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Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become

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How do you find your way in an age of information overload? How can you filter streams of complex information to pull out only what you want? Why does it matter how information is structured when Google seems to magically bring up the right answer to your questions? What does it mean to be "findable" in this day and age? This eye-opening new book examines the convergence of information and connectivity. Written by Peter Morville, author of the groundbreaking Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, the book defines our current age as a state of unlimited findability. In other words, anyone can find anything at any time. Complete navigability.

Morville discusses the Internet, GIS, and other network technologies that are coming together to make unlimited findability possible. He explores how the melding of these innovations impacts society, since Web access is now a standard requirement for successful people and businesses. But before he does that, Morville looks back at the history of wayfinding and human evolution, suggesting that our fear of being lost has driven us to create maps, charts, and now, the mobile Internet.

The book's central thesis is that information literacy, information architecture, and usability are all critical components of this new world order. Hand in hand with that is the contention that only by planning and designing the best possible software, devices, and Internet, will we be able to maintain this connectivity in the future. Morville's book is highlighted with full color illustrations and rich examples that bring his prose to life.

Ambient Findability doesn't preach or pretend to know all the answers. Instead, it presents research, stories, and examples in support of its novel ideas. Are we truly at a critical point in our evolution where the quality of our digital networks will dictate how we behave as a species? Is findability indeed the primary key to a successful global marketplace in the 21st century and beyond. Peter Morville takes you on a thought-provoking tour of these memes and more -- ideas that will not only fascinate but will stir your creativity in practical ways that you can apply to your work immediately.

"A lively, enjoyable and informative tour of a topic that's only going to become more important."
--David Weinberger, Author, Small Pieces Loosely Joined and The Cluetrain Manifesto

"I envy the young scholar who finds this inventive book, by whatever strange means are necessary. The future isn't just unwritten--it's unsearched."
--Bruce Sterling, Writer, Futurist, and Co-Founder, The Electronic Frontier Foundation

"Search engine marketing is the hottest thing in Internet business, and deservedly so. Ambient Findability puts SEM into a broader context and provides deeper insights into human behavior. This book will help you grow your online business in a world where being found is not at all certain."
--Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., Author, Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity

"Information that's hard to find will remain information that's hardly found--from one of the fathers of the discipline of information architecture, and one of its most experienced practitioners, come penetrating observations on why findability is elusive and how the act of seeking changes us."
--Steve Papa, Founder and Chairman, Endeca

"Whether it's a fact or a figure, a person or a place, Peter Morville knows how to make it findable. Morville explores the possibilities of a world where everything can always be found--and the challenges in getting there--in this wide-ranging, thought-provoking book."
--Jesse James Garrett, Author, The Elements of User Experience

"It is easy to assume that current searching of the World Wide Web is the last word in finding and using information. Peter Morville shows us that search engines are ju

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7 Slices

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1. Lost and Found

ePub

At the seashore, between the land of atoms and the sea of bits, we are now facing the challenge of reconciling our dual citizenship in the physical and digital worlds.

Hiroshi Ishii

MIT Media Lab

I'm sitting on a beach in Newport, Rhode Island. Seagulls and sandpipers hunt near the water's edge. The Atlantic ocean sparkles in the early morning sun. To my right, the Cliff Walk winds its way between the rugged New England shoreline and the manicured gardens of the Newport mansions, opulent "summer cottages" built with industrial age fortunes made in steamships, railroads, and foreign trade.

I'm sitting on a beach in Newport, but I'm not entirely there. My attention is focused on a device that rests in the palm of my hand. It's a Treo 600 smartphone. I'm using it to write this sentence, right here, right now. As a 6.2 ounce computer sporting a 144 megahertz RISC processor, 32 megabytes of RAM, a color display, and a full QWERTY keyboard, this is one impressive micro-machine. But that's not what floats my boat. What I love about this device is its ability to reach out beyond the here and now.

 

2. A Brief History of Wayfinding

ePub

Not all those who wander are lost.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Labyrinths and mazes are two distinct creatures. In the modern world, we are most familiar with the maze, an intricate and often confusing network of interconnecting pathways or tunnels designed to challenge the skills of all who enter. Mazes are multicursal. They offer a choice of paths, along with a disorienting mix of twists, turns, blind alleys, and dead ends. In a maze, it's hard to find your way and easy to become lost.

In contrast, a true labyrinth is unicursal, like the one in Figure 2-1. There is one well-defined path that leads into the center and back out again. The labyrinth is an ancient symbol with a 3,500 year history in religion and mythology in such diverse places as Egypt, Peru, Arizona, Iceland, India, and Sumatra. It combines the imagery of circle and spiral into a meandering but purposeful path, a reassuring metaphor for our journey through life.

In practice, we use the terms interchangeably. Our most famous labyrinth was really a maze, designed by the skillful architect Daedalus to entomb the Minotaur and its victims. Only by relying on Ariadne's ball of thread was Theseus able to escape after slaying the beast at the center. Like today's mazes of hedge and corn and ink, the labyrinth of Crete was a puzzle, inviting competitors to test their skills.

 

3. Information Interaction

ePub

Documents are, quite simply, talking things. They are bits of the material worldclay, stone, animal skin, plant fiber, sandthat we've imbued with the ability to speak.

