Tag: information_management


Discovery and the Age of Insight

August 21st, 2013 — 1:06pm

Sev­eral weeks ago, I was invited to speak to an audi­ence of IT and busi­ness lead­ers at Wal­mart about the Lan­guage of Dis­cov­ery.   Every pre­sen­ta­tion is a feed­back oppor­tu­nity as much as a chance to broad­cast our lat­est think­ing (a tenet of what I call lean strat­egy prac­tice — musi­cians call it try­ing out new mate­r­ial), so I make a point to share evolv­ing ideas and syn­the­size what we’ve learned since the last instance of pub­lic dialog.

For the audi­ence at Wal­mart, as part of the broader fram­ing for the Age of Insight, I took the oppor­tu­nity to share find­ings from some of the recent research we’ve done on Data Sci­ence (that’s right, we’re study­ing data sci­ence).  We’ve engaged con­sis­tently with data sci­ence prac­ti­tion­ers for sev­eral years now (some of the field’s lead­ers are alumni of Endeca), as part of our ongo­ing effort to under­stand the chang­ing nature of ana­lyt­i­cal and sense mak­ing activ­i­ties, the peo­ple under­tak­ing them, and the con­texts in which they take place.  We’ve seen the dis­ci­pline emerge from an eso­teric spe­cialty into full main­stream vis­i­bil­ity for the busi­ness com­mu­nity.  Inter­pret­ing what we’ve learned about data sci­ence through a struc­tural and his­toric per­spec­tive lead me to draw a broad par­al­lel between data sci­ence now and nat­ural phi­los­o­phy at its early stages of evolution.

We also shared some excit­ing new mod­els for enter­prise infor­ma­tion engage­ment; craft­ing sce­nar­ios using the lan­guage of dis­cov­ery to describe infor­ma­tion needs and activ­ity at the level of dis­cov­ery archi­tec­ture, IT port­fo­lio plan­ning,  and knowl­edge man­age­ment (which cor­re­spond to UX, tech­nol­ogy, and busi­ness per­spec­tives as applied to larger scales and via busi­ness dia­log) — demon­strat­ing the ver­sa­til­ity of the lan­guage as a source of link­age across sep­a­rate disciplines.

But the pri­mary mes­sage I wanted to share is that dis­cov­ery is the most impor­tant orga­ni­za­tional capa­bil­ity for the era.  More on this in fol­low up post­ings that focus on smaller chunks of the think­ing encap­su­lated in the full deck of slides.

Dis­cov­ery and the Age of Insight: Wal­mart EIM Open House 2013 from Joe Laman­tia

Comment » | Language of Discovery

New Books: 'Tagging' and 'Mental Models'

March 12th, 2008 — 11:00am

If you’re inter­ested in tag­ging and social meta­data, social book­mark­ing, or infor­ma­tion man­age­ment, be sure to check out Gene Smith’s Tag­ging: People-Powered Meta­data for the Social Web recently pub­lished by from New Rid­ers. I reviewed some of the early drafts of the book, and it’s come together very nicely.
tagging_cover.jpg
Tag­ging takes a very prac­ti­cal approach, and pro­vides an ample set of exam­ples in sup­port of the insight­ful analy­sis. After an overview of tag­ging and its value, the book addresses tag­ging sys­tem design, tags in rela­tion to tra­di­tional meta­data and clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tems, and cov­ers the user expe­ri­ence of cre­at­ing and nav­i­gat­ing tag clouds.
Gene likes to build things, so Tag­ging includes a chap­ter on tech­ni­cal design com­plete with sug­gested tools and tuto­ri­als for cre­at­ing your own tag­ging apps.
All in all, Tag­ging is a wor­thy intro­duc­tion to the sub­ject, and a guide for deeper explo­ration.
While we’re talk­ing books, kudos to Rosen­feld Media on the pub­li­ca­tion of their first book, Men­tal Mod­els; Align­ing Design Strat­egy with Human Behav­ior, by the very tal­ented Indi Young!
mental-models-lg.gif
Men­tal Mod­els is richly illus­trated, filled with exam­ples, lucid, and accom­pa­nied by a con­sid­er­able amount of addi­tional con­tent from the Rosen­feld Media web­site.
Indi has con­sid­er­able expe­ri­ence teach­ing oth­ers the tech­niques and meth­ods behind cre­at­ing insight­ful men­tal mod­els for audi­ences and cus­tomers. Cog­ni­tive / frame­worky meth­ods can feel a bit heady at times (espe­cially how-to’s on those meth­ods), but Men­tal Mod­els is straight­for­ward read­ing through­out, and an emi­nently prac­ti­cal guide to using this impor­tant tool for user expe­ri­ence design and strat­egy.
Men­tal Mod­els is avail­able elec­tron­i­cally as a .pdf for indi­vid­ual and group licenses, or in hard copy; it’s choose your own medium in action.

Comments Off | Reading Room

Setting Expectations for Taxonomy Efforts

September 30th, 2006 — 7:54pm

Set­ting good expec­ta­tions for the out­comes of a tax­on­omy design effort is often dif­fi­cult. It can be espe­cially if any of the fol­low­ing are true:

  • The goal is to cre­ate an ini­tial tax­on­omy, and no ref­er­ence exists
  • The solu­tion envi­ron­ment the tax­on­omy will “live in” is in flux (own­ers, tools, governance…)
  • The busi­ness scope which the tax­on­omy will address is not well defined
  • Orga­ni­za­tional aware­ness of tax­on­omy con­cepts and is low
  • Orga­ni­za­tional matu­rity and expe­ri­ence with man­ag­ing infor­ma­tion archi­tec­tures and meta­data is low

When deal­ing with sit­u­a­tions like these, con­sider chang­ing the empha­sis and goals of the effort to a “tax­on­omy pilot”. This will shift the expec­ta­tions you need to meet from cre­at­ing a production-ready tax­on­omy that can stand on its own some­thing more rea­son­able, such as an interim tax­on­omy that effec­tively solves a lim­ited scope prob­lem, while set­ting in motion a well bal­anced tax­on­omy effort likely to be suc­cess­ful in the longer term.
The objec­tives of a tax­on­omy pilot effort that bal­ances short and long term busi­ness needs in this way could be:

  1. Develop an ini­tial tax­on­omy to solve a spe­cific and prefer­ably small problem
  2. Pro­vide a con­crete exam­ple tax­on­omy to use in a spe­cific imple­men­ta­tion or environment
  3. Pro­vide an oppor­tu­nity to eval­u­ate the impact of a tax­on­omy on a user experience
  4. Serve as a scop­ing exer­cise that sheds light on the costs of an ongo­ing tax­on­omy sys­tem design effort (one that will sup­port) the orig­i­nal expec­ta­tions and busi­ness scope
  5. Eval­u­ate and choose tech­niques, tools, stan­dards, and processes for design­ing fur­ther tax­onomies and vocabularies
  6. Pro­vide real expe­ri­ence with the orga­ni­za­tional impact of sup­port­ing a tax­on­omy effort — tax­on­omy projects usu­ally imply busi­ness change

