on Information Visualization

Peterme interviews Marti Hearst, professor in the School of Information Management Systems at UC Berkeley, on the topic of Information Visualization. They discuss the success and future of the field pointing out specific examples of applications that have and have not worked and why.

Business Taxonomy

Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business are in the process of developing a business taxonomy to describe business management education.

Mentioned in, "E-learning alliance bears fruit"

"The two schools have developed a taxonomy to catalogue and map the types of material that the schools have developed. The two libraries and information technology groups were instrumental in this. "We're sharing 100 per cent of the learning and the process knowledge," says Mr Fogel."

Could bad IA get you arrested?

The Intranet Focus Blog is, from what I understand, the only public blog dealing specifically with intranet issues. A recent post entitled Enron — The Intranet Implications talks about how, with all this talk lately of document retention policies and email backups, little attention is paid to how documents are stored, accessed, and kept on intranets.

The entry brings up a good point, but unfortunately leaves the issue of intranet IA hanging a bit:

“In many industries government officials and industry regulators have the authority to enter the premises of a company to look for evidence of malpractice. That would include the intranet. ... if the information archtecture of your intranet is so bad that the investigators feel that they are being impeded in their work you might end up on the end of an obstruction of justice charge.”

Could bad IA really call for charges to be filed? I seriously doubt that the IA would/could be that bad, and a bad information architecture on an intranet would most likely go along with a system of organizing files and documents throughout the company, not just on the intranet. Still, it's an interesting idea, and another reason that it may be worthwhile to pay attention to IA.

Facets: Christina, Karl and AAT

Christina and Karl had quite a conversation about facets. I hear you, Karl. Not quite as simple as one would think. The process of identifying facets for describing a thing, whether it's art objects or cheese (but please not wine!), is not all that easy and determining meaningful facets really depends on the intended use. What interests me in the discussion of facets is looking at hard to describe objects and seeing what facets large organizations have arrived at to describe them. What interests me in particular is the description of abstract concepts and subject matter.

I always call upon the example of art object facets because that's what I'm familiar with having worked with slide library collections. With art objects the empirically observable descriptive data is easy to put into facets (object type, technique, medium), but it's the abstract description (subject heading for example) that defies categorization by facets I think. The Getty Art and Architecture thesaurus is a good example of a controlled vocabulary for concepts to describe art and architecture. The 7 facets used in that thesaurus reflect the categories that art researchers might commonly use to describe what an art object is about in terms of subject matter. As such, they use some simple aboutness facets that to describe the most easily observable subject matter: Physical Attributes, Styles and Periods, Agents, Activities, Materials, Objects. But what is most intruiguing to me is the Associated Concepts facet which is full of abstract concepts that are probably the most difficult to extract from the art object. They describe this facet as "Associated Concepts: This facet contains abstract concepts and phenomena that relate to the study and execution of a wide range of human thought and activity, including architecture and art in all media, as well as related disciplines. Also covered here are theoretical and critical concerns, ideologies, attitudes, and social or cultural movements (e.g., beauty, balance, connoisseurship, metaphor, freedom, socialism)." Wow. That's the stuff that is hard to describe in terms of facets and that takes a lot of time/effort/analysis by subject matter experts to define a-priori. Having a look at that particular facet hierarchy might prove interesting to anyone thinking about a faceted approach to subject matter. How did they arrive at those sub-facets? Do they account for every possible description in this structure? I don't know. I am still wondering if it's all worth the effort.

Magical numbers: the seven-plus-or-minus-two myth

Jean-Luc Doumont denounces the 7plus or minus 2 myth in this article (available from IEE as a PDF, membership required) in IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication. Doumont calls the myth a conventional absurdity that most people cite out of context.

Most interesting to me is Doumont's identification of this detail quoted from George Miller's paper in Psychology Review, "For memory, a chunk of information is loosely defined as, precisely, one of those items that the immediate memory can hold up to seven of. As Miller puts it, “The span of immediate memory seems to be almost independent of the number of bits per chunk”

Jean-Luc Doumont denounces the 7plus or minus 2 myth in this article in IEEE Transactions on Professional Communication. Doumont calls the myth a conventional absurdity that most people cite out of context because they've heard it somewhere. The article reviews George Miller's original article in Psychology Review to put it in perspective.

Most interesting to me is Doumont's identification of this detail quoted from Miller, "For memory, a chunk of information is loosely defined as, precisely, one of those items that the immediate memory can hold up to seven of. As Miller puts it, “The span of immediate memory seems to be almost independent of the number of bits per chunk." The crux of Miller's message is that "Our capacity for processing information and, specifically, our span of unidimensional absolute judgement is severely limited. To communicate effectively, then, we should take this limitation into account and, rather than attempting to quantify it."

Miller proposes that there are various devices one can use to get arround this limitation of the mind. One such device is to arrange the task in such a way that we make a sequence of several absolute judgments in a row. The example Doumont gives is recoding bits into chunks to expand our span of short term memory. Given the two groups of items below, if the 3x3 list of items is meaningfully chunked, it will be easier to process than the 9 item list below:

    * item
    * item
    * item
    * item
    * item
    * item
    * item
    * item
    * item   * item
    * item
    * item

    * item
    * item
    * item

    * item
    * item
    * item

What I took away from the article was that some visually presented depth helps the mind to deal with a broad list that might be harder to hold in memory. Doumont goes on to describe attributes of smaller integers, which was interesting, but was not of any practical use to me.

All The Web vs. Google

Webreference covers All The Web's announcement that their search engine index has surpassed Google's. Fast Search & Transfer (FAST), the company that provides All The Web says they aren't challenging Google, but just promoting their product. In the article, the company shows off All The Web can be better at returning relevant results than Google in some cases.

Pure CSS Amazon

I've been following the discussion on Webgraphics about these table-less full CSS versions of Amazon and Yahoo!. Interesting if you do any front-end development. My opinion is that the Amazon rendering in CSS is excellent -- cuts necessary markup in half -- and I don't see any reason not to do a site this way if you can sniff out the browser/platform before hand. The Yahoo layout needs more work, though.

37signals prototypes the ideal car site/telematics system

37signals has designed and prototyped 37bettermotors, a better car site/telematics system as part of their redesign series. Get maintenance feedbacks, schedule the climate for your morning commutes, view your MP3 playlists. Now that's a smart car. How do I get me one of those and how long will it last on the streets of Brooklyn?

37bettermotors is 37signals' vision for the future of automotive Web sites. Through a site like 37bettermotors a car owner would be able to interact directly with her car via a computer or mobile phone. This would allow her to lock or unlock her car, activate or deactivate her car's alarm, check its fuel level, warm it up on a cold winter morning, transfer MP3s from a home PC to the car, or perform dozens of other useful tasks all from the comfort of her home or wherever it is that she happens to be.