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Ambient Findability


There have been times when I saw down with a topic and I just couldn’t get the words and the ideas to align. There were other times when the idea was so powerful that the words seemed insufficient. This is the case with Ambient Findability. Peter Morville is speaking of the changes in thinking that are happening all around us and how we acquire information. There’s research to support the fundamental premise that we acquire much of what we know based on passive and indirect access to information. In other words, we’re not looking and we don’t know what we’d be looking for even if we were. Marcia Brown believes that 80% of the information we learn is gathered this way.

Certainly, this information superhighway we call the Internet has changed things. For instance, I read this book on a Kindle, an iPhone, and my computer – in different parts. As I transitioned from one device to another brought me up to my last read page and I continued as if I hadn’t left. When I was done with the reading I went to and copied the highlights into OneNote. Now, I can access my notes from anywhere – search them – and generally access them in ways I couldn’t in the past. I used to do my highlights, dog earing, and marking and then ask an assistant to transcribe them into an electronic form so I could access them – that is when the assistant had time. This has changed just a small part of the way that I do my research – and in a way that makes it easier for me to find information that I’ve culled out of larger works.

OneNote and my Lenovo x200 tablet changed things too. I’m reading with the Kindle software and I transition to hand write my notes which are recognized (some of the time) and converted into searchable text.

My son, who is 9, will never really understand the idea of scheduling his time around when a TV program is being broadcast. He’s lived his entire memorable life with a DVR. At one point it was a ReplayTV, another time Tivo, and now we’re using AT&T U-Verse service with a DVR included as a part of the package. There’s no longer the concept of Thursday night TV.

Working from the perspective of findability and trying to figure out how users in this new and changing sea of information will access information in the future is a challenge to be sure. That’s why I cut Peter Morville some extra slack for his book seeming to wander with less of a focused solution and more of the cow’s path to the end. I’ll admit the book reads more like a blog post than a book. In that I’m saying that it’s more about his thoughts and less about an organized journey to a specific location.

However, along the way, the book plays connect the dots with stops to point out how we’ve found our way as humans, how other animals find their ways, and the components of these processes that we may need to learn to be able to move forward. There’s plenty of useful thoughts about how our environments shape us – after we’ve shaped them. I’m personally identifying with this as I’m sitting in my office a few dozen feet from my home on a Thanksgiving morning. I’ve got some separation of thought between family and work – and the ability to transition between the two at will. I’ve shaped my environment to allow me to be quite comfortable “working.” As a result when my family needs their space or is sleeping (as they are now), I’m free to come to “work” and play.

The shifts that are changing are subtle and all around us. Simple things like the wrist watch are becoming extinct as people don their cellphones which can tell them the time. I still wear a watch but I don’t expect my son will wear a watch when he’s older.

Perhaps the thing to leave with – as it pertains to the book – is one of my favorite bits. In the aboriginal language Dyirbal there’s a category called Balan that includes women, fire, and dangerous things. This reminds me that the way that we structure our information architecture, the way that we frame the problem will probably have far reaching effects into the future. In this case, I think that women are like a fire burning bright – and that’s dangerous.

If you’re willing to walk the cows path to understand the information world you walk in, check out Ambient Findability.