Off the Top: Library Science Entries


January 2, 2021

20 Years of Blogging and Wrapping Up the Year 2020

Happy New Year (the 307th day of March in the Year of Covid). As of December 31, 2020 this blog is 20 years old. It started sort of on a whim in Blogger. I find a lot of things that stick start on a whim around here, either as a quick experiment (there are a lot always running) or just fed-up to the point of just do something. Curiosity strikes hard, but it does for most of the people who I spend time with and who do well around tech and digital systems.

There are now 2,103 blog posts. All but a handful are still around. The first one is gone, as it was a “Hello Squirrel!” post (20 years ago I was already insanely tired of hello world and switched some where in 1999 or 2000 and it stuck. I’ve thought about running stats to look at years of activity (in 2004 or 2005 I started Personal InfoCloud as my more work focussed blog and vanderwal.net stayed as my random thoughts and rarely edited brain dump. The top 5 used categories for this blog since its start are Personal, Information Architecture, Web, User-Centered Design, and Apple / Mac. The whole list can be found at vanderwal Off the Top Categories List - By Use. I really need to get a sparkline placed next to each as that would be really helpful to see what is popular when and something I’ve wanted to do for 15 or so years, but never got around to.

I haven’t really kept track of analytics. I would look at analytics on a weekly or monthly basis, but I really haven’t done that in a long while. I do know some of the folksonomy posts drew a lot of attention (the main defining folksonomy post was moved to a static HTML page at the strong urging of academics who needed that for citation purposes. I know a few posts drew a lot of attention inside some companies which were posted here and cross-posted at Personal InfoCloud.

I’ve used blogging to think out loud so to make sense of things, but also for refinding for myself, but also to connect with others who have insights or similar interests.

Wrapping Up 2020

This also is sort of Best of 2020, or things that I spent enjoyable time on or changed me in some good way. I don’t think I’ve ever done a year end wrap as I always feel I’m in the middle of things and a wrap isn’t really fitting when in the midst of things.

Podcasts

Postlight / Track Changes podcast over the last two or three years has become the conversation I’m missing. It is the conversations I miss having and sort of work I’ve been missing at times (I’ve had good stretches of moving things forward to help organization avoid the missing manhole covers or recover through helping understand need, gaps, and pain points to create vastly improved paths forward. Paul and Rich, as well as when Gina gets to play along have been great moments of agreement and a handful of, “ooh, that is good!” as well.

Dear Hank and John from brothers (vlog brothers) Hank Green and John Green, was one of the Year of Covid’s great find as refinding the vlog brothers YouTube channel and their books was comforting and grounding during this odd and rough year. In 2007 time frame with Hank and John were starting out I saw them as Ze Frank copycats, which admittedly they were, and I was a big fan of Ze (particularly after meeting him and having some great winding down rabbits holes of philosophy around content, community, and connection). I was entertained with the vlog brothers 2007 to around 2009, but didn’t overly seek them out and they fell off my radar. This year during the start of lock down they came back into to focus and stayed.

99% Invisible is a weekly breath of fresh air that digs into just one more subject from beautiful Downtown Oakland California. I am continually learning from it and go digging for more information after their podcast.

Matt Mullenweg’s Distributed isn’t quite regular, but I make room for it. Matt has had some really insightful podcasts that also have me digging for more and really am happy to see all that Matt has built so far. It is great that Matt is largely open with his sharing insights and information about they do things at Automattic, but also the guests from outside are really good.

Dave Chang Podcast seems like has a ton of content coming out and I can’t keep up. My favorites are when he is talking with other chefs and restaurant owners. The podcast was really good to listen to during the pandmic as Dave and guests dug deep into the challenges and economics around the effects of the shutdowns.

No Such Thing as a Fish is often my weekend morning listen. Last winter I caught their live DC show, which was great to see after many years. A show where you can get informed and laugh like crazy is always a win in my book.

