Information organization

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.

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