norburym writes "Peter Morville is an information architect, an advocate of expanding the boundaries of librarianship in an Internet age and the voice of ambient findability. In this new book from O'Reilly, Morville expands on a theme he's been discussing for several years: we live in an age where computers and the Internet are changing how we access information. Digital networks are available everywhere. As users, we have computers, PDAs, GPS units, smartphones, software and other network technologies that enable constant and mobile connectivity. As Morville writes, ambient findability is "a realm in which we can find anyone or anything from anywhere at anytime" and his book is a thought provoking chronicle of the advent of that goal." Read the rest of Mary's review.
|summary||Information retrieval in an age of ubiquitous computing.|
Ambient Findability is divided into seven sections that track the journey from simply defining what the author means by findability through a history of man's search for location awareness in both the physical environment and in the cyber world; how we interact with information through documents, language, and systems of retrieval; intertwingularity and findable objects; the balance between push (advertising) and pull (information retrieval); being a Web designer and a user advocate; metadata and physical data in the context of findability; and the ability to make informed decisions based on open source and emerging technology.
A core definition offered by the author in Chapter 1 is for findability: "the quality of being locatable or navigable; the degree to which a particular object is easy to discover or locate; the degree to which a system or environment supports navigation and retrieval." Morville discusses how well various websites perform in providing information desired by the user and how successful sites cater to mass customization. Businesses and non-profits that aim to reduce search time and improve findability of their site contents will gain marketplace advantage.
Chapter 2 is an interesting and informative introduction to the history of wayfinding through lessons learned from various animal species (exocentric and egocentric navigation, echolocation, etc.) to how humans have adapted landmarks or created tools to aid in navigation and exploration (lighthouses, compasses, sextants, maps, etc.) and further how architects and urban planners can effectively design built environments. The logical extension of this discussion is how the wayfinding techniques developed in the physical world have translated to the digital realm. In this discussion, we see how we have translated our spatial metaphors to the web.
This leads directly to the next chapter, on how people interact with information. Morville tackles the difficult task of defining information and considers the concept of relevance in relationship to the information we seek to retrieve from the Internet and how the inherent ambiguity of language negatively impacts any system of information retrieval. To top this off, the author reminds us that users themselves introduce added complexity and complication to how people seek information. He cites several research studies and literature on the subject and suggests that there is value in integrating both push and pull in how we interact with information systems.
Chapter 4 deals with the topic of intertwingularity (a combination of "intertwined" and "mingled") or the idea that things are connected together in a complex and nonlinear way. In terms of the Internet and ubiquitous computing, this translates into our ability to connect to disparate bits of data not only from computers but also from mobile devices and other ambient devices (GPS, EZPass, pagers, RFIDs) that are truly pervasive throughout society. Morville takes us through part two of wayfinding with descriptions of GPS technology, interactive mapping and photographic confluence sites, tracking using GPS and cellular communication, RFID, webcams, and of course the convergence of technology as wearable computing (sunglasses that can be used with cell phones and MP3 devices, Bluetooth enabled garments, cameras embedded in glasses, etc.) becomes more common and affordable.
Morville then leads us neatly back to the idea of push and pull. In chapter 5, he discusses the necessary flow toward balance and uses the example of Google, which successfully intertwingles unobtrusive targeted ads with search results. Design and marketing, as the author notes, are not enemies. Yet finding the balance is tricky and not a simple task. Morville describes his "user experience honeycomb" model which combines the key issues that designers should consider when creating a website that optimizes findability and therefore enhances user experience: useful, usable, desirable, findable, accessible, credible, and valuable. He concludes the chapter with hacks that improve web findability: adopting search engine optimization techniques (avoid drop down menus, image maps, frames, etc.; use RSS feeds with backlinks; embrace web standards; determine and include keywords and phrases in visible body text, links, headers, tags, etc.), and personalization (examples include Yahoo! using individual profiles to customize sports scores and stock information, the Weather Channel using zip codes for local weather, and Google Alerts letting users track keywords in news and web sites).
In chapter 6, "The Sociosemantic Web," Morville outlines the controversy surrounding an article, "The Semantic Web," that appeared in May 2001 in the Scientific American. The authors of the article propose an ambitious "road map for future Web design" that subsequently fueled a debate between W3C Semantic Web members and social software supporters. The debate leads to a discussion about how well metadata can be normalized in an environment such as the Web. Morville uses this debate as an introduction to a history and structural description of metadata. He describes the formulation of taxonomies and the use of controlled vocabularies to enable findability. Of course, web sites are not simply hierarchical; they are complexly grouped which brings us to the idea of folksonomies where users tag objects with one or more keywords that become shared. Folksonomies are obviously not great for findability since they fail at semantic relationships and hierarchy. However, all forms of structure (folksonomies, ontologies, and taxonomies) can co-exist on the Web to describe metadata and the differences between data and metadata are becoming less distinct. Amazon is a perfect example of this: traditional publication and topic details and concordance are documented along with customer reviews and rankings. Amazon also has the option to "search inside this book" which makes the pages and even the text itself become metadata.
The final chapter of the book delves into how we are ultimately capable of making informed decisions through the power of the Internet: the sheer volume and variety of sources available to us and the ease of access enable us to take charge of decisions we would normally trust to those professionals outside of our narrow realm of expertise. We decide which information to believe in. Morville considers information literacy and digital librarianship and proffers the idea that libraries and the Internet have common principles of maintaining free expression, privacy, free and equal access, and intellectual freedom.
Tim O'Reilly is well known for expanding the boundaries of technology in print and through conferences like the Emerging Technology Conference, the Web 2.0 Conference, and the Open Source Convention held in both the US and in Europe. His agenda has never been to fill convention halls with attendees who fit a lowest common denominator; his aim has been to bring together people who not only think smart but who also have the ability to think outside the normal boundaries of their particular field of interest (Robert J. Lang, Freeman Dyson, James Gosling, among others) and who therefore inspire innovation. With the publication of Ambient Findability, O'Reilly Media continues this tradition of giving readers an opportunity to experience the visionary writing of people like Peter Morville.
Read Ambient Findability if: you are interested in expanding your business or nonprofit through its presence on the Internet; you are a librarian and want to grow into the nontraditional environment of the Web; you are a Web designer and want to optimize the findability of your sites on the Internet; you are a user and want to enhance your searching experience. Read this book if you are a teacher, a student, a writer, a parent...in short, if you use a computer or a handheld or a GPS or a smartphone or any type of technology that connects you to the world, then you should read this book. Peter Morville's Ambient Findability will amaze and delight you. It will give you new insight into how ubiquitous computing is affecting how we find and use information and how we, as users, can and will shape the future of how data is stored and retrieved.
Mary Norbury-Glaser is IT Director at the Barbara Davis Center, an affiliate center at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver."
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