Newsletters

Newsletters are a love / hate thing for me. The hate mostly is that they are in mail apps where doing useful things with content in them in my information capture for refinding, connecting with other similar things, giving attribution, and coalescing into something new or an anchor point for exploration is tough when in any mail app or service. But, I love a lot of the content. The best newsletters have HTML pages that are easy to search, find things, and interconnect ideas in. The Tiny Newsletter newsletters do this fairly well, Substack does this quite well (and can be RSS feeds), some custom solutions (like Stratechery) do this insanely well, while Mailchimp is miserable with this in so many ways (sadly none of my favorite sources is in Mailchimp, which is ironic and also frustrating).

The perennial favorite for years is Stratechery and keeping up with Ben Thompson’s take and really well thought through explanations are one of the few things I intentionally track down and at least skim (some of the subjects I know really well and look to see where Ben has a different take or a better framing for understanding).

This year perennial favorite New York Times columnist David Leonhardtt (whom I in only recently in the past year or two realized I know and see regularly) took over the daily news summary, New York Times Morning newsletter and it has become what I read as I’m getting up. The insights and framing are really good. But, also pulling things into focus in the NT Times that I may have missed is an invaluable resource with an incredibly smart take no it all.

One added midway this year is the daily MIT Technology Review’s own MIT TR Download that is edited by Charlotte Jee. The intro section and daily focussed editorial is always good, but equally as good are the daily links as I always find something that was well off my radar that I feel should be drawn closer.

My guilty pleasure that I read each morning on my coffee walk (I walk to get coffee every morning as working remotely I may not make it out the front door that day) is the Monocle Minute and Weekend Edition newsletter. Which during the week is quick, informative, breezy in a familiar tone, that cover international business, politics, global focus, travel, and more. I’ve long had a soft spot for Monocle since the started. The Weekend Edition newsletters are longer and have a highlight of someone, which I deeply enjoy, and focus on food, travel, media, the good things in life. The recipes on Sunday are also something I look out for.

The non-regular Craig Mod newsletters, Ridgeline, Explorer, and general newsletter are a good dose of calm and insight.

One of my favorite voices on systems, design, and information architecture is Jorge Arango and his biweekly Jorge Arango Newsletter is a gem of great links. I’m always finding smart and well considered content from this newsletter.

Music

I changed up my listening setup for headphones a bit swapping some things around and now enjoying things quite a bit.

I’ve been writing a bit about music in my weeknotes, but Lianne I don’t think has made the write-ups as I seem to be listening to her music during work wind down as it draws my attention and focus.

Books

2020 was a year of picking up books, but given the state of things reading wasn’t fully functional.

There are two books, which I am still working through, or more akin to meditating through that really struck me in 2020.

The first is Violet Moller’s The Map of Knowledge about a stretch of about 1,000 years and how classical books and knowledge were lost and found. She focusses on nine different periods. The background for how books were copied to stay alive (with far more frequency than I imagined), how the big libraries of the world were kept, whom they served, and how they went away and their collections lost or destroyed. This book deeply challenged a lot of underlying beliefs and, looking back, silly assumptions about keeping knowledge and the vast knowledge we have (which is only a tiny slice of what has gone before us). Reading this book, sometimes just a few pages at a time, causes long walks and deep consideration. It has been a while since I have reworked a lot of foundations for beliefs and understandings so profoundly. A lot of this book also reminds me of my time at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies that also challenged me and pushed me in similar ways, but that was more of setting foundations and extending them than reworking them.