The project plan for a pilot tax­on­omy effort aim­ing to achieve the objec­tives above should fur­ther a cul­ture of learn­ing, rather than scope of accom­plish­ment. This kind of plan would:

  • Estab­lish fre­quent check­points that bring all inter­ested par­ties together to dis­cuss the process itself, in addi­tion to accom­plish­ments and milestones
  • Cre­ate reg­u­lar forums where tax­on­omy design­ers and busi­ness spon­sors make deci­sions on tools and stan­dards with guid­ance from qual­i­fied experts
  • Incor­po­rate mul­ti­ple iter­a­tions or cycles of user dri­ven review and revi­sion of in-progress taxonomies
  • Include time for the cre­ation of “next time” rec­om­men­da­tions for what to do dif­fer­ently or the same as a group

Of course, it’s not always pos­si­ble to change expec­ta­tions, espe­cially after fund­ing and time­lines are set. When expec­ta­tions are unrea­son­able and set stone, take shel­ter in the inevitable “next ver­sion” and frame the tax­on­omy you’re design­ing as an ini­tial effort that will require sub­se­quent revision…

Comment » | Information Architecture

Tag Clouds: "A New User Interface?"

May 3rd, 2006 — 10:58pm

In Piv­ot­ing on tags to cre­ate bet­ter nav­i­ga­tion UI Matt McAl­lis­ter offers the idea that we’re see­ing “a new user inter­face evolv­ing out of tag data,” and uses Wikio as an exam­ple. For con­text, he places tag clouds within a con­tin­uüm of the evo­lu­tion of web nav­i­ga­tion, from list views to the new tag-based nav­i­ga­tion emerg­ing now.
It’s an insight­ful post, and it allows me to build on strong ground­work to talk more about why and how tag clouds dif­fer from ear­lier forms of nav­i­ga­tion, and will become [part of] a new user inter­face.
Matt iden­ti­fies five ‘leaps’ in web nav­i­ga­tion inter­faces that I’ll summarize:

  1. List view; a list of links
  2. Left-hand col­umn; a stan­dard loca­tion for lists of links used to navigate
  3. Search boxes and results pages; mak­ing very large lists manageable
  4. Tab nav­i­ga­tion; a list of other nav­i­ga­tion lists
  5. Tag nav­i­ga­tion; tag clouds

A Les­son in ‘Lis­tory’
As Matt men­tions, all four pre­de­ces­sors to tag based nav­i­ga­tion are really vari­a­tions on the under­ly­ing form of the list. There’s use­ful his­tory in the evo­lu­tion of lists as web nav­i­ga­tion tools. Early lists used for nav­i­ga­tion were sta­tic, cho­sen by a site owner, ordered, and flat: recall the lists of favorite sites that appeared at the bot­tom of so many early per­sonal home pages.
These basic nav­i­ga­tion lists evolved a vari­ety of order­ing schemes, (alpha­bet­i­cal, numeric), began to incor­po­rate hier­ar­chy (shown as sub-menus in nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems, or as indent­ing in the left-column Matt men­tions), and allowed users to change their order­ing, for exam­ple by sort­ing on a vari­ety of fields or columns in search results.
From sta­tic lists whose con­tents do not change rapidly and reflect a sin­gle point of view, the lists employed for web nav­i­ga­tion and search results then became dynamic, per­son­al­ized, and reflec­tive of mul­ti­ple points of view. Ama­zon and other e-commerce des­ti­na­tions offered recently viewed items (yours or oth­ers), things most requested, sets bounded by date (pub­lished last year), sets dri­ven by vary­ing para­me­ters (related arti­cles), and lists deter­mined by the nav­i­ga­tion choices of oth­ers who fol­lowed sim­i­lar paths.)
But they remained fun­da­men­tally lists. They item­ized or enu­mer­ated choices of one kind or another, indi­cated implicit or explicit prece­dence through order­ing or the absence of order­ing, and were designed for lin­ear inter­ac­tion pat­terns: start at the begin­ning (or the end, if you pre­ferred an alter­na­tive per­spec­tive — I still habit­u­ally read mag­a­zines from back to front…) and work your way through.
Tag clouds are dif­fer­ent from lists, often by con­tents and pre­sen­ta­tion, and more impor­tantly by basic assump­tion about the kind of inter­ac­tion they encour­age. On tag-based nav­i­ga­tion Matt says, “This is a new layer that pre­empts the search box in a way. The visual rep­re­sen­ta­tion of it is a tag cloud, but the inter­ac­tion is more like a pivot.” Matt’s men­tion of the inter­ac­tion hits on an impor­tant aspect that’s key to under­stand­ing the dif­fer­ences between clouds and lists: clouds are not lin­ear, and are not designed for lin­ear con­sump­tion in the fash­ion of lists.
I’m not say­ing that no one will read clouds left to right (with Roman alpha­bets), or right to left if they’re in Hebrew, or in any other way. I’m say­ing that tag clouds are not meant for ‘read­ing’ in the same way that lists are. As they’re com­monly visu­al­ized today, clouds sup­port mul­ti­ple entry points using visual dif­fer­en­tia­tors such as color and size.
Start­ing in the mid­dle of a list and wan­der­ing around just increases the amount of visual and cog­ni­tive work involved, since you need to remem­ber where you started to com­plete your sur­vey. Start­ing in the “mid­dle” of a tag cloud — if there is such a loca­tion — with a brightly col­ored and big juicy visual morsel is *exactly* what you’re sup­posed to do. It could save you quite a lot of time and effort, if the cloud is well designed and prop­erly ren­dered.
Kunal Anand cre­ated a visu­al­iza­tion of the inter­sec­tions of his del.icio.us tags that shows the dif­fer­ences between a cloud and a list nicely. This is at heart a pic­ture, and accord­ingly you can start look­ing at it any­where / any­way you pre­fer.
Visu­al­iz­ing My Del.icio.us Tags

We all know what a list looks like…
iTunes Play Lists

What’s In a Name?
Describ­ing a tag cloud as a weighted list (I did until I’d thought about it fur­ther) misses this impor­tant qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ence, and reflects our early stages of under­stand­ing of tag clouds. The term “weighted list” is a list-centered view of tag clouds that comes from the pre­ced­ing frame of ref­er­ence. It’s akin to describ­ing a com­puter as an “arith­metic engine”, or the print­ing press as “mov­able type”.
[Aside: The label for tag clouds will prob­a­bly change, as we develop con­cepts and lan­guage to frame new the user expe­ri­ences and infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments that include clouds. For exam­ple, the lan­guage Matt uses — the word ‘pivot’ when he talks about the expe­ri­ence of nav­i­gat­ing via the tag cloud in Wikio, not the word ‘fol­low’ which is a default for describ­ing nav­i­ga­tion — in the post­ing and his screen­cast reflects a pos­si­ble shift in fram­ing.]
A Cam­era Obscura For the Seman­tic Land­scape
I’ve come to think of a tag cloud as some­thing like the image pro­duced by a cam­era obscura.
Cam­era Obscura
images.jpg
Where the cam­era obscura ren­ders a real-world land­scape, a tag cloud shows a seman­tic land­scape like those cre­ated by Amber Frid-Jimenez at MIT.
Seman­tic Land­scape