David M. Levy

University of Washington iSchool

Let me tell you a story about the laws of Moore and Mooers . Once upon a time, in 1965 to be precise, an engineer named Gordon Moore boldly predicted the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits would double every year. In his landmark paper for the journal of Electronics, Moore conjectured:

Integrated circuits will lead to such wonders as home computersor at least terminals connected to a central computerautomatic controls for automobiles, and personal portable communications equipment. The electronic wristwatch needs only a display to be feasible today.[*]

Though his specific prediction was a bit optimistictransistor density has doubled roughly every two yearshis overall vision has played out remarkably well. The number of transistors per circuit grew from 50 in 1965 to 410 million in 2003 and is fast approaching 1 billion. In the four decades since his paper was published, Gordon founded and grew a rather successful company called Intel; home computers, the Internet, mobile computing (and electronic wristwatches) became reality; and Moore's Law attained mythic status. Its exponential growth curve has been a favorite prop among techno-evangelists for implying the imminent arrival of virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and the paperless society. Faster is better, they arguemore is more.

 

4. Intertwingled

ePub

Intertwingularity is not generally acknowledgedpeople keep pretending they can make things deeply hierarchical, categorizable and sequential when they can't. Everything is deeply intertwingled. Theodor Holm Nelson

As a sociology student at Harvard in the early 1960s, Ted Nelson enrolled in a computer course for the humanities that changed his life. For his term project, he tried to develop a text-handling system that would enable writers to edit and compare their work easily. Considering he was coding on a mainframe in Assembler language before word processing had been invented, it's no surprise his attempt fell short. Despite this early setback, Ted was captivated by the potential of nonsequential text to transform how we organize and share ideas. His pioneering work on "hypertext" and "hypermedia" laid an intellectual foundation for the World Wide Web, and his views on "intertwingularity " will haunt the house of ubicomp for many years to come.

 

5. Push and Pull

ePub

Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river. Lao Tzu

What do bananas, text books, and beach sand have in common? No, it's not a joke, though the answer dwells in the borderlands between humor and horror. We're talking about ambient advertising , and it's funny and fascinating, until it crosses the line.

Originally known as fringe, buzz, stealth, or guerilla marketing, ambient advertising has gone mainstream. Specialty agencies such as Ambient Planet and Diabolical Liberties are helping to spread the word into every nook and cranny imaginable. Beer mats, bar toilets, pizza boxes, receipts, floors, cars, parks, and prescription pharmacy bags. Ads lurking in the holes on golf courses. Commercials carved in sand. Logos inscribed on foreheads. Everyday objects and nature itself are becoming channels for push media.

But where is the line? At what point is push too pushy? Our emotions lure us toward the extreme. For instance, I hate spam. It invades my inbox, steals my attention, and wastes my time. It's bad for me, and I'm pretty sure it's bad for society. Some days, I get angry and search for solutions in the shady bazaar of black lists, white lists, filtering algorithms, and challenge-response systems. But mostly, I try to ignore it, control-deleting my way ahead in a state of learned helplessness. Spam is the poster child for the dark side of push.

 

6. The Sociosemantic Web

ePub

Man's achievements rest upon the use of symbols. Alfred Korzybski

In 1988, sociologist Susan Leigh Star coined the term "boundary object" to describe artifacts or ideas that are shared but understood differently by multiple communities. Though each group attaches a different meaning to the boundary object, it serves as a common point of reference and a means of translation. A dead bird may be the catalyst for communication between amateur bird watchers and professional epidemiologists. A vision of sustainable development may inspire politicians, environmentalists, builders, and business leaders to engage in negotiation and collaboration. The magic of the boundary object lies in its ability to build shared understanding across social categories.

In the 1990s, the Internet emerged as a powerful boundary object, uniting early adopters in a global conversation about the future of information, communication, and commerce. Back in the text-only days of Gopher and WAIS , the Internet was a special club. Only a few belonged. Most of the world had never heard of the Internet, and many who did casually dismissed it as a playground for geeks. This rejection only strengthened the bonds of the inspired. We were amazed by the Internet. We could download software from Berkeley, send email to Moscow, and retrieve documents from Sydney. We wanted to learn everything about the Internet: where it came from, how it worked, and what it could do. We imagined the future of the Internet and its potential to change the world.

 

7. Inspired Decisions

ePub

No one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same. Jorge Luis Borges "The Garden of Forking Paths"

I remember the summer of 1989. I was 19 years old, a sophomore biology major at Tufts University, and a transient in the home of my parents. My passions were, in no particular order, soccer, girls, literature, beer, and artificial intelligence. My summer began in the environmental lab of the Millstone nuclear power plant, where I measured the impact of thermal discharge on marine biodiversity. By day, I studied sand under a microscope, and by night, the works of Dostoevsky, Turing, Hofstadter, and Dennett.

That August, we took a family vacation to France and England. I left the sand behind, but the self-reflections of The Mind's I and the eternal golden braids of Gdel, Escher, Bach traveled with us. In fact, one of my fondest memories is of wandering with my brother through strange loops and tangled hierarchies, surrounded by the rolling green hills of the English countryside. Thinking machines, disembodied minds, silicon souls, selfish memes: we were intoxicated by metaphorical fugues, and a few pints from the local pub.

 

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