The other book, which I’m still working through is Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.’s Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its Urgent Lessons for Our Own that I had been looking forward to it since I heard about it late in 2019. As we hit summer in 2020 and the murder of George Floyd sparked a deep reawakening of the realities of race issues in the United States it brought back memories of the 1980s and 1990s and thinking and working through similar ideas. That deep caring and belief that things were better and had improved were shattered as reality reared its head. I had stumbled onto James Baldwin after returning from living in England and France for the last semester of undergrad and a little bit more. I returned to the U.S. with really bad reverse culture shock and one of those challenging understandings I had was around race and very little in the U.S. felt right nor on inline with a united anything. This bothered me deeply for a lot of reasons, but part was being threatened just by hanging out with good friends who were running errands and they were verbally abused (and I feared worse was coming) by just walking in a store and I was a target of the same because I was with him. There were many times like this. After living in England and France this was clear it was mostly an American thing, particularly in educated circles where skin color wasn’t the first consideration it was who you are and what you believe and do. Baldwin echoed these vibrations of reality that trembled through me, it made me feel not alone in this, but he also gave urgings to stand up and be a different way. Over the years this faded, until the torch march on Charlottesville, Virginia and then the long series of murders at the hands of people who should be protecting not wrongly dishing out their perverted mis-understanding of justice. Begin Again has had me thinking again, believing again, and acting again, but taking it in small meditative steps and also reworking my foundation.

William Gibson’s Agency was a good romp and included a handful of places I know quite well, which really help me see it. I hadn’t finished reading Peripheral, but have it on the list to do.

John Green’s Paper Towns was a wonderful read and his view on the world and use of language is one I find comforting, insightful, and delightful. I have The Fault in Our Stars queued up. I also picked up his brother Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and made it about a third to half way through and it was reminding me a lot of 2005 to 2010 or so and things I hadn’t fully unpacked, so set it aside for a bit. I really enjoyed the characters and storyline, but I needed something that was a little more calm for me.

Lawrence Levy’s To Pixar and Beyond which was an interesting take on one person’s interactions with Steve Jobs and Pixar, which I found incredibly insightful and enjoyable. I’ve read a lot of books on Steve Jobs, Apple, and Pixar over the last 20 to 25 years and this added new insights.

James and Deborah Fallows’ Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America has been a really good read to help understand and get insights into where America is today with what are the thinking and beliefs.

The Monocle Book of Japan is really enjoyable as it is beautifully make. It is part picture book with the great photography that is in Monocle(https://monocle.com) as well as brief well written insights into many different facets of Japan and life in Japan.

Games

Ghost of Tsushima is one of the best games I’ve run across in a long time. It is utterly beautiful, the transitions are quick, and the game play (while quite bloody) is fun and not over taxing nor complicated. I’ve really enjoyed prior Sucker Punch Production’s games, I the Infamous series has been a real favorite (although hearing a slow moving empty garbage truck with rumbling diesel engine still puts me on edge as it sounds like the Dustmen from the first Infamous game). The storyline in Ghosts is really good as well and has kept me moving through the game after taking a break. I love the open map as well, which sizable and insanely beautiful.

MLB the Show is continually one of my favorite sport sim games as the game play is quite good, the visuals are amazing, and the team management and different ways to play through a season are really enjoyable. It gets so many things right that most other sport simulations don’t. I quite like sport sims as they have a fixed time, which makes it easy to stop or at least consider how long you have been playing and then get back to other things.

Fifa 20 and 21 continued to be really fun and enjoyable. The graphics and game play improves quite a bit each iterations and this last entry was no different. Much like the Show I find Fifa really relaxing to play and fun to manage teams and work through improving them.

Others I’ve enjoyed and played Death Stranding, No Man Sky, Journey, and Grand Tourismo. Death Stranding I didn’t finish even though I was enjoying it, the theme wasn’t really working well with the Covid–19 pandemic, but I know I will return to it. I’ve sunk a fair amount of time exploring in No Man Sky again and really enjoy it. I’m still playing Journey after all these years and still like it a lot as it is calming, familiar, and time limited. Grand Tourimso is still one of the most gorgeous games and fun to just drive around in.

Watching

I’ve written a fair amount in weeknotes about these three. There is more I liked, but I I haven’t really kept good track of those things.
* The Crown
* Ted Lasso
* Mandalorian

Productivity

The big shift has been Obsidian, which has become the layer over my existing notes that are in markdown and already in directories. I looked at Roam Research, but quickly realized it is most everything I try to stay far from, which is the content isn’t in my possession (if anything goes south I’m stuck), there are no APIs to extend use, the subscription is expensive for something not fully built and not well thought through, and a whole lot of arrogance from the developers (this is something to steer very far from, particularly if things aren’t well thought through).

