Exposing the Local InfoCloud

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,

I have spent a lot of time and effort focussing on the Personal InfoCloud, but the past year or two I have been seeing that the interaction between the person and their information resources that are closest to them (the Local InfoCloud) is extremely important. I have gone around the Local InfoCloud looking at ways to best explain it and bring it to life in a more understandable manner. This past November at Design Engaged 2005 my presentation needed me to dig into the Local InfoCloud and it various components. Since Design Engaged I have been using the slide and ideas around it to explain its relationship to the Personal InfoCloud and the "Come to Me Web". I have iterated on the idea and received some good feedback (particularly from Liz Lawley. Are you ready to dig in?

Overview of the Local InfoCloud

The Local InfoCloud started as an idea of information that was physically close. What is stored or accessed by physical location (information that is physically close) as in an Intranet or location-based information accessed on your mobile device. The more I thought about it and chatted with others it became clear it was more than physical location, it is information resources that are familiar and easier to access than the whole of the web (Global InfoCloud) as a framing concept.

As the my understanding began to lean toward familiarity as a core component of the definition of Local InfoCloud, the term began to embrace the social and community aspects (I am working on shying away from the term community as it is a broadly used term and I am trying to be a little more precise). Interactions with people, services, networks, applications, etc. that are familiar are means of bringing information closer to us as people with data, information, and media needs. The Local InfoCloud eases access. It eases the ability to find and refind information. It is information that is closer to us, not necessarily in physical proximity, but in the ability to access, in which familiarity is bread.

I spent much time considering changing the label from local to community or social, but there were elements that did not perfectly fit that either. Location-based services may be created by a service, but understanding the mindset, terminology, dialect, and cognitive frameworks that are germane to that physical location the information can be structured to resemble or mirror the social elements of understanding in that place. I will get to a better understanding of this when I talk about the Location aspect of the Local InfoCloud. As well, thinking in the Model of Attraction framework the Local InfoCloud is that which is attracted closer to us than the Global InfoCloud.

Important Attributes

There are some attributes that are important to the Local InfoCloud and separate it from the Global InfoCloud and ease the ability to integrate or draw the information and/or media in to the Personal InfoCloud.


As mentioned above familiarity is an essential attribute. Familiarity can be through vocabulary and terminology used to describe or discuss information and objects that people are trying to find and use. The taxonomy or germane ontologies are important to understand as they help ease the connection between the person seeking the information and objects and those providing it.


Access to a resource is very important as it is in the ease of access that we rely on the Local InfoCloud. There is information that is in systems or in locations that others can not get to (that would make it in other's Eternal InfoCloud), but ability to get to the information is important. The ability to get back to the information (through password locked systems, access only by location, etc.) that dictates access is a key attribute.


Structure is a key attribute in the seeking, finding, and refinding information and objects. In a physical neighborhood we know that a corner store is on the corner, but in a portal we know that movie reviews have a certain URL structure and/or that we can click on a Entertainment button/link to get to the page that links to the movie reviews. Reading one movie review in a familiar site we know how to get to other movie reviews. These browsing structures allow the person to interact and attract information to their screen easily.

Known Actions

Known actions are the element in peoples lives that provide patterns that can be repeated to get to what the person desires. Many times people know how to get to, or more appropriately get back to what they are interested in through indirect connections. A favorite resource may be on a friend's link page as they have not set a direct means to connect to that source or to even draw that information to them to cut down the effort expended. Applications and location-based information are other environments that depend upon known actions to connect people to that which they desire.


Consistency is a main attribute driver to our use and reuse of a component in the Local InfoCloud. Consistency breeds familiarity as people learn the terminology, can bookmark, use the known actions to get back to information, or guess how to get access to other items of interest. Having URL structures that are consistent provides a means to get at open information as well as permits the person to restructure means to keep that information closer to them (external social bookmarking as an example).

Copy, Point & Tether

Copy, Point & Tether are actions that a person can take to move information from a Local InfoCloud to the Personal InfoCloud. The attributes are germane to the Personal InfoCloud, but also have importance in the Local InfoCloud often the Local InfoCloud embraces these concepts to ease these actions.

When a person finds data, information, or media objects of interest they most often do one of three things: Copy the item to keep it close (hard drive, flash drive, scan to a drive, scrape to a drive, etc.); Point to the location where the information is located (bookmark, link, blog, wiki, etc.); or Tether the item which is desired by copying or pointing, but then setting a means to get notified when that item has been changed, updated, moved, etc. through tools like RSS/ATOM, e-mail, a pinging service, etc. The tethering is insanely important for items that are anything but completely static over the very long-term (think years not shorter) and it will be getting its own long write-up in the future (subscribe to the RSS here to tether your interest to the future content).