Seman­tic Land­scape

Like a cam­era obscura image, a tag cloud is a fil­tered visu­al­iza­tion of a mul­ti­di­men­sional world. Unlike a cam­era obscura image, a tag cloud allows move­ment within the land­scape. And unlike a list, tag clouds can and do show rela­tion­ships more com­plex than one-dimensional lin­ear­ity (expe­ri­enced as prece­dence). This abil­ity to show more than one dimen­sion allows clouds to reflect the struc­ture of the envi­ron­ment they visu­al­ize, as well as the con­tents of that envi­ron­ment. This frees tag clouds from the lim­i­ta­tion of sim­ply item­iz­ing or enu­mer­at­ing the con­tents of a set, which is the fun­da­men­tal achieve­ment of a list.
Ear­lier, I shared some obser­va­tions on the struc­tural evo­lu­tion — from sta­tic and flat to hier­ar­chi­cal and dynamic — of the lists used as web nav­i­ga­tion mech­a­nisms. As I’ve ven­tured else­where, we may see a sim­i­lar evo­lu­tion in tag clouds.
It is already clear that we’re wit­ness­ing evo­lu­tion in the pre­sen­ta­tion of tag clouds in step with their greater visu­al­izatin capa­bil­i­ties. Clouds now rely on an expand­ing vari­ety of visual cues to show an increas­ingly detailed view of the under­ly­ing seman­tic land­scape: prox­im­ity, depth, bright­ness, inten­sity, color of item, color of field around item. I expect clouds will develop other cues to help depict the many con­nec­tions (per­ma­nent or tem­po­rary) link­ing the labels in a tag cloud. It’s pos­si­ble that tag clouds will offer a user expe­ri­ence sim­i­lar to some of the ontol­ogy man­age­ment tools avail­able now.
Is this “a new user inter­face”? That depends on how you define new. In Shap­ing Things, author and futur­ist Bruce Ster­ling sug­gests, “the future com­posts the past” — mean­ing that new ele­ments are sub­sumed into the accu­mu­la­tion of lay­ers past and present. In the con­text of nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems and tag clouds, that implies that we’ll see mix­tures of lists from the four pre­vi­ous stages of nav­i­ga­tion inter­face, and clouds from the lat­est leap; a fusion of old and new.
Exam­ples of this com­post­ing abound, from 30daytags.com to Wikio that Matt McAl­lis­ter exam­ined.
30DayTags.com Tag Clouds

Wikio Tag Cloud

As lists encour­aged lin­ear inter­ac­tions as a result of their struc­ture, it’s pos­si­ble that new user inter­faces rely­ing on tag clouds will encour­age dif­fer­ent kinds of seek­ing or find­ing behav­iors within infor­ma­tion expe­ri­ences. In “The endan­gered joy of serendip­ity” William McK­een bemoans the decrease of serendip­ity as a result of pre­cisely directed and tar­geted media, search­ing, and inter­ac­tions. Tag clouds — by offer­ing many con­nec­tions and mul­ti­ple entry paths simul­ta­ne­ously — may help reju­ve­nate serendip­ity in dan­ger in a world of closely focused lists.

2 comments » | Ideas, Tag Clouds

Second Generation Tag Clouds

February 23rd, 2006 — 5:34pm

Lets build on the analy­sis of tag clouds from Tag Clouds Evolve: Under­stand­ing Tag Clouds, and look ahead at what the near future may hold for sec­ond gen­er­a­tion tag clouds (per­haps over the next 12 to 18 months). As you read these pre­dic­tions for struc­tural and usage changes, keep two con­clu­sions from the pre­vi­ous post in mind: first, ade­quate con­text is crit­i­cal to sus­tain­ing the chain of under­stand­ing nec­es­sary for suc­cess­ful tag clouds; sec­ond, one of the most valu­able aspects of tag clouds is as visu­al­iza­tions of seman­tic fields.
Based on this under­stand­ing, expect to see two broad trends sec­ond in gen­er­a­tion tag clouds.
In the first instance, tag clouds will con­tinue to become rec­og­niz­able and com­pre­hen­si­ble to a greater share of users as they move down the nov­elty curve from nou­veau to known. In step with this grow­ing aware­ness and famil­iar­ity, tag cloud usage will become:
1. More fre­quent
2. More com­mon
3. More spe­cial­ized
4. More sophis­ti­cated
In the sec­ond instance, tag cloud struc­tures and inter­ac­tions will become more com­plex. Expect to see:
1. More sup­port for cloud con­sumers to meet their needs for con­text
2. Refined pre­sen­ta­tion of the seman­tic fields under­ly­ing clouds
3. Attached con­trols or fea­tures and func­tion­al­ity that allow cloud con­sumers to directly change the con­text, con­tent, and pre­sen­ta­tion of clouds
Together, these broad trends mean we can expect to see a sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of numer­ous and diverse tag clouds val­ued for con­tent and capa­bil­ity over form. Sec­ond gen­er­a­tion clouds will be eas­ier to under­stand (when designed cor­rectly…) and open to manip­u­la­tion by users via increased func­tion­al­ity. In this way, clouds will visu­al­ize seman­tic fields for a greater range of sit­u­a­tions and needs, across a greater range of speci­ficity, in a greater diver­sity of infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments, for a greater num­ber of more var­ied cloud con­sumers.
Usage Trends
To date, tag clouds have been applied to just a few kinds of focuses (links, pho­tos, albums, blog posts are the more rec­og­niz­able). In the future, expect to see spe­cial­ized tag cloud imple­men­ta­tions emerge for a tremen­dous vari­ety of seman­tic fields and focuses: celebri­ties, cars, prop­er­ties or homes for sale, hotels and travel des­ti­na­tions, prod­ucts, sports teams, media of all types, polit­i­cal cam­paigns, finan­cial mar­kets, brands, etc.
From a busi­ness view­point, these tag cloud imple­men­ta­tions will aim to advance busi­ness ven­tures explor­ing the poten­tial value of aggre­gat­ing and expos­ing seman­tic fields for a vari­ety of strate­gic pur­poses:
1. Cre­at­ing new mar­kets
2. Under­stand­ing or chang­ing exist­ing mar­kets
3. Pro­vid­ing value-added ser­vices
4. Estab­lish­ing com­mu­ni­ties of inter­est / need / activ­ity
5. Aid­ing over­sight and reg­u­la­tory imper­a­tives for trans­parency and account­abil­ity.
Mea­sure­ment and Insight
I think tag clouds will con­tinue to develop as an impor­tant poten­tial mea­sure­ment and assess­ment vehi­cle for a wide vari­ety of pur­poses; clouda­li­cious is a good exam­ple of an early use of tag clouds for insight. Other appli­ca­tions could include using tag clouds to present meta­data in geospa­tial or spa­tiose­man­tic set­tings that com­bine GPS / GIS and RDF con­cept / knowl­edge struc­tures.
Within the realm of user expe­ri­ence, expect to see new user research and cus­tomer insight tech­niques emerge that employ tag clouds as visu­al­iza­tions and instan­ti­a­tions of seman­tic fields. Maybe even cloud sort­ing?
Clouds As Nav­i­ga­tion
Turn­ing from the strate­gic to the tac­ti­cal realm of expe­ri­ence design and infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture, I expect tag clouds to play a grow­ing role in the nav­i­ga­tion of infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments as they become more com­mon. Nav­i­ga­tional appli­ca­tions com­prise one of the first areas of tag cloud appli­ca­tion. Though nav­i­ga­tion rep­re­sents a fairly nar­row usage of tag clouds, in light of their con­sid­er­able poten­tial in reify­ing seman­tic fields to ren­der them action­able, I expect nav­i­ga­tional set­tings will con­tinue to serve as a pri­mary exper­i­men­tal and evo­lu­tion­ary venue for learn­ing how clouds can enhance larger goals for infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments such as enhanced find­abil­ity.
For new infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments, the rules for tag clouds as nav­i­ga­tion com­po­nents are largely unwrit­ten. But many infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ments already have mature nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems. In these set­tings, tag clouds will be one new type of nav­i­ga­tion mech­a­nism that infor­ma­tion archi­tects and user expe­ri­ence design­ers inte­grate with exist­ing nav­i­ga­tion mech­a­nisms. David Fiorito’s and Richard Dalton’s pre­sen­ta­tion Cre­at­ing a Con­sis­tent Enter­prise Web Nav­i­ga­tion Solu­tion is a good frame­work / intro­duc­tion for ques­tions about how tag clouds might inte­grate into mature or exist­ing nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems. Within their matrix of struc­tural, asso­cia­tive and util­ity nav­i­ga­tion modes that are invoked at vary­ing lev­els of prox­im­ity to con­tent, tag clouds have obvi­ous strengths in the asso­cia­tive mode, at all lev­els of prox­im­ity to con­tent, and poten­tial strength in the struc­tural mode. Fig­ure 1 shows two tag clouds play­ing asso­cia­tive roles in a sim­ple hypo­thet­i­cal nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem.
Fig­ure 1: Asso­cia­tive Clouds

