A Stale State of Tagging?

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , ,


David Weinberger posted a comment about Tagging like it was 2002, which quotes Matt Mower discussing the state of tagging. I mostly agree, but not completely. In the consumer space thing have been stagnant for a while, but in the enterprise space there is some good forward movement and some innovation taking place. But, let me break down a bit of what has gone on in the consumer space.

History of Tagging

The history of tagging in the consumer space is a much deeper and older topic than most have thought. One of the first consumer products to include tagging or annotations was the Lotus Magellan product, which appeared in 1988 and allowed annotations of documents and objects on one's hard drive to ease finding and refinding the them (it was a full text search which was remarkably fast for its day). By the mid-90s Compuserve had tagging for objects uploaded into its forum libraries. In 2001 Bitzi allowed tagging of any media what had a URL.

The down side of this tagging was the it did not capture identity and assuming every person uses words (tag terms) in the same manner is a quick trip to the tag dump where tags are not fully useful. In 2003 Joshua Schacter showed the way with del.icio.us that not only allowed identity, upon which we can disambiguate, but it also had a set object in common with all those identities tagging it. The common object being annotated allows for a beginning point to discern similarity of identity─Ás tag terms. Part of this has been driven on Joshua's focus on the person consuming the content and allowing a means for that consumer to get back to their information and objects of interest. (It is around this concept that folksonomy was coined to separate it from the content publisher tagging and non-identity related tagging.) This picked up on the tagging for one's self that was in Lotus Magellan and brings it forward to the web.

Valuable Tagging

It was in del.icio.us that we saw tagging that really did not work well in the past begin to become valuable as the clarity in tag terms that was missing in most all other tagging systems was corrected for in the use of a common object being tagged and the identity of the tagger. This set the foundation for some great things to happen, but have great things happened?

Tagging Future Promise

Del.icio.us set many of out minds a flutter with insight into the dreams of the capability of tagging having a good foothold with proper structure under them. A brilliant next step was made by RawSugar (now gone) to use this structure to make ease of disambiguating the tag terms (by appleseed did you mean: Johnny Appleseed, appleseeds for gardening/farming, the appleseed in the fruit apple, or appleseed the anime movie?). RawSugar was a wee bit before its time as it is a tool that is needed after there tagging (particularly folksonomy related tagging systems) start scaling. It is a tool that many in enterprise are beginning to seek to help find clarity and greater value in their internal tagging systems they built 12 to 18 months ago or longer. Unfortunately, the venture capitalists did not have the vision that the creators of RawSugar did nor the patience needed for the market to catch-up to the need in a more mature market and they pulled the plug on the development of RawSugar to put the technology to use for another purpose (ironically as the market they needed was just easing into maturity).

The del.icio.us movement drove blog tags, laid out by Technorati. This mirrored the previous methods of publisher tagging, which is most often better served from set categories that usually are derived from a taxonomy or simple set (small or large) of controlled vocabulary terms. Part of the problem inherent in publisher tags and categories is that they are difficult to use outside of their own domain (however wide their domain is intended - a specific site or cross-sites of a publisher). Using tags from one blog to another blog has problems for the same reason that Bitzi and all other publisher tags have and had problems, they are missing identity of the tagger AND a clear common object being tagged. Publisher tags can work well as categories for aggregating similar content within a site or set of commonly published sites where a tag definition has been set (but that really makes them set categories) and used consistently. Using Technorati tag search most often surfaces this problem quickly with many variation of tag use surfacing or tag terms being used to attract traffic for non-related content (Technorati's keyword search is less problematic as it relies on the terms being used in context in the content - unfortunately the two searches have been tied together making search really messy at the moment). There is need for an improved tool that could take the blog tags and marry them to the linked items in the content (if that is what is being talked about - discerning predicate in blog tags is not clear yet).

Current Tools that Advanced

As of a year ago there were more than 140 social bookmarking tools in the consumer space, but there was little advancement. But, there are a few services that have innovated and brought new and valuable features to market in tagging. As mentioned recently Ma.gnolia has done a really good job of taking the next steps with social interaction in social bookmarking. Clipmarks pioneered the sub-page tagging and annotation in the consumer tagging space and has a really valuable resource in that tool. ConnectBeam is doing some really good things in the enterprise space, mostly taking the next couple steps that Yahoo MyWeb2 should have taken and pairing it with enterprise search. Sadly, del.icio.us (according to comments in their discussion board) is under a slow rebuilding of the underlying framework (but many complaints from enterprise companies I have worked with and spoken indepth with complain del.icio.us continually blocks their access and they prefer not to use the service and are finding current solutions and options to be better for them).