Obsidian has me not only finding things in my existing notes, but allowing for interconnecting them and adding structure to them. The ability to have block level linking is really nice to have as well, but I haven’t really made use of that yet. I have been writing a lot more notes and pulling notes and highlights out of books. In the past I have used VooDoo Pad wiki on Mac and loved it and Obsidian gives me that capability and with storing the notes on Dropbox I can search, edit, and add from mobile as well.

Obsidian may be my one of my favorite things from 2020 and one that will keep giving for years to come.



June 23, 2007

The Social Enterprise

I am just back from Enterprise 2.0 Conference held in Boston, where I presented Bottom-up All The Way Down: How Tags Help Businesses Organize (thanks to Stowe Boyd for the tantalizing session title), which was liveblog captured by Sandy Kemsley as "Enterprise 2.0: Thomas Vander Wal". I did not catch all of the conference due to some Boston business meetings and connecting with friends and meeting digi-friends whose work I really enjoy face-to-face. The sessions I made it to were good and enlightening and as always the hallway conversations were worth their weight in gold.

Ms. Perceptions and Fear Inside the Corporate Walls

Having not been at true business focussed conference in years (until the past few weeks) I was amazed with how much has changed and how much has stayed the same. I was impressed with the interest and adoption around the social enterprise tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking/folksonomy, etc.). But, the misperceptions (Miss Perceptions) are still around and have grown-up (Ms. Perception) and are now being documented by Forrester and others as being fact, but the questions are seemingly not being asked properly. Around the current social web tools (blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, favoriting, shared rating, open (and partially open collaboration) I have been finding little digital divide across the ages. Initially there is a gap when tools get introduced in the corporate environment. But this age gap very quickly disappears if the incredible value of the tools is made clear for peoples worklife, information workflow, and collaboration, as well as simple instructions (30 second to 3 minute videos) and simply written clear guidelines that outline acceptable use of these tools.

I have been working with technology and its adoption in corporations since the late 80s. The misperception that older people do not get technology, are foreign to the tools, and they will not ever get the technical tools has not changed. It is true that nearly all newer technologies come into the corporation by those just out of school and have relied on these tools in university to work intelligently to get their degree. But, those whom are older do see the value in the tools once they have exposure and see the value to their worklife (getting their job done), particularly if the tools are relatively simple to use and can be adopted with simple instruction (if it needs a 10 to 200 page manual and more than 15 minutes of training to start using the product effectively adoption will be low). Toby Redshaw of Motorola stated on a panel that he found in Motorola (4600 blogs and wikis and 2600 people using social bookmarking) "people of all ages adopt these tools if they understand the value connected to their work". Personally, I have seen this has always been the case in the last 20 years as this is how we got e-mail, messaging, Blackberries, web pages, word processing, digital collaboration tools (the last few rounds and the current ones), etc. in the doors of small to large organizations. I have worked in and with technically forward organizations and ones that are traditionally thought of as slow adopters and found adoption is based on value to work and ease of use and rarely based on age.

This lack of understanding around value added and (as Toby Redshaw reinforced) "competitive advantage" derived from the social tools available today for use in the enterprise is driven by fear. It is a fear of control that is lost from the top-down. But, the advantage to the company from having this information shared and easy found and used for collaboration to improve knowledge, understanding, and efficiency can not be dismissed and needs to be embraced. The competitive advantage is what is gained today, but next month or next quarter it could mean just staying even.

Getting Beyond Fear

But, what really is important is the communication and social enterprise tools are okay and add value, but the fear is overplayed, as a percentage rarely occurs, and handling the scary stuff it relatively easy to handle.