I also expect nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems will fea­ture mul­ti­ple instances of dif­fer­ent types of tag clouds. Nav­i­ga­tion sys­tems employ­ing mul­ti­ple clouds will use com­bi­na­tions of clouds from vary­ing con­texts (as flickr and tech­no­rati already do) or domains within a larger infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment to sup­port a wide vari­ety of pur­poses, includ­ing implicit and explicit com­par­i­son, or views of the envi­ron­ment at mul­ti­ple lev­els of gran­u­lar­ity or res­o­lu­tion (high level / low level). Fig­ure 2 illus­trates mul­ti­ple clouds, Fig­ure 3 shows clouds used to com­pare the seman­tic fields of a one focus cho­sen from a list, and Fig­ure 4 shows a hier­ar­chi­cal lay­out of nav­i­ga­tional tag clouds.
Fig­ure 2: Mul­ti­ple Clouds

Fig­ure 3: Cloud Com­par­i­son Lay­out

Fig­ure 4: Pri­mary / Sec­ondary Lay­out

Struc­tural and Behav­ioral Trends
Let’s move on to con­sider struc­tural and behav­ioral trends in the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of tag clouds.
Given the suc­cess of the sim­ple yet flex­i­ble struc­ture of first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds, I expect that sec­ond gen­er­a­tion clouds will not sub­stan­tially change their basic struc­ture. For exam­ple, tag clouds will not have to change to make use of chang­ing tag­ging prac­tices that enhance the seman­tic depth and qual­ity of tags applied to a focus, such as faceted tag­ging, use of qual­i­fiers, hier­ar­chi­cal tag­ging, and other forms. James Melzer iden­ti­fies some best prac­tices on del.icio.us that make con­sid­er­able sense when the focus of a seman­tic field is a link. His rec­om­men­da­tions include:

  • Source your infor­ma­tion with via:source_name or cite:source_name
  • Cre­ate a par­ent cat­e­gories, and thus a rudi­men­tary hier­ar­chy, with parent_tag/subject_tag
  • Men­tion pub­li­ca­tions names with in:publication_name
  • Flag the type of resource with .exten­sion or =resource_type
  • Use a com­bi­na­tion of gen­eral and spe­cific tags on every book­mark to pro­vide both clus­ter­ing and differentiation
  • Use syn­onyms or alter­nate forms of tags
  • Use unique or dis­tinc­tive terms from doc­u­ments as tags (don’t just use major sub­ject terms)

The two ele­ment struc­ture of first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds can accom­mo­date these tag­ging prac­tices. How­ever, with a seman­tic field of greater depth and rich­ness avail­able, the inter­ac­tions, behav­iors, and pre­sen­ta­tion of tag clouds will evolve beyond a sta­tic set of hyper­links.
Cloud con­sumers’ need for bet­ter con­text will drive the addi­tion of fea­tures and func­tion­al­ity that iden­tify the con­text of a tag cloud explic­itly and in detail. For exam­ple, clouds cre­ated by a defined audi­ence will iden­tify that audi­ence, whether it be sys­tem admin­is­tra­tors, free­lance web design­ers, DJ’s, or pas­try chefs rat­ing recipes and cook­ing equip­ment and pro­vide indi­ca­tion of the scope and time peri­ods that bound the set of tags pre­sented in the cloud. Flickr and oth­ers do this already, offer­ing clouds of tags cov­er­ing dif­fer­ent inter­vals of time to account for the chang­ing pop­u­lar­ity of tags over their lifes­pan.
Mov­ing from pas­sive to inter­ac­tive, tag clouds will allow users to change the cloud’s seman­tic focus or con­text with con­trols, fil­ters, or other para­me­ters (did some­one say ‘slid­ers’ — or is that too 5 min­utes ago…?). I’ve seen sev­eral pub­lic requests for these sorts of fea­tures, like this one: “It would be great if I could set pref­er­ences for items such as time frame or for tags that are rel­e­vant to a par­tic­u­lar area etc or even colour the most recent tags a fiery red or remove the most recent tags.” Fig­ure 5 shows a tag cloud with con­text con­trols attached.
Fig­ure 5: Con­text Con­trols
context_control.gif
Fig­ure 6: Behav­ior Con­trols
behavior_control.gif
Diver­si­fy­ing con­sumer needs and goals for way find­ing, ori­en­ta­tion, infor­ma­tion retrieval, task sup­port, prod­uct pro­mo­tion, etc., will bring about inverted tag clouds. Inverted tag clouds will cen­ter on a tag and depict all focuses car­ry­ing that tag.
Fig­ure 7: Inverted Clouds Show Con­cep­tu­ally Related Focuses
focus_cloud.gif
In the vein of con­tin­ued exper­i­ment, tag clouds will take increased advan­tage with RIA / AJAX and other user expe­ri­ence con­struc­tion meth­ods. Fol­low­ing this, tag clouds may take on some of the func­tions of known nav­i­ga­tion ele­ments, appear­ing as sub-menus / drop down menus offer­ing sec­ondary nav­i­ga­tion choices.
Fig­ure 8: Clouds As Drop Menus