A Long Way to Go

While there are examples that tagging services have moved forward, there is so much more room to advance and improve. As people's own collection of tagged pages and objects have grown the tools are needed to better refind them. This will require time search and time related viewing/scanning of items. The ability to use co-occurance of tag terms (what other tags were used on the object), with useful interfaces to view and scan the possibilities.

Portability and interoperability is extremely important for both the individual person and enterprise to aggregate, migrate, and search across their collections across services and devices (now that devices have tagging and have had for some time, as in Mac OS X Tiger and now Vista). Enterprises should also have the ability to move external tagged items in through their firewall and publish out as needed, mostly on an employee level. There is also desire to have B2B tagging with customers tagging items purchased so the invoicing can be in the customers terminology rather than the seller terminology.

One of the advances in personal tagging portability and interoperability can easily be seen when we tag on one device and move the object to a second device or service (parts of this are not quite available yet). Some people will take a photo on their mobile phone and add quick tags like "sset" and others to a photo of a sunset. They send that photo to a service or move it to their desktop (or laptop) and import the photo and the tag goes along with it. The application sees the "sset" and knows the photo was transfered from that person's mobile device and knows it is their short code for "sunset" and expands the tag to sunset accordingly. The person then adds some color attribute tags to the photo and moves the photo to their photo sharing service of choice with the tags appended.

The current tools and services need tools and functionality to heal some of the messiness. This includes stemming to align versions of the same word (e.g. tag, tags, tagging, bookmark, bookmarking). Tag with disambiguation in mind by offering co-occurrence options (e.g. appleseed and anime or johnny or gardening or apple). String matching to identify facets for time and date, names (from your address book), products, secret tag terms (to have them blocked from sharing), etc. (similar to Stikkit and GMail).

Monitoring Tools

Enterprise is what the next development steps really need to take off (these needs also apply to the power knowledge worker as well). The monitoring tools for tags from others and around objects (URLs) really need to fleshed out and come to market. The tag monitoring tools need to become granular based on identity and co-occurance so to more tightly filter content. The ability to monitor a URL and how it is tagged across various services is a really strong need (there are kludgy and manual means of doing this today) particularly for simple and efficient tools (respecting the tagging service processing and privacy).

Analysis Tools

Enterprise and power knowledge workers also are in need of some solid analysis tools. These tools should be able to identify others in a service that have similar interests and vocabulary, this helps to surface people that should be collaborating. It should also look at shifts in terminology and vocabulary so to identify terms to be added to a taxonomy, but also provide an easy step for adding current emergent terms to related older tagged items. Identify system use patterns.

Just the Tip

We are still at the tip of the usefulness of tagging and the tools really need to make some big leaps. The demands are there in the enterprise marketplace, some in the enterprise are aware of them and many more a getting to there everyday as the find the value real and ability to improve the worklife and workflow for their knowledge workers is great.

The people using the tools, including enterprise need to grasp what is possible beyond that is offered and start asking for it. We are back to where we were in 2003 when del.icio.us arrived on the scene, we need new and improved tools that understand what we need and provide usable tools for those solutions. We are developing tag islands and silos that desperately need interoperability and portability to get real value out of these stranded tag silos around or digital life.


Stitching Conversation Threads Fractured Across Channels

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


Communicating is simple. Well it is simple at its core of one person talking with another person face-to-face. When we communicate and add technology into the mix (phone, video-chat, text message, etc.) it becomes more difficult. Technology becomes noise in the pure flow of communication.

Now With More Complexity

But, what we have today is even more complex and difficult as we are often holding conversation across many of these technologies. The communication streams (the back and forth communication between two or more people) are now often not contained in on communication channel (channel is the flavor or medium used to communicate, such as AIM, SMS, Twitter, e-mail, mobile phone, etc.).

We are seeing our communications move across channels, which can be good as this is fluid and keeping with our digital presence. More often than not we are seeing our communication streams fracture across channels. This fracturing becomes really apparent when we are trying to reconstruct our communication stream. I am finding this fracturing and attempting to stitch the stream back together becoming more and more common as for those who are moving into and across many applications and devices with their own messaging systems.

