Sunday, April 30, 2006

Information: organization vs. overload

I will get to the topic in the title, but first: This month's issue of the Communications of the ACM has a great series of articles on exploratory search: lots of good ideas on organizing sets of search results rather than single documents, clustering vs. categorization, etc. Another good read: May issue of WiRED magazine has good coverage of vblogs and online video - the sort of grass-roots publishing that I like :-)

There is so much information to absorb and use for any type of knowledge worker that it takes time and effort to stay up to date with what we need to do our jobs. Much of my work involves writing custom software (usually layered on open source) for information management in specific industries/applications (large scale search, document categorization and repository maintenance, AI style data mining, agent technology to assist by bringing important things to user's attention, etc.) but I find it ironic that I can not seem to set aside the time to write much custom code for my own information needs (take care of customers first!). And, so far, it always seems to take custom code to solve specific information management problems. From what I have seen, there is not yet any silver bullet.

I have some ideas for exactly what tools I want for my own work flow and how I might "productize" them, but for now I have an adhoc system using subversion repositories, local directories organized by topic and augmented with local search, and using del.icio.us to organize bookmarks for material on the web. If I can set aside the time, I would like to integrate more of what I use in my own work flow.

What about search? Well, search is not information management. If/when semantic web technologies become more widely used, then software agents will be able to treat the web as an information source and be able to do research either without human intervention, or at least be valued assistants. CEOs of companies have well trained staff to filter and organize information - what will the effects be on society and the economy in the future when most people will have free or inexpensive software agents that can compete with well trained human staff? A nice thought but there will always be selective advantages to better information management systems.

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