Along the same lines, tag clouds will demon­strate more com­plex inter­ac­tions, such as spawn­ing other tag clouds that act like mag­ni­fy­ing lenses. These over­lap­ping tag clouds may offer: mul­ti­ple lev­els of gran­u­lar­ity (a gen­eral view and zoom view) of a seman­tic field; the­saurus style views of related con­cepts; para­me­ter dri­ven term expan­sion; com­mon types of rela­tion­ship (other peo­ple bought, by the same author, syn­onyms, pre­vi­ously known as, etc.)
Fig­ure 9: Mag­ni­fy­ing Clouds
cloud_lens.gif
Gen­res
Look­ing at the inter­sec­tion of usage and behav­ior trends, I expect tag clouds will evolve, dif­fer­en­ti­ate, and develop into stan­dard gen­res. Gen­res will con­sist of a sta­ble com­bi­na­tion of tag cloud con­tent, con­text, usage, func­tion­al­ity, and behav­ior within dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments. The same busi­ness and user goals that sup­port gen­res in other media and modes of visu­al­iza­tion will drive the devel­op­ment of these tag cloud gen­res. One genre I expect to see emerge shortly is the search result.
Con­clu­sions
Read­ing over the list, I see this is an aggres­sive set of pre­dic­tions. It’s fair to ask if I really have such high expec­ta­tions for tag clouds? I can’t say tag clouds will take over the world, or even the Inter­net. But I do believe that they fill a gap in our col­lec­tive visu­al­iza­tion toolset. The quan­tity, qual­ity, and rel­e­vance of seman­tic infor­ma­tion in both real and vir­tual envi­ron­ments is con­stantly increas­ing. (In fact, the rate of increase is itself increas­ing, though that is a tem­po­rary phe­nom­e­non.) I think tag clouds offer a poten­tial to quickly and eas­ily sup­port the chain of under­stand­ing that’s nec­es­sary for seman­tic fields across diverse kinds of focuses. There’s need for that in many quar­ters, and I expect that need to con­tinue to grow.
For the moment, it seems obvi­ous that tag clouds will spend a while in an early exper­i­men­tal phase, and then move into an awk­ward ado­les­cent phase, as fea­tures, appli­ca­tions and gen­res sta­bi­lize in line with grow­ing aware­ness and com­fort with clouds in var­i­ous set­tings.
I expect these pre­dic­tions to be tested by exper­i­ments will play out quickly and in semi or fully pub­lic set­tings, as in the exam­ple of the dia­log sur­round­ing 83 degrees usage of a tag cloud as the sole nav­i­ga­tion mech­a­nism on their site that Rashmi Sinha’s post The tag-cloud replaces the basic menu — Is this a good idea? kicked off recently.
My answer to this ques­tion is that replac­ing all nav­i­ga­tion menus with a tag cloud is only a good idea under very lim­ited cir­cum­stances. It’s pos­si­ble that 83 Degrees may be one of these lim­ited instances. Star­tups can ben­e­fit con­sid­er­ably from any pos­i­tive atten­tion from the Web’s early adopter com­mu­nity (wit­ness Don’t Blow Your Beta by Michael Arring­ton of Techcrunch). The page’s designer said, “In this case it was done as a design/marketing effort and not at all for UI”. Since attract­ing atten­tion was the spe­cific pur­pose, I think the result is a suc­cess. But it’s still an exper­i­men­tal usage, and that’s con­sis­tent with the early stage of evo­lu­tion / devel­op­ment of tag clouds in gen­eral.
I’m look­ing for­ward to what hap­pens next…