The communication streams fracture as we pick-up an idea or need from Twitter, then direct respond in Twitter that moves it to SMS, the SMS text message is responded back to in regular SMS outside of Twitter, a few volleys back and forth in SMS text, then one person leaves a voicemail, it is responded to in an e-mail, there are two responses back and forth in e-mail, an hour later both people are on Skype and chat there, in Skype chat they decide to meet in person.

Why Do We Want to Stitch the Communication Stream Together?

When they meet there is a little confusion over there being no written overview and guide. Both parties are sure they talked about it, but have different understandings of what was agreed upon. Having the communication fractured across channels makes reconstruction of the conversation problematic today. The conversation needs to be stitched back together using time stamps to reconstruct everything [the misunderstanding revolved around recommendations as one person understands that to mean a written document and the other it does not mean that].

Increasingly the reality of our personal and professional lives is this cross channel communication stream. Some want to limit the problem by keeping to just one channel through the process. While this is well intentioned it does not meet reality of today. Increasingly, the informal networking leads to meaningful conversations, but the conversations drifts across channels and mediums. Pushing a natural flow, as it currently stands, does not seem to be the best solution in the long run.

Why Does Conversation Drift Across Channels?

There are a few reasons conversations drift across channels and mediums. One reason is presence as when two people notice proximity on a channel they will use that channel to communicate. When a person is seen as present, by availability or recently posting a message in the service, it can be a prompt to communicate. Many times when the conversation starts in a presence channel it will move to another channel or medium. This shift can be driven by personal preference or putting the conversation in a medium or channel that is more conducive for the conversation style between people involved. Some people have a preferred medium for all their conversations, such as text messaging (SMS), e-mail, voice on phone, video chat, IM, etc.. While other people have a preferred medium for certain types of conversation, like quick and short questions on SMS, long single responses in e-mail, and extended conversations in IM. Some people prefer to keep their short messages in the channel where they begin, such as conversations that start in Facebook may stay there. While other people do not pay attention to message or conversation length and prefer conversations in one channel over others.

Solving the Fractured Communication Across Channels

Since there are more than a few reasons for the fractured communications to occur it is something that needs resolution. One solution is making all conversations open and use public APIs for the tools to pull the conversations together. This may be the quickest means to get to capturing and stitching the conversation thread back together today. While viable there are many conversations in our lives that we do not want public for one reason or many.

Another solution is to try to keep your conversations in channels that we can capture for our own use (optimally this should be easily sharable with the person we had the conversation with, while still remaining private). This may be where we should be heading in the near future. Tools like Twitter have become a bridge between web and SMS, which allows us to capture SMS conversations in an interface that can be easily pointed to and stitched back together with other parts of a conversation. E-mail is relatively easy to thread, if done in a web interface and/or with some tagging to pull pieces in from across different e-mail addresses. Skype chat also allows for SMS interactions and allows for them to be captured, searched, and pulled back together. IM conversations can easily be saved out and often each item is time stamped for easy stitching. VoIP conversations are often easily recorded (we are asking permission first, right?) and can be transcribed by hand accurately or be transcribed relatively accurately via speech-to-text tools. Voice-mail can now be captured and threaded using speech-to-text services or even is pushed as an attachment into e-mail in services as (and similar to) JConnect.

Who Will Make This Effortless?

There are three types of service that are or should be building this stitching together the fractured communications across channels into one threaded stream. I see tools that are already stitching out public (or partially public) lifestreams into one flow as one player in this pre-emergent market (Facebook, Jaiku, etc.). The other public player would be telecoms (or network provider) companies providing this as a service as they currently are providing some of these services, but as their markets get lost to VoIP, e-mail, on-line community messaging, Second Life, etc., they need to provide a service that keeps them viable (regulation is not a viable solution in the long run). Lastly, for those that do not trust or want their conversation streams in others hands the personally controlled application will become a solutions, it seems that Skype could be on its way to providing this.

Is There Demand Yet?

I am regularly fielding questions along these lines from enterprise as they are trying to deal with these issues for employees who have lost or can not put their hands on vital customer conversations or essential bits of information that can make the difference in delivering what their customers expect from them. Many have been using Cisco networking solutions that have some of these capabilities, but still not providing a catch all. I am getting queries from various telecom companies as they see reflections of where they would like to be providing tools in a Come to Me Web or facilitating bits of the Personal InfoCloud. I am getting requests from many professionals that want this type of solution for their lives. I am also getting queries from many who are considering building these tools, or pieces of them.

Some of us need these solutions now. Nearly all of us will need these solutions in the very near future.


