Summary in Early June 2005

The Web (in its 2.0 incarnation) is a read-write medium, and as such is on its way to becoming the medium to store and examine and distribute one's life --and a lifelong platform for self-education. Everybody has the problem of managing personal digital libraries (or protolibraries) and the need to repurpose what one possesses. Every year the cost of storage is cut in half, and the volume of material to manage becomes greater and more diverse.

It's necessary to work out the means to lace together a spectrum of tools and affordances --a moving collection, apps and materials and foci of attention forever falling on and falling off, moving in and out of one's attention. One needs to be able to build in this fluid environment, and to be able to back up and manage and move to different platforms, and to link to new technologies as they appear.

Some outstanding empirical questions:

What do people do with the products of their surfing/infoseek activities? How do they re-find and Keep Found Things Found?

How do people learn to manage? <== they DO, but there's not a lot of ethnography on the process

What tools are available to help them? What's the history and process of adoption?

What kinds of UI options exist? How can we build more effective ones? What really works?

Jon Udell (probably quoting Leslie Michael Orchard) puts the personal Information desiderata quite well:

Here's what I want to see: Storage without explicit organization, but with super-rich metadata for super-fast searches. Allow me to create views made from persistent searches - my "project folder" is simply a collection of resources tied together by a common tag, one of many. And, if I want to form a project hierarchy, make my persistent searches into file objects too. The main thing in all this, though, is that it be woven very deeply within the OS. I don't want a helper app. I want this to replace the standard metaphor completely.
I preside over a lifelong personal style of Informational Omnivory --really the Reference Librarian's Niche, but (after 13 years as a librarian) I've pretty much outrun Libraries as definers of MY interests and priorities, and I don't think that academic libraries are paying much attention to what people are actually doing with their Information universes.

In the last few months I've been making a lot of use of

These days I'm especially interested in and exploring the implications of
affordances (I include hardware like mp3 players, and read-write environments like blogs)
folksonomies (out of frustration with the digital libraries model of ontology that's Authority based)

Several of my own articulations that I still find useful:

Five Year Plan, November 2003
On Libraries (2003-2004)
How it looks at the end of March 2005

The nature of my job has led me to focus on the problems of a face-to-face community --a campus, various academic departments and programs, faculty and students whom I directly support, and arrays of resources that are (1) intramural (and constrained by $$ and administrative structures) and (2) increasingly extramural. I have made many conference and workshop presentations, done consulting work, and made many campus visits to peer institutions (see Fall 2002 sabbatical). At Washington & Lee I have taught courses in many departments and programs, and from 1998-2003 I enjoyed a five year run of collaborative exploration of emerging Information technologies, but my main collaborator left and wasn't replaced by Computing Services.

Education is my primary frame, and I'm fascinated with how Education has to change. I want to contribute to that evolution OUTSIDE of individual educational institutions --to leverage what I know from 40-odd years of immersion in a succession of institutions into something much broader.

I'm used to thinking about educational institutions --their limits, possibilities, riches, inherent frustrations. I don't have any Industry or for-profit experience. I don't have a very deep understanding of how Companies work, but I know they are NOT all that much like the academic institutions in which I've spent my life. As an anthropologist, I have a lively interest in differences in culture in settings I visit. As a librarian, I'm professionally committed to helping people find and use and repurpose Information, and I'm interested in exploring broader venues for that work.

It's the intersection of social software and Web services that especially attracts me; I regard Larry Lessig and Brewster Kahle as primary prophets of the coming world; I revere Jon Udell as a leading practitioner of the explorations that are discovering the immediate future of teaching and learning. I am especially interested in the efforts of Stephen Downes, Alan Levine, Bryan Alexander, Gardner Campbell, D'Arcy Norman, and Brian Lamb to redefine Education in digital environments. I follow ITConversations pretty closely.

In my continuing efforts to inform myself about emergent technologies, I've been tracking the manifold implications of RSS and I have worked extensively with audio (in contexts of podcasting and teaching ethnomusicology), and I'll spend some of the next few months working on Linux (I want to develop free-standing capability to install and manage blog and wiki environments, and to incorporate other apps as they come along). I wish I knew more about Python, PHP, Javascript, MySQL, AJAX.

I aspire to be a participant in Wikipedia, and in other means to teach indirectly and asynchronously.

I have been working with approaches to visualization and exploration of patterns in data for many years, and I have made considerable use of GIS over the last 6 years. More generally, I continue to explore the pathways and transformations of

data ==> information ==> knowledge ==> wisdom


After writing the above summary, I started to elaborate a related train of thought that began as I walked to work. Like many similar efforts over the years, the page that emerged is partly a conversation with myself, partly an attempt to articulate what I think for an unknown audience, and partly an atelier to which I may point others. At the moment it seems appropriate to keep the two separate, but they may find themselves repurposed as I continue to follow their logic, and as I find other materials that should be linked.