10 comments » | Ideas, Tag Clouds

Tag Clouds Evolve: Understanding Tag Clouds

February 22nd, 2006 — 1:18pm

Zeld­man jok­ingly called tag clouds “the new mul­lets” last year. At the time, I think he was taken a bit by sur­prise by the rapid spread of the tag cloud (as many peo­ple were). A big year later, it looks like this ver­sion of the world’s favorite dou­ble duty hair­cut will stay in fash­ion for a while. Zeld­man was dis­cussing the first gen­er­a­tion of tag clouds. I have some ideas on what the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of tag clouds may look like that will con­clude this series of two essays. These two pieces com­bine ideas brew­ing since the tag­ging break­out began in earnest this time last year, with some pre­dic­tions based on recent exam­ples of tag clouds in prac­tice.
Update: Part two of this essay, Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion Tag Clouds, is avail­able.
This first post lays ground­work for pre­dic­tions about the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of tag clouds by look­ing at what’s behind a tag cloud. I’ll look at first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds in terms of their reliance on a “chain of under­stand­ing” that seman­ti­cally links groups of peo­ple tag­ging and con­sum­ing tags, and thus under­lies tag­ging and social meta­data efforts in gen­eral. I’ll begin with struc­ture of first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds, and move quickly to the very impor­tant way that tag clouds serve as visu­al­iza­tions of seman­tic fields.
Anatomy of a Tag Cloud
Let’s begin with the famil­iar first gen­er­a­tion tag cloud. Tag clouds (here we’re talk­ing about the user expe­ri­ence, and not the pro­gram­matic aspects) com­monly con­sist of two ele­ments: a col­lec­tion of linked tags shown in vary­ing fonts and col­ors to indi­cate fre­quency of use or impor­tance, and a title to indi­cate the con­text of the col­lec­tion of tags. Flickr’s tags page is the iconic exam­ple of the first gen­er­a­tion tag cloud. Screen shots of sev­eral other well known tag cloud imple­men­ta­tions show this pat­tern hold­ing steady in first gen­er­a­tion tag­ging imple­men­ta­tions such as del.icio.us and tech­no­rati, and in newer efforts such as last.fm and ma.gnolia.
Wikipedia’s entry for tag cloud is quite sim­i­lar, read­ing, “A tag cloud (more tra­di­tion­ally known as a weighted list in the field of visual design) is a visual depic­tion of con­tent tags used on a web­site. Often, more fre­quently used tags are depicted in a larger font or oth­er­wise empha­sized, while the dis­played order is gen­er­ally alpha­bet­i­cal… Select­ing a sin­gle tag within a tag cloud will gen­er­ally lead to a col­lec­tion of items that are asso­ci­ated with that tag.“
In terms of infor­ma­tion ele­ments and struc­ture, first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds are low com­plex­ity. Fig­ure 1 shows a schematic view of a first gen­er­a­tion tag cloud. Fig­ures 2 through 5 are screen­shots of well-known first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds.
Fig­ure 1: Tag Cloud Struc­ture
cloud.gif
Fig­ure 2: last.fm
lastfm.gif
Fig­ure 3: tech­no­rati
technorati_1.gif
Fig­ure 4: del.icio.us
delicious_1.gif
Fig­ure 5: Ma.gnolia
magnolia.gif
Tag Clouds: Visu­al­iza­tions of Seman­tic Fields
The sim­ple struc­ture of first gen­er­a­tion tag clouds allows them to per­form a very valu­able func­tion with­out undue com­plex­ity. That func­tion is to visu­al­ize seman­tic fields or land­scapes that are them­selves part of a chain of under­stand­ing link­ing tag­gers and tag con­sumers. This is a good moment to describe the “chain of under­stand­ing”. The “chain of under­stand­ing” is an approach I use to help iden­tify and under­stand all the dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple and mean­ing, and the trans­for­ma­tions and steps involved in pass­ing that mean­ing on, that must work and con­nect prop­erly in order for some­thing to hap­pen, or an end state to occur. The chain of under­stand­ing is my own vari­a­tion / com­bi­na­tion of com­mon cog­ni­tive and infor­ma­tion flow map­ping using a sce­nario style for­mat. I’ve found the term res­onates well with clients and other audi­ences out­side the realm of IA.
How does the chain of under­stand­ing relate to tag clouds? The tags in tag clouds orig­i­nate directly from the per­spec­tive and under­stand­ing of the peo­ple tag­ging, but undergo changes while becom­ing a tag cloud. (For related read­ing, see Rashmi Sinha’s A social analy­sis of tag­ging which exam­ines some of the social mech­a­nisms under­ly­ing the activ­ity of tag­ging.) Tag clouds accrete over time when one per­son or a group of peo­ple asso­ciate a set of terms with a focus of some sort; a photo on flickr, a URL / link in the case of del.icio.us, an album or song for last.fm. As this list shows, a focus can be any­thing that can carry mean­ing or under­stand­ing. The terms or tags serve as car­ri­ers and ref­er­ences for the con­cepts each tag­ger asso­ciates with the focus. Con­cepts can include ideas of about­ness, ori­gin, or pur­pose, descrip­tive labels, etc. While the con­cepts may change, the focus remains sta­ble. What’s key is that the tag is a ref­er­ence and con­nec­tion to the con­cept the tag­ger had in mind. This con­nec­tion requires an ini­tial under­stand­ing of the focus itself (per­haps incor­rect, but still some sort of under­stand­ing), and the con­cepts that the tag­ger may or may not choose to asso­ciate with the focus. And this is the first step in the chain of under­stand­ing behind tag clouds, as shown in Fig­ure 6.
Fig­ure 6: Ori­gin: Focus and Con­cepts
origin.gif
As a result, tag clouds are more than col­lec­tion of descrip­tive or admin­is­tra­tive terms attached to a link, or other sort of focus. The tag is a sort of label that ref­er­ences a con­cept or set of con­cepts. A cloud of tags is then a col­lec­tion of labels refer­ring to a clus­ter of aggre­gated con­cepts. The com­bi­na­tion of tags that refer to con­cepts, with the orig­i­nal focus, cre­ates a ‘seman­tic field’. A seman­tic field is the set of con­cepts con­nected to a focus, but in a form that is now inde­pen­dent of the orig­i­nat­ing tag­gers, and avail­able to other peo­ple for under­stand­ing. In this sense, a seman­tic field serves as a form of rei­fied under­stand­ing that the tag­gers them­selves — as well as oth­ers out­side the group that cre­ated the seman­tic field — can now under­stand, act on, etc. (This speaks to the idea that infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture is a dis­ci­pline strongly aimed at reifi­ca­tion, but that’s a dif­fer­ent dis­cus­sion…). Fig­ure 7 shows this sec­ond step in the chain of under­stand­ing; with­out it, there is no seman­tic field, and no tag cloud can form. And now because this post is writ­ten from the view­point of prac­ti­cal impli­ca­tions for tag cloud evo­lu­tion, I’m going to hold the def­i­n­i­tion and dis­cus­sion of a seman­tic field and focus, before I wan­der off track into semi­otics, lin­guis­tics, or other ter­ri­to­ries. The most impor­tant thing to under­stand is that *tag clouds com­prise visu­al­iza­tions of a seman­tic field*, as we’ve seen from the chain of under­stand­ing.
Fig­ure 7: Seman­tic Field
semantic_field.gif
I believe tag clouds are rev­o­lu­tion­ary in their abil­ity to trans­late the con­cepts asso­ci­ated with nearly any­thing you can think of into a col­lec­tively vis­i­ble and action­able infor­ma­tion envi­ron­ment, an envi­ron­ment that car­ries con­sid­er­able evi­dence of the orig­i­nal under­stand­ings that pre­cede and inform it. In a prac­ti­cal infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture sense, tag clouds can make meta­data — one of the more dif­fi­cult and abstract of the fun­da­men­tal con­cepts of the dig­i­tal uni­verse for the prover­bial per­son on the street — vis­i­ble in an eas­ily under­stood fash­ion. The genius of tag clouds is to make seman­tic con­cepts, the frames of under­stand­ing behind those con­cepts, and their man­i­fes­ta­tion as applied meta­data tan­gi­ble for many, many peo­ple.
Fig­ure 8: Seman­tic Field As Tag Cloud
field_as_cloud.gif
With this notion of a tag cloud as a visu­al­iza­tion of a seman­tic field in mind, let’s look again at an exam­ple of a tag cloud in prac­tice. The flickr style tag cloud (what I call a first gen­er­a­tion tag cloud) is in fact a visu­al­iza­tion of many tag sep­a­rate clouds aggre­gated together. Seman­ti­cally then, the flickr tag cloud is the visu­al­iza­tion of the cumu­la­tive seman­tic field accreted around many dif­fer­ent focuses, by many peo­ple. In this usage, the flickr tag cloud func­tions as a visu­al­iza­tion of a seman­tic land­scape built up from all asso­ci­ated con­cepts cho­sen from the com­bined per­spec­tives of many sep­a­rate tag­gers.
To sum­ma­rize, cre­at­ing a tag cloud requires com­ple­tion of the first three steps of the chain of under­stand­ing that sup­ports social meta­data. Those steps are:
1. Under­stand­ing a focus and the con­cepts that could apply that focus
2. Accu­mu­lat­ing and cap­tur­ing a seman­tic field around the focus
3. Visu­al­iz­ing the seman­tic field as a tag cloud via trans­for­ma­tion
The fourth step in this chain involves users’ attempts to under­stand the tag cloud. For this we must intro­duce the idea of con­text, which addresses the ques­tion of which orig­i­nal per­spec­tives under­lie the seman­tic field visu­al­ized in a tag cloud, and how those con­cepts have changed before or dur­ing pre­sen­ta­tion.
How Cloud Con­sumers Under­stand Tag Clouds
Users need to put a given tag cloud in proper con­text in order to under­stand the cloud effec­tively. Their end may goals may be find­ing related items, sur­vey­ing the think­ing within a knowl­edge domain, iden­ti­fy­ing and con­tact­ing col­lab­o­ra­tors, or some other pur­pose, but it’s essen­tial for them to under­stand the tags in the cloud to achieve those goals. Thus when­ever a user encoun­ters a tag cloud, they ask and answer a series of ques­tions intended to estab­lish the cloud’s con­text and fur­ther their under­stand­ing. Con­text related ques­tions often include “Where did these tags come from? Who applied them? Why did they choose these tags, and not oth­ers? What time span does this tag cloud cover?” Con­text in this case means know­ing enough about the con­di­tions and envi­ron­ment from which the cloud was cre­ated, and the deci­sions made about what tags to present and how to present them. Fig­ure 9 sum­ma­rizes the idea of con­text.
Fig­ure 9: Cloud Con­text