The Future is Now for Information Access

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


An interview with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer in the in the San Francisco Chronicle regarding Steve's thoughts about the future of technology, information, and Microsoft (including their competition) sparked a few things regarding the Personal InfoCloud and Local InfoCloud. It could be the people I hang out with and the stay-at-home parents I run across during the day, but the future Ballmer talks about is happening now! The future will more widely distributed in 10 years, but the desire and devices are in place now. The thing holding everything back is content management systems that are built for the "I Go Get Web" and people implementing those systems that see technology and not a web of data.

Let's begin with Ballmer's response to the question, "Ten years from now, what is the digital world going to look like? To which Ballmer responds: A: People are going to have access to intelligence in multiple ways. I'm going to want to have intelligence in my pocket. I'm going to want to have intelligence in my TV. I'm going to want to have intelligence in my den and in my office. And what I may want in terms of size, of screen size, of input techniques, keyboard, handwriting, voice, may vary.

I think what we'll see is, we have intelligence everywhere. We have multiple input techniques, meaning in some sense you may have some bit of storage which travels with you everywhere, effectively. Today, people carry around these USB storage devices, but you'll carry around some mobile device.

The problem is people have the devices in their pockets today in the form of Blackberries, Treos, Nokia 770s, and just regular mobile phones with browsing and syncing. The access to the information is in people's pockets. The software to make it simple with few clicks is where the battle lies. My Palm OS-based Treo 650 is decent, but it has few clicks to get me to my information. My friends with the Windows version of the same device have six or more clicks for basic things like calendar and address book. Going through menus is not simplicity. Going directly to information that is desired is simplicity. A mobile devices needs simplicity as it is putting information in our hands with new contexts and other tasks we are trying to solve (driving, walking, meeting, getting in a taxi, getting on a bus, etc.).

The Information

Not only does the software have to be simple to access information in our Personal InfoCloud (the information that we have stated we want and need near us, but have structured in our personal framework of understanding). We also interact with the Local InfoCloud with is information sources that is familiar to us to which we have set a means of easing interaction (cognitively, physically, or mechanically).

This "intelligence" that Ballmer refers to is information in the form of data. It needs to be structured to make solid use of that information in our lives. This structure needs to ascend below the page level to at least the object level. The object level can be a photo with the associated metadata (caption, photographer, rights, permanent source, size, etc.), event information (event name, location, date and time, permanent location of the information, organizer, etc.), full-text and partial-text access (title, author, contact info, version, date published, rights, headers, paragraphs, etc.).

These objects may comprise a page or document on the web, but they not only have value as a whole, they have value as discrete objects. The web is a transient information store for data and media, it is a place to rest this information and object on its journey of use and reuse. People use and want (if not need) to use these objects in their lives. Their lives are comprised of various devices with various pieces of software that work best in their life. They want to track events, dates, people, ideas, media, memes, experts, friends, industries, finances, workspaces, competition, collaborators, entertainment, etc. as part of their regular lives. This gets very difficult when there is an ever growing flood of information and data bombarding us daily, hourly, consistently.

This is not a future problem. This is a problem right now! The information pollution is getting worse every moment we sit here. How do we dig through the information? How do we make sense of the information? How do we hold on to the information?

The solutions is using the resources we have at our finger tips. We need access to the object level data and the means to attach hooks to this data. One solution that is rising up is Microformats, which Ray Ozzie of Microsoft embraces and has been extending with his Live Clipboard, which is open for all (yes all operating systems and all applications) to use, develop, and extend. The web, as a transient information store, must be open to all comers (not walled off for those with a certain operating system, media player, browser, certain paid software, etc.) if the information is intended for free usage (I am seeing Microsoft actually understand this and seemingly embrace this).

Once we have the information and media we can use it and reuse it as we need. But, as we all know information and media is volatile, as it changes (for corrections, updates, expanding, etc.) and we need to know that what we are using and reusing is the best and more accurate information. We need the means to aggregate the information and sync the information when it changes. In our daily lives if we are doing research on something we want to buy and we bookmark it, should we not have the capability to get updates on the prices of the item? We made an explicit connection to that item, which at least conveys interest. Is it not in the interest of those selling the information to make sure we have the last price, if not changes to that product? People want and need this. It needs to be made simple. Those that get this right will win in the marketplace.

What is Standing in the Way?

So, the big question is, "what is standing in the way"? To some degree it is the tools with which we create the information and some of it is people not caring about the information, data, and media they expose.