Localinfocloud_overviewNow we can look at the components that can comprise the Local InfoCloud. Each of these have one or more of the attributes. The components are digital and physical in nature. Components may or may not be exclusive, as some Local InfoCloud resources may be comprised of more than one component.


Location was the first component of the Local InfoCloud I considered. Location is important as the physical place has characteristics that draw various attributes together. Location often has a familiarity with terms and language that frame the items within it. The structure of the physical surroundings play an important part in how and where things are located in that location. Tools that are implemented by location are kiosks, GPS/location-based information systems, games that use physical space to provide rewards or clues, language translation tools that are needed in a location, physical location can provide, ease, hinder or censor access to information, and access points to get information can be germane to location (mobile devices need local permissions to access services, etc.).

Friends (and Family)

There is one area that is often over looked as friends and family are not always digital resources, but can provide incredible means of information. Knowing a friend (or she has a good friend) who is an expert in the subject that we need understanding of is very helpful. We can call or visit that person, but we can also e-mail, chat, or have a video conversation with the person to get access to the information or knowledge. In social networks it is common that people will use those whom they are most familiar as a resource to get access to stored knowledge or use the person as a ready pointer to how to get the items they need. Access and familiarity are very strong attributes with friends and family. Often we do not have to tap the person to get the information, but the friend will e-mail us a pointer that they believe we have an interest in consuming. We can save e-mail (as that pointer or container of information is structured by a face or name we have known connections and have put them in context, much in the way they do with us.

A person's preferred method becomes a known action for us. We know the times we can tap somebody with a question or what tools they prefer to communicate using. We know friends who love to talk and their best means of interaction is the phone or an audio chat, while others are more apt to respond to e-mail, text chat, text messaging on their mobile device, or respond to a blog post. Over time we learn not only what is easy to get from whom, but the best means to interact to get the what we desire.

Near in Thought

We have resources that we rely upon because we have similar taste, interest, and/or perspectives on the genre or facet of life the resource covers, more directly these resources are near in thought to us. Politics is an easy example as the terminology used in and around the items we are seeking is known to us and we have expectations that we will like or agree with what is provided from that resource. Beyond politics we have resources with similar interests, perspectives and taste that help filter and provide easier access to items we desire. These resources are not only familiar but they often are structured in a manner that we understand the naming conventions for categories and other resource are easy for use to use and predict what will be brought closer to us through actions. These resources may be whole web sites, journals, writers, blogs, periodicals, etc.


In our life we belong to many groups. These groups have their own terminology and structures for things. Some of these affiliations will be easy to grasp how to access the resources at first opportunity, while others will come through enculturation of learning the structures and terminology. Through consistancy of the affiliations we increase our ability to use these resources to our benefit.


Organizations are things we can belong to or join, like a knitting group, local chapter of a national affinity society, etc. These memberships in the organizations allow greater interaction with others with similar interests and/or needs. Organizations can have gated resources that are only access through membership or affiliation with that group.


Work was the initial driver behind the Local InfoCloud as it was information and resources on an Intranet that was the initial understanding of local. But, work also has its own terminology, known actions, and structure. Over time we learn the resources, both digital, physical, and human that provide us access to information and knowledge.

Social Software

Social software can be device-based or network-based (web, internet, intranet, etc.) and the software builds consistency, structure, and known actions over time. If the software is built well the hurdles will be low to understanding how to get at the items we want and need. The software connects people and provides individuals the ability to contribute content and connect with others with similar interest and needs. Social software may connect people over time in an asynchronous manner as a person can leave an answer to a question at one point in time, but everybody with that same question or interest will have the capability to get to the same answer and potentially connect with that person as a known expert/resource through time.

The software becomes the conduit for connecting people and the data, information, and media the people share and/or discuss and augment. It also provides the means to connect people who are near in thought. It is one means for us to share things we would like feedback on. Social software mitigates distance for connecting people around common interests and can mitigate time as we do not need to be on at the same time to interact. Some examples are online discussion groups, listserves, social bookmarking, social networking, blogs, chat software, etc.


Portals in this meaning are the large aggregation sites that collect information and media into a familiar interface. Tools like AOL, Yahoo, news sites, aggregated shopping sites, etc. are portals with familiar structures that are consistent. Portals make a learnable interface to a variety of data, information, and media objects. Some are interest-based, while others are extremely broad. Similar to a newspaper or magazine the portal has one set of structures to grasp and access remains constant over time. We will easily know where to find movie reviews, car sales, discussion lists, various genre of news, etc.


This is still a work in progress to some degree. Feedback on these attributes and components is always welcome. There may be some editing to this page, but more than likely the modifications will be in pages and posts that follow-on under this Local InfoCloud category.