Once the user or con­sumer places the tag cloud in con­text, the chain of under­stand­ing is com­plete, and they can being to use or work with the tag cloud. Fig­ure 10 shows the com­plete chain of under­stand­ing we’ve exam­ined.
Fig­ure 10 Chain of Under­stand­ing
chain_of_understanding.gif
In part two, titled “Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion Tag Clouds”, I’ll share some thoughts on likely ways that the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of tag clouds will evolve in struc­ture and usage in the near future, based on how they sup­port a chain of under­stand­ing that seman­ti­cally links tag­gers and tag cloud con­sumers. Con­text is the key for tag cloud con­sumers, and we’ll see how it affects the likely evo­lu­tion of the tag cloud as a visu­al­iza­tion tool.
Update: Part two Sec­ond Gen­er­a­tion Tag Clouds is available

10 comments » | Ideas, Tag Clouds

Belated 2006 Prediction #1

February 1st, 2006 — 11:45pm

It’s only Feb­ru­ary, but I can already tell that I’m going to say “Share­Point is *not* an intranet!” many, many, many times in 2006…

Comment » | Intranets

Hallmark of the New Enterprise: Knowledge Markets

January 30th, 2006 — 9:15pm

Using the auto­mo­tive indus­try and an anal­o­gous vari­ety of soft­ware mega-packages with three-letter acronyms as exam­ples, we’ve been dis­cussing the death of the tra­di­tional enter­prise for a few weeks. We’ve observed that enter­prise efforts rely­ing on mas­sive top-down approaches become inef­fi­cient and waste­ful, if not counter-productive. They also either fail to sup­port the health of the indi­vid­u­als or groups involved — cus­tomers, users, sell­ers, employ­ers — or in fact directly reduce the rel­a­tive health of these par­ties. With Conway’s Law as a guide, we dis­cov­ered that the struc­ture or form of an orga­ni­za­tion influ­ences or deter­mines the nature and qual­ity of the things the orga­ni­za­tion cre­ates.
This all con­cerns the past: so now it’s time to look ahead, at the new enter­prise. Of course, scry­ing the future inevitably relies on a mix­ture of hand wav­ing, vague pro­nounce­ments, and the occa­sional “it’s not pos­si­ble yet to do what this implies” to point the way for­ward. What’s often lack­ing is a present-tense exam­ple to serve as clear har­bin­ger of the future to come. I came across an exam­ple today, drawn from the debate sur­round­ing the propo­si­tion that the U.S. Army is close to a break­ing point. In an episode of On Point titled Are US Forces Stretched Too Thin?, sev­eral pan­elists (names not avail­able from the pro­gram web­site yet) made three telling points about the Army that show it as an orga­ni­za­tion in tran­si­tion from the old model enter­prise into a new form, albeit one whose out­lines remain fuzzy. I’ll para­phrase these points:

  1. The Army’s guid­ing vision and doc­trines (the ideas that shape think­ing at the high­est lev­els of the ser­vice) do not align with the real­ity of it’s status.
  2. The peo­ple for­mu­lat­ing Army vision and doc­trines are not will­ing or able to change per­spec­tive quickly enough to allow the Army to accom­plish it’s mis­sion while main­tain­ing itself in good health. Wit­ness recent recruit­ing fail­ures and pro­mo­tion trends, and their per­haps dire impli­ca­tions for the Army’s long-term health.
  3. In response, indi­vid­ual field com­man­ders in the Army are inno­vat­ing new doc­trines from the bot­tom up, at the com­pany level.

To sup­port this prac­tice, com­pany com­man­ders cre­ated a forum for shar­ing inno­va­tions amongst them­selves, called CO Team: Com­pa­ny­Command. The descrip­tion reads, “CompanyCommand.com is com­pany commanders-present, future, and past. We are in an ongo­ing pro­fes­sional con­ver­sa­tion about lead­ing sol­diers and build­ing combat-ready units. The con­ver­sa­tion is tak­ing place on front porches, around HMMWV hoods, in CPs, mess halls, and FOBs around the world. By engag­ing in this ongo­ing con­ver­sa­tion cen­tered around lead­ing sol­diers, we are becom­ing more effec­tive lead­ers, and we are grow­ing units that are more effec­tive. Amaz­ing things hap­pen when com­mit­ted lead­ers in a pro­fes­sion con­nect, share what they are learn­ing, and spur each other on to become bet­ter and bet­ter.“
It’s the third point that gives us a clue about the nature of the new enter­prise. CompanyCommand.com is an exam­ple of a ‘knowl­edge mar­ket­place’ cre­ated and main­tained by an infor­mal net­work within an orga­ni­za­tion. Knowl­edge mar­ket­places are one of the com­po­nents of what McK­in­sey calls The 21st Cen­tury Orga­ni­za­tion. Knowl­edge mar­ket­places allow knowl­edge buy­ers “to gain access to con­tent that is more insight­ful and rel­e­vant, as well as eas­ier to find and assim­i­late, than alter­na­tive sources are.“
McK­in­sey believes that these mar­kets — as well as com­pan­ion forms for exchang­ing valu­able human assets called tal­ent mar­kets — require care­ful invest­ment to begin func­tion­ing.
”…work­ing mar­kets need objects of value for trad­ing, to say noth­ing of prices, exchange mech­a­nisms, and com­pe­ti­tion among sup­pli­ers. In addi­tion, stan­dards, pro­to­cols, reg­u­la­tions, and mar­ket facil­i­ta­tors often help mar­kets to work bet­ter. These con­di­tions don’t exist nat­u­rally — a knowl­edge mar­ket­place is an arti­fi­cial, man­aged one — so com­pa­nies must put them in place.“
On this, I dis­agree. Com­pa­ny­Command is an exam­ple of a proto-form knowl­edge mar­ket­place that appears to be self-organized and reg­u­lated.
Mov­ing on, another com­po­nent of the new enter­prise iden­ti­fed by McK­in­sey is the for­mal net­work. A for­mal net­work “…enables peo­ple who share com­mon inter­ests to col­lab­o­rate with rel­a­tively lit­tle ambi­gu­ity about decision-making author­ity — ambi­gu­ity that gen­er­ates inter­nal orga­ni­za­tional com­pli­ca­tions and ten­sion in matrixed struc­tures.“
In McKinsey’s analy­sis, for­mal net­works con­trast with infor­mal social net­works in sev­eral ways. For­mal net­works require des­ig­nated own­ers respon­si­ble for build­ing com­mon capa­bil­i­ties and deter­min­ing invest­ment lev­els, incen­tives for mem­ber­ship, defined bound­aries or ter­ri­to­ries, estab­lished stan­dards and pro­to­cols, and shared infra­struc­ture or tech­nol­ogy plat­forms.
My guess is that Com­pa­ny­Command again meets all these for­mal net­work cri­te­ria to a par­tial extent, which is why it is a good har­bin­ger of the forms com­mon to the new enter­prise, and a sign of an orga­ni­za­tion in tran­si­tion.
Can you think of other exam­ples of new enter­prise forms, or orga­ni­za­tions in tran­si­tion?
In the next post in this series, we’ll move on from the struc­ture of the new enter­prise to talk about the new enter­prise expe­ri­ence, try­ing to track a num­ber of trends to under­stand their impli­ca­tions for the user expe­ri­ence of the new enter­prise environment.