The tools many of the large information providers are using are not up to the task. Many of the large content management systems (CMS) do not provide simple data structures. The CMS focusses on the end points (the devices, software, tools, etc.) not the simple data structures that permit simple efficient use and reuse of the objects. I have witnessed far too many times a simple web page that is well structured that is relatively small (under 40KB) get turned into an utter mess that is unstructured and large (over 200KB). Usable, parseable, and grabable information is broken by the tools. The tools focus on what looks good and not what is good. Not only is the structure of the data and objects broken, but they are no longer addressable. There are very few CMS that get it right, or let the developers get it right (one that gets it right is Axiom [open disclosure: I have done work with Siteworx the developer of Axiom]).

The other part of the problem is the people problem, which is often driven by not understanding the medium they are working within. They are focus on the tools, which are far from perfect and don't care enough to extend the tools to do what they should. Knowing the proper format for information, data, media, etc. on the web is a requirement for working on the web, not something that would be nice to learn someday. Implementing, building, and/or creating tools or content for the web requires understanding the medium and the structures that are inherent to building that well. I have had far too many discussions with people who do not understand the basics of the web nor the browser, which makes it nearly impossible to explain why their implementation fails. Content on the web has requirements to be structured well and the pages efficiently built. The pages need to degrade (not with an $80,000 plug-in) by default. Media on the web that is for open consumption must work across all modern systems (this should be a 3 year window if not longer for the "modern" definition).

Summary

So what is the take away from this? Content needs to be built with proper structure to the sub-object level (objects need the metadata attached and in standard formats). The content needs to be open and easily accessed. Portability of the information into the tools people use that put information in our pockets and lives must be done now. We have the technology now to do this, but often it is the poorly structured or formatted information, data, media, etc. that stands in the way. We know better and for those that don't know yet the hurdle is quite low and easy to cross.


The Come To Me Web

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


Until May of 2005 I had trouble with one element in my work around the Model of Attraction and Personal InfoCloud (including the Local and Global InfoClouds as well) to build a framework for cross-platform design and development of information and media systems and services. This problem was lack of an easy of explaination of what changes have taken place in the last few years on the web and other means of accessing digital information. In preparing for a presentation I realized this change is manifest in how people get and interact with the digital information and media.

This change is easily framed as the "Come to Me" web. The "Come to Me" web, which is not interchangeable with the push/pull ideas and terms used in the late 90s (I will get to this distinction shortly). It is a little closer to the idea of the current, "beyond the page" examinations, which most of us that were working with digital information pre-web have always had in mind in our metaphors and ideologies, like the Model of Attraction and InfoClouds.

The I Go Get Web

Before we look at the "Come to Me" web we should look at what preceded it. The "I Go Get" metaphor for the web was the precursor. In this incarnation we sought their information. The focus was on the providers of the content and the people consuming the information (or users) were targeted and lured in, in the extreme people were drawn in regardless of a person's interest in the information or topic covered. The content was that of the the organization or site that provided that information.

This incarnation focussed on people accessing the information on one device, usually the desktop computer. Early on the information was developed for proprietary formats. Each browser variant had their own proprietary way of doing things, based around a few central markup tags. People had to put up with the "best view with on X browser" messages. Information was also distributed in various other proprietary formats that required software on the device just so the person could get the information.

The focus providing information was to serve one goal (or use) reading. Some of this was driven by software limitations. But it was also an extension of information distribution in the analog physical space (as opposed to the digital space). In the physical space the written word was distributed on paper and it was consumed by reading (reuse of it meant copying it for reading) and it took physical effort to reconstruct those words to repurpose that information (quoting sources, showing examples, etc.).

The focus was on information creation and the struggle was making it findable. On the web there were only limited central resources used to find information, as many of the search engines were not robust enough, did not have friendly interfaces. Findability was a huge undertaking, either to get people what they desired/needed or to "get eyeballs".

Just as the use of the information was an extension of the physical realm that predated the digital information environment, the dominant metaphor in the "I Go Get" web was based in the physical realm. We all designed and developed for findability around the navigation/wayfinding metaphor. This directly correlates to going somewhere. Cues we use to get us to information were patterned and developed from practices in the physical world.

Physical? Digital? Does it Matter?