Tagging and Social Bookmarking in Enterprise

In the halls I had many conversations around tagging ranging from old school tagging being painful because the experts needed to tag things (meaning they were not doing the job as expert they were hired to do and their terms were not widely understood) all the way to the social bookmarking tools are not scaling and able to keep up with the complexity, nor need to disambiguate the terms used. But, I was really impressed with the number of organizations that have deployed some social bookmarking effort (officially or under somebody's desk) and found value (often great value).

Toby Redshaw: I though folksonomy was going to be some Bob Dillon touchy-feely hippy taxonomy thing, but it has off the chart value far and above any thing we had expected.

My presentation had 80 to 90 percent of the people there using social bookmarking tools in some manner in their organization or worklife. The non-verbal feed back as I was presenting showed interest in how to make better sense of what was being tagged, how to use it better in their business, how to integrate with their taxonomy, and how to work with the information as the tools scale. The answers to these are longer than the hour I have, they are more complex because it all depends on the tools, how they are set-up and designed, how they are used, and the structures of information inside and outside their organization.



June 16, 2007

New Profession Unfolding In Beauty and Geekery

A week or more ago I ran across the incredible video of Blaise Aguera y Arcas presentation of Photosynth and Seadragon at TEDTalks 2007. The video is stunning work of Seadragon and Photosynth bringing a collection of images to life from one or more resources.

While the video and ideas behind the tools are incredible displays of where we are today with technology and where we are heading, this caused some ideas I have been trying to get to gel to finally come together. In this video Blaise states (my own transcription):

So what the point here really is, is we can do things with the social environment taking data from everybody, from the entire collective memory of what the earth looks like, and link all of that together and make something emergent that is greater than the sum of the parts. You have a model that emerges of the entire earth, think of it as the long tail to Stephen Lawlers Virtual Earth work. This is something that grows in complexity as people use it and whose benefits become greater to the users as they use it. Their own photos are getting tagged with metadata that somebody else entered. If somebody bothered to tag all of these saints and say who they all are, then my photo of the Notre Dame Cathedral suddenly gets enriched with all of that data. I can use it as an entry point to dive into that space in that metaverse, using everybody else's photos, and do a cross-modal and cross-user social experience that way. Of course a by product of all of that is an immensely rich virtual models of every interesting part of the earth, collected not just from overhead flight and satellite images, but from the collective memory.

Torrent of Human Contributed Digital Content

What this brought together was the incredible amount of human contributed digital content we are sitting on top of at this moment in time. This is not a new concept, but what is different is the skills, tools, and understanding to make use and sense of all this content are having to change incredibly. The Photosynth team is making use of Flickr content that has been annotated by humans (tags, titles, and descriptions), as well as by devices (date, time, location, etc.). This meta information provides hooks put pull disparate information back from its sole beauty and make an even greater beauty and deeper understanding. The collective is better than the pieces, but pulling to collective together in a manner that is coherent, adds value, and brings deeper appreciation is where get hard.

Much of information understanding and sense making to date has relied on human understanding and we have used tools to augment our understanding. But, we now need to rely on deeper analytics in quantitative methods and advanced algorithms to make sense and beauty out of the bits and bytes. The models of understanding are changing to requiring visualizations methods (much like those of Stamen Design) to begin to grasp and see what is happening in our torrent of information at our finger tips and well as make sense of the social interactions of our digitally networked and digitally augmented lives.

Amalgamation of Designer and Quant Geek

What gelled in my mind watching the Blaise demonstration is there is a skill set missing in the next generation comprised of amalgamated design, information use, analytical foundation, and strong quantitative skills. I have clients in start-up businesses and in enterprise that are confronting these floods of information they need to make sense of from folksonomies and customer generated content (including annotations and regular feedback). The skills needed for building taxonomies are not translating well when the volume of information the information managers are dealing with is orders of magnitude higher than what they dealt with previously. The designer, information architect, and taxonomist who have traditionally have dealt with building the systems of information order, access, and use are missing the quantitative skills to analyze and make sense out of a torrent of loosely structured information and digital objects. Those with the quantitative and strong analytical skills have lacked the design and art skills to bring the understanding into frame for regular people grasp and understand.