Comment » | Ideas

Enterprise Software is Dead! Long Live... Thingamy?

January 5th, 2006 — 3:04pm

Peter Mer­holz observes that enter­prise soft­ware is being eaten away from below, by appli­ca­tions such as Move­able Type, and inno­va­tors such as Social­Text.
“These smaller point solu­tions, sys­tems that actu­ally address the chal­lenges that peo­ple face (instead of sim­ply cre­at­ing more prob­lems of their own, prob­lems that require hir­ing ser­vice staff from the soft­ware devel­op­ers), these solu­tions are going to spread through­out orga­ni­za­tions and sup­plant enter­prise soft­ware the same way that PCs sup­planted main­frames.
I sure wouldn’t want to be work­ing in enter­prise soft­ware right now. Sure, it’s a mas­sive indus­try, and it will take a long time to die, but the pro­gres­sion is clear, and, frankly, inevitable.“
Indeed it is. Though there’s con­sid­er­able ana­lyst hoopla about ris­ing enter­prise con­tent man­age­ment or ECM spend­ing and IT invest­ment (see also In Focus: Con­tent Man­age­ment Heats Up, Imag­ing Shifts Toward SMBs), we’re in the midst of a larger and longer term cycle of evo­lu­tion in which cheaper, faster, more agile com­peti­tors to estab­lished mar­ket lead­ers are fol­low­ing the clas­sic mar­ket entry strat­egy of attack­ing the bot­tom of the pyra­mid. (The pyra­mid is a hier­ar­chi­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of a given mar­ket or set of prod­ucts; at the top of the pyra­mid sit the more expen­sive and mature prod­ucts which offer more fea­tures, capa­bil­i­ties, qual­ity, or com­plex­ity; the lower lev­els of the pyra­mid include lower cost prod­ucts which offer fewer fea­tures.)
What’s most inter­est­ing about the way this pat­tern is play­ing out in the arena of enter­prise con­tent man­age­ment solu­tions is that the new com­peti­tors were not at first attack­ing from the bot­tom as a delib­er­ate strat­egy, think of Move­able­Type, but they have quite quickly moved to this approach as with the recent release of Alfresco. The dif­fer­ent ori­gins of Sixa­part and Alfresco may have some bear­ing on their dif­fer­ent mar­ket entry approaches: Sixa­part was a per­sonal pub­lish­ing plat­form that’s grown into a con­tent man­age­ment tool, whereas Alfresco’s intented audi­ence was enter­prise cus­tomers from day one. I’d wager the founders of Alfresco looked to Red­Hat as an exam­ple of a busi­ness model built on Open­Source soft­ware, and saw oppor­tu­nity in the enter­prise con­tent man­age­ment space, espe­cially con­cern­ing user expe­ri­ence annd usabil­ity weak­nesses in ECM plat­forms.
There’s an easy (if gen­eral) par­al­lel in the auto­mo­tive indus­try: from Amer­i­can dom­i­nance of the domes­tic U.S. mar­ket for auto­mo­biles in the post-WWII decades, suc­ces­sive waves of com­peti­tors moved into the U.S. auto­mo­bile mar­ket from the bot­tom of the pyra­mid, offer­ing less expen­sive or higher qual­ity auto­mo­biles with the same or sim­i­lar fea­tures. The major Japan­ese firms such as Honda, Toy­ota, and Nis­san were first, fol­lowed by Korean firms such as Hyundai and Dae­woo. It’s plain that some of the older com­pa­nies sit­ting at the top of the pyra­mid are in fact dying, both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively: GM is finan­cially crip­pled and faces oner­ous finan­cial bur­dens — to the point of bank­ruptcy — as it attempts to pay for the health­care of it’s own aging (dying) work­force.
So what’s in the future?
For auto mak­ers it’s pos­si­ble that Chi­nese or South Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers will be next to enter the domes­tic U.S. mar­ket, using sim­i­lar attacks at the bot­tom of the pyra­mid.
For enter­prise soft­ware, I think orga­ni­za­tions will turn away from mono­lithic and expen­sive sys­tems with ter­ri­ble user expe­ri­ences — and cor­re­spond­ingly low lev­els of sat­is­fac­tion, qual­ity, and effi­cacy — as the best means of meet­ing busi­ness needs, and shift to a mixed palette of seman­ti­cally inte­grated capa­bil­i­ties or ser­vices deliv­ered via the Inter­net. These capa­bil­i­ties will orig­i­nate from diverse ven­dors or providers, and expose cus­tomized sets of func­tion­al­ity and infor­ma­tion spe­cific to the indi­vid­ual enter­prise. Staff will access and encounter these capa­bil­i­ties via a mul­ti­plic­ity of chan­nels and user expe­ri­ences; dash­board or por­tal style aggre­ga­tors, RIA rich inter­net appli­ca­tions, mobile devices, inter­faces for RSS and other micro-content for­mats.
David Wein­berger thinks it will be small pieces loosely joined together. A group of entre­pre­neurs thinks it might look some­thing like what Thingamy claims to be.
Regard­less, it’s surely no coin­ci­dence that I find a blog post on mar­ket pyra­mids and entry strate­gies put up by some­one work­ing at an enter­prise soft­ware startup…

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Intranet Review Toolkit: Quick Heuristics Spreadsheet

December 2nd, 2005 — 12:30am

Update: Version 1.1 of the Intranet Review Toolkit is avail­able as of 03/20/2006, and now includes a sum­mary spread­sheet.
Thanks go to James Robert­son for very gen­tly remind­ing me that the licens­ing arrange­ments for the Intranet Review Toolkit pre­clude repub­lish­ing it as a sum­ma­rized form, such as the spread­sheet I posted ear­lier today. In my enthu­si­asm to share a tool with the rest of the com­mu­nity, I didn’t work through the full licens­ing impli­ca­tions…
Accord­ingly, I’ll be remov­ing the spread­sheet from harms way imme­di­ately, while hop­ing it’s pos­si­ble to make it avail­able in a more legally accept­able form.
Apolo­gies to James and the rest of the Toolkit team for any unin­tended harm from my oversight.

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