You ask, "So what we used ideas from the physical world to develop our metaphors and methodologies for web design and development?" We know that metaphors guide our practices. This is a very good thing. But, metaphors also constrain our practices and can limit our exploration for solutions to those that fit within the boundaries of that metaphor. In the physical realm we have many constraints that do not exist in the digital realm. Objects are not constrained by the resources they are made from (other than the energy to drive digital realm - no power no digital realm). Once an object exists in the digital realm replicating them is relatively insignificant (just copy it).

Paths and connections between information and objects is not constrained by much, other than humans choosing to block its free flow (firewalls, filtering, limiting access to devices, etc.). Much like Peter Merholz desire lines where people wear the path between two places in a manner that works best for them (the shortest distance between two points is a straight line). Now, don't think of the physical limitation between two points, I need to go from my classroom on the fourth floor of building "X" to across campus, up the hill to the sixth floor office of my professor. Draw a straight line and walk directly. This does not work in physical space because of gravity and physical impediments.

Now we are ready to understand what really happens on the web. We go from the classroom to our professors office, but we don't move. The connection brings what we desire to us and our screen. In this case we may just chat (text or video - it does not matter) with the professor from our seat in the classroom (if we even need to be in the classroom). Connections draw objects to our screens through the manifestation of links. As differently as people's minds work to connect ideas together, there can be as many paths between two objects. Use of physical space is limited by limitations outlined in physics, but the limitations are vastly different in digital space, use of the same information and media has vastly different limitations also.

It is through breaking the constraints of old metaphors and letting the digital realm exist that we get to a new understanding of digital information on the networks of the digital realm, which include the web.

The Come to Me Web

The improved understanding of the digital realm and its possibilities beyond our metaphors of the physical environment allows us to focus on a "Come to Me" web. What many people are doing today with current technologies is quite different than was done four or five years ago. This is today for some and will be the future for many.

When you talk to people about information and media today they frame it is terms of, "my information", "my media", and "my collection". This label is applied to not only information they created, but information they have found and read/used. The information is with them in their mind and more often than not it is on one or more of their devices drives, either explicitly saved or in cache.

Many of us as designers and developers have embraced "user-centered" or "user experience" design as part of our practice. These mantras place the focus on the people using our tools and information as we have moved to making what we produce "usable". The "use" in "usable" goes beyond the person just reading the information and to meeting peoples desires and needs for reusing information. Microformats and Structured Blogging are two recent projects (among many) that focus on and provide for reuse of information. People can not only read the information, but can easily drop the information into their appropriate application (date related information gets put in the person's calendar, names and contact information are easily dropped into the address book, etc.). These tools also ease the finding and aggregating of the content types.

As people get more accustom to reusing information and media as they want and need, they find they are not focussed on just one device (the desktop/laptop), but many devices across their life. They have devices at work, at home, mobile, in their living space and they want to have the information that they desire to remain attracted to them no matter where they are. We see the proliferation of web-based bookmarking sites providing people access their bookmarks/favorites from any web browser on any capable device. We see people working to sync their address books and calendars between devices and using web-based tools to help ensure the information is on the devices near them. People send e-mail and other text/media messages to their various devices and services so information and files are near them. We are seeing people using their web-based or web-connected calendars to program settings on their personal digital video recorders in their living room (or wherever it is located).

Keeping information attracted to one's self or within easy reach, not only requires the information and media be available across devices, but to be in common or open formats. We have moved away from a world where all of our information and media distribution required developing for a proprietary format to one where standards and open formats prevail. Even most current proprietary formats have non-proprietary means of accessing the content or creating the content. We can do this because application protocols interfaces (APIs) are made available for developers or tools based on the APIs can be used to quickly and easily create, recreate, or consume the information or media.

People have moved from finding information and media as being their biggest hurdle, to refinding things in "my collection" being the biggest problem. Managing what people come across and have access to (or had access to) again when they want it and need it is a large problem. In the "come to me" web there is a lot of filtering of information, as we have more avenues to receive information and media.

The metaphor and model in the "I go get" web was navigation and wayfinding. In the "come to me" web a model based on attraction. This is not the push and pull metaphor from the late 1990s (as that was mostly focussed on single devices and applications). Today's usage is truly focussed on the person and how they set their personal information workflow for digital information. The focus is slightly different. Push and pull focussed on technology, today the focus is on person and technology is just the conduit, which could (and should) fade into the background. The conduits can be used to filter information that is not desired so what is of interest is more easily identified.