This class of designer and quant geek is much like the renaissance men, but today the field of those forging new ground is open to men and women. The need to understand not only broad but deep sets of data and information so to contextualize it into understanding is the realm of few, unfortunately as there is a need for many.

I know of limited pockets of people with the skills to do the hard work of querying the vast array of information, objects, and raw data then make something of value of it. But, there needs to be more of these people getting trained as designers with solid quantitative and analytical skills (or the converse). Design shops are missing the quant geeks and engineering shops are missing the visualization geeks that bring this digital world rich in opportunity into something that makes sense and beauty.

If you know people like this that are bored, please let me know as I am finding opportunities flowing.



April 26, 2006

Off to Hang at the Jersey Shore with Librarians

I am off to the New Jersey Library Association 2006 Conference to do a presentation on tagging and folksonomy. If you are there stop by and say hello. I am really looking forward to this event.



January 17, 2006

Folksonomy Research Needs Cleaning Up

After getting flooded with e-mail yesterday about the Folksonomies: Tidying Up? in the January DLIB 2006 and yes I agree that by using Flickr as a base for much of their analysis they made a mess of their conclusions. Please go see Explaining and Showing Broad and Narrow Folksonomies to begin to get an understanding of why Flickr is not a great example of folksonomy. Showing tag distributions when tagging is limited by the tool (Flickr only permits one of each tag and does not allow identification of the person tagging, unless the API is used) is rather pointless. The central focus of a folksonomy is for personal refindability and derived from that point we get great value.

I would love to see this research redone with a better understanding of folksonomy and run the research on broad folksonomy tools like del.icio.us, Furl, Shadows, etc.



July 9, 2005

Snippet on Getting Folksonomy Right

Today's summary on folksonomy... taxonomies and ontologies can help the many find information, but never help the whole of the people. The role of folksonomies is to fill in that gap to get far closer to the whole.

The failure that Google noted in other search companies in 1997 being happy with getting 80 to 85 percent of the correct answers for people, meant 15 to 20 percent of the people found the tools failed them (for me it seemed far higher than a 20 percent failure rate in 1998, which is why I switched to Google quite early). There are far too many that are complacent with their development of taxonomies and ontologies that are only helping the many and have no desire to change their practices to get to closer to the whole. It takes a diverse toolset to get the job down, which means including taxonomies and ontologies as well as other newer solutions.

So what is needed in a folksonomy? It must be broad to provide the best results. People must be tagging content or objects for their own purposes. The tags must be separated from the object so they are a point of reference. The person tagging must also be distinguishable from the objects to they are a point of reference. The objects must provide a point of aggregation to find common tags and common people and the matches on these three points. Tools like del.icio.us and CiteULike.com do this very well.

When we have these distinct elements we can begin filtering and aggregating, just as Jon Udell has been doing in his collaborative filtering.



December 14, 2003

Sir Clarke Portends Humans will Survive the Deluge of Information

I had read the Arthur C Clarke Humanity will survive information deluge interview from OneWorld South Asia. I had pulled the print version of this article into AvantGo and read it on the train commute.

The article had some great insights into the flood of information. He pointed out that over time we have adapted our ways to cope and manage information. When the printing press was developed people wondered how they would ever keep up with everything and how they would ever read 1,000 books. Most opted not to read everything and became selective. The selection of reading benefitted the whole.

The interview does a wonderful job of highlighting responsibility and the challenges ahead. We have access to an extreme breadth of information and we must find ways to expand the access and accessibility to that information to all that are willing. Sir Clarke points out that not all technology is helpful and neither is there a technological solution for every problem, in fact technology can impinge progress.

I encourage you to read the article itself and get inspired.



July 14, 2002

Next generation of librarian

The SF Chron highlights the next generation of librarians and the role librarians play. The article brings out the library skills are seen as an information service, which is good to see in an article for general consumption.

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