If it weren’t for Google Desktop I’d be spending an inordinate amount of time looking for stuff I’ve written, and then forgotten what I’d named it. But Google Desktop doesn’t do the whole job — I often comment on others’ blogs, in forums, in wikis and other places that most tools don’t keep track of, and I can never remember where these important thoughts were placed. And with multimedia and collaborative sites becoming more affordable and more important, it’s only going to get worse. I know CoComment is trying to help, but it’s just one more piece to add to the memory storage puzzle, and doesn’t even handle all blogs (including mine).
What we need is a web page that works kind of in reverse — keeping track of everything we’ve ‘sent out’, in any online medium, regardless of where it ended up.
This was an idea I proposed as CKO a few years ago (it was deemed technically too difficult). At that point all I wanted was for employees who had contributed documents (including e-mail messages) to internal repositories to have a place where all such contributed knowledge could be found in one place, so at annual performance review time it would be easy for them to say: “Here, this is what I contributed to our company’s collective knowledge this year.”
The closest analogy I can think of is a scrapbook, a place where we keep all our ‘memories’. The online equivalent I’d like to see would capture all of the following on one ‘page’:
This massive aggregation would comprise ATSYCA (All The Stuff You Care About), a kind of super-memory or ‘subset of the Web’. Almost as important as the content itself is the names and contact information for all its authors and contributors, ATPYCA (All The People You Care About).
Our brains seem to have an extraordinary random-access way of storing and finding all this stuff, but as new media are increasing the volume of this content by orders of magnitude (and old age is weakening the effectiveness of its recall), we need to rely more and more on mechanical aids to supplement our mental capacity and information processes.
All this information needs to be ‘virtually’ organized in three different ways:
Search engines can enable the second type of use effectively (though with enormous waste, since every single word is indexed). They handle the first and third types of use badly.
The first type of use, by subject (personal information taxonomy) needs a graphical layout organized according to the tableau at the top of the page, described in this earlier post, a landscape you could navigate from top level and drill down to as much depth as made sense, to organize all your ATSYCA/ATPYCA. That taxonomy and its granularity could evolve over time — you could ‘redraw the landscape’ as you learned more about some subjects and integrated thinking on others.
The third type of use (by context and connection) also needs a graphical format, but this time ‘parsing’ and linking all the content by what (and who) it was connected to, rather than by subject. It would present a ‘route map’ rather than a ‘logical map’ of this content. It might also allow you to drill down from a ‘colloquium’ level to a ‘conversation’ level to a ‘thread’ level of granularity, and would provide ‘departure points’ where you could add and simultaneously share content (by allowing you to ‘publish to’ and others to ‘subscribe to’ new departures and amplifications from any node on the map.
The result of both the first and third types of navigation could be (or at least include) what would effectively be ‘collective intelligence’ of a group, but the map would allow you to tweak it to your personal ‘view’, deleting or hiding content you didn’t find valuable and adding personal annotations ‘for your eyes only’.
Although these taxonomic maps and routing maps (and perhaps tag clouds — you know those things that show the prevalence of tags on a particular site by the size of the font of the tag name) might actually reside on a single web site, or your own hard drive, they could just as easily reside out in hyperspace, where you and others could access them anytime from anywhere, and where they’d be easy to update and maintain.
There are some technical challenges to doing this (notably keeping ‘public’ web-hosted and ‘private’ hard drive-located content separate according to each user’s personal permissioning rules), but the biggest challenges are likely to be imaginative: keeping the navigation ‘Google simple’, automating the update of the maps, and enabling interactivity of shared, published and subscribed content.
But it shouldn’t be that hard to create such an application. If we don’t get a simple tool that can do this soon, we may literally start losing our minds.
April 11, 2006
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