Europe Presentations from October

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


I am late in posting the links to my two presentations given in Europe. I presented the Personal Digital Convergence as the opening keynote to the SIGCHI.NL - HCI Close to You conference. I have also posted the final presentation, IA for the Personal InfoCloud, at the Euro IA Summit 2005.


WebVisions Designing for the Personal InfoCloud Presentation

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


The presentation at WebVisions of Designing for the Personal InfoCloud went quite well yesterday. There is ever growing interest in the Personal InfoCloud as there are many people working to design digital information for use across devices, for reuse, for constant access to information each individual person desires, and building applications around these interests.

In an always on world peoples desires and expectations are changing for their access to information. The tools that will help ease this desire are now being built and some are great starts have been made in this direction. I will be writing about some of these tools in the near future.

I am more exited today than I have been in quite some time by what I see as great progress for the reality of a Personal InfoCloud. It is ever closer for the Personal InfoCloud being more automated and beginning to function in ways that really help people find efficient ways to use information they have found or created in their lives when they want it or need it.

Not only does the Personal InfoCloud need devices but it needs people designing the information for the realities of Web2.0, which is not the old web of "I Go Get", but the new web of "Come to Me". This change in focus demands better understanding of sharing digital assets, designing across platforms and devices, and information being reused and organized externally.


Social Machines

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


Those of you that follow this site will also likely enjoy Wade Roush's continuousblog. Wade is the West Coast editor for the MIT Technology Review magazine. He has the August cover story in the TechReview titled, "Social Machines" and has posted Social Machines on his site as of today. Please be sure to pick up a print copy and/or read the article on the TechReview site when it is published there.

[I should mention I am quoted in the "Social Machines" article]


Good Bye to the User?

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


One of the side-effects of my focus on the Personal InfoCloud has been finding putting the focus on the person gets to more options than focussing on the "user". When doing user interviews for existing systems and sites, we are interviewing people. These people we ask: What works for them; what is missing; What are the devices they use; What locations do they use the information; In what context do they use the information; and How do they reuse and repurpose the information (as some of the questions). These are real people supplying the answers.

In the past we roll-up these people's answers and build an user persona. In rolling up we are building one or many common users and try to generalize. This simplification of the problem set we build to starts to limit our solutions. If one percent or less of our user base is using a mobile device to access information or our application do we throw them out of the persona? Normally, we would tend to do this and focus on a higher portion of our population.

But, in building a user-centered approach we can miss some of the easy solutions that will help the people that are part of the smaller populations. By keeping the person with the mobile needs in the mix, we are able to build scenarios and solutions that will work across many device needs. The steps between a desktop/laptop web browser only community and many mobile devices is relatively small. The difference to the desktop/laptop user is minimal, but to the mobile user it can be the difference between having access to information when it is needed and not having access at all when the information is needed most (like working remotely on a project that is 50 miles from the nearest landline and internet connection).

As we look at providing solutions we base our choices on users who make up a large percentage of our population. Lets take the 80/20 rule, we build for 80 percent of our users with 20 percent of the work. Sounds good, until we realize that one in five users are left out of the equation. By focussing on the person, we can look at extending our success. Often by building more than one solution into our products or one interface metaphor (folders versus tags for storing e-mail) we can provide better solutions that work for more people. Does this add complexity? Many times, yes it adds complexity on the design and development side, but knowing early enough in the process we can build more open and more flexible systems that lead to greater adoption. Not, only do we get greater adoption, but we open up the potential for uses beyond what we designed into being.

No two people are alike and we should build toward this reality so that there is choice, freedom, and ease. The more granular approach does not completely wipe out the user personas, but greatly enhances their functionality. Go back to the original people interviewed and use them in scenario planning for their needs across their contexts and tasks. How well does what we are designing work for them? How different will a solution need to be to have it work for them? Do these users have older technology? Do we want to rule people out categorically or can we do a little more work and be inclusive?

Focussing on the person and the granularity is where things get more difficult, but this is where we can make huge differences. This is what we get paid for right?


SXSW Calendar the Personal Way

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , ,


I really enjoyed my short time at SXSW Interactive Festival this year. One of the things that helped me was their step to help people interested in SXSW to build their "own" calendar. Yes, they understood the people attending have a lot of offerings to consider and nobody wants to miss anything they really would like to see. The SXSW site showed the conference sessions and if you liked it you could add it to your SXSW calendar. This calendar could be accessed as an iCal, which means as you update the calendar on the site, or the calendar is changed by the SXSW folks, you calendar is updated. Being that it is iCal it is relatively easy to synch this to your mobile device.

Why is this important? It is not only a great step to help the people attending the Festival, but it builds a connection between the person and the SXSW site as well as a enables the person enjoyment of the Festival. Technology should help the person control what they would like to do and help them do it with out worry.

I remember my first SXSW in 2001, where they had a Palm Pilot that would beam you a packet including the conference sessions as well as food and other amenities. The application allowed you to add the SXSW sessions into your Palm calendar and restaurants into your address book. It was a great app, but you only got the application when you got there and you had to have a Palm device (luckily I did). This year's version greatly improved on this as it allows the person attending to build their own calendar and choose how they want the information to follow them. The person attending just added the information to their own Personal InfoCloud and the person consumed and reused the information as needed.

Brilliant and Bravo.


Recent Speaking Engagements

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


I have posted the last three presentations I have given in the last five days. The presentations and a little about each presentation are available as follows: IA for the Personal InfoCloud from the IA Summit, Folksonomy: A Wrapper's Delight a panel at the IA Summit, and The Blog as Personal Knowledge Managment from a panel at the local Potomac Chapter of ASIS&T.


Some of the ideas and themes in these will bubble up here fairly soon. I am also speaking in Austin at SXSW Interactive Festival this upcoming Sunday. Stop by and say hello.


Stitching our Lives Together

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


Not long ago Jeffrey Veen posted about Will you be my friend, which brought up some needs to better stitch together our own disperse information. An excellent example is:

For example, when I plan a trip, I try to find out who else will be around so I have people to hang out with. So my calendar should ask Upcoming.org, "Hey, Jeff says he's friends with Tim. Will he be in New York for GEL?"

This example would allow up to interact with our shared information in a manner that keeps it within our extended Personal InfoCloud (the Personal InfoCloud is the information we keep with us, is self-organized, and we have easy access to). Too many of the Web's resources where we store our information and that information's correlation to ourselves (, Flickr seems to use. The advent of wide usage of RSS feeds and RSS aggregators is really putting the user back in control of the information they would like to track. Too many sites have moved toward the portal model and failed (there are large volumes of accounts of failed portal attempts, where the sites should provide a feed of their information as it is a limited quantity). When users get asked about their lack of interest in a company's new portal they nearly always state, "I already have a portal where I aggregate my information". Most often these portals are ones like My Yahoo, MSN, or AOL. Many users state they have tried keeping more than one portal, but find they loose information very quickly and they can not remember, which portal holds what information.

It seems the companies that sell portal tools should rather focus on integration with existing portals. Currently Yahoo offers the an RSS feed aggregator. Yahoo is moving toward a one stop shopping for information for individuals. Yahoo also synchs with PDA, which is how many people keep their needed information close to themselves.

There are also those of us that prefer to be our own aggregators to information. We choose to structure our large volumes of information and the means to access that information. The down side of the person controlling the information is the lack of common APIs and accessible Web Services to permit the connecting of Upcoming to our calendar (it can already do this), with lists of known or stated friends and their interests.

This has been the dream of many of us for many years, but it always seems just around the corner. Now seems to be a good time to just make it happen. Now is good because there is growing adoption of standards and information that can be personally aggregated. Now is good because there are more and more services allowing us to categorize various bits of information about our lives. Now is good because we have the technology. Now is good because we are smart enough to make it happen.

(Originally posted at vanderwal.net.)


A Look at iPIM and Chandler

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


There are two articles that are direct hits on managing information for the individual and allowing the individual to use the information when they needed it and share it as needed. Yes, this is in line with the Personal Information Cloud.

The first article, The inter-personal information manager (iPim) by Mark Sigal about the problem with users finding information and how the can or should be able to then manage that information. There are many problems with applications (as well as the information format itself) that inhibit users reuse of information. In the comments of the article there is a link to products that are moving forward with information clients, which also fit into the Personal Information Cloud or iPIM concept. (The Personal Information Cloud tools should be easily portable or mobile device enabled or have the ability to be retrieved from anywhere sent to any device.

The second article is from the MIT Technology Review (registration required) titled Trash Your Desktop about Mitch Kapor (of founding Lotus Development fame) and his Open Source project to build Chandler. Chandler is not only a personal information manager (PIM), but the tool is a general information manager that is contextually aware. The article not only focusses on Mitch and the product (due late 2004), but the open and honest development practices of those that are building Chandler at the Open Source Application Foundation for Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. distribution.