Re: [unrev-II] Collaborative Discussion Tools

From: Bernard Vatant (
Date: Sat Apr 14 2001 - 14:09:56 PDT

  • Next message: Jack Park: "Re: [unrev-II] Collaborative Discussion Tools"

    Jack, Garold

    Two different pieces of reflection to add to that debate.

    1. Linking new stuff to the existing one is all the problem of knowledge construction. If the reaction to a new object is to class it in existing mental or system folders - the "see-later", "urgent", "bizarrre" or "interesting" being just particular ones - and then to build processes able to eventually transfer every entering object into a proper "archives" folder, well, we are left with a quite bureaucratic view of knowledge construction, and I think we can do better than that. An effective Knowledge construction is bound to be chaordic - - maintaining its activity in the dynamic zone between chaos and order - the life zone.

    What should I do with a new object to ensure that? In a Topic Map or Semantic Graph spirit, consider it as a new node in my knowledge graph. And make sure to link it immediately to existing nodes through existing semantic link types. That is always possible: if a new object has really not a single implicit link to objects already existing in my knowledge universe, I'm just not aware of it. All I have to do is explicit this link. So I anchor this object, not in a single folder, but in an array of links to other objects. What will be in the long run the status of this object will depend in fact on the further evolution of this link array. Maybe this object will remain a weakly linked node, in some peripheric region of my knowledge field, or maybe it will become a central node for a new continent, maybe needing some new type of links to be structured.

    In that perspective, a Topic Map or Semantic Graph organization is much more effective than a hierarchical folders representation, because you don't need the fuzzy "uncategorized" category. In fact you barely need categories, or you see them not like folders (with the knowledge trapped inside them) but like binding points or attractors (with the knowledge living around them). If I had a real system to manage my e-mail this way, Gads I would be a lot happier than with my MS Outlook folders!

    2. Creating ad-hoc folders for new objects - or presumed new - reminds me of what I call the Open Directory syndrom. In ODP, there have been, are, and probably will be 7 URLs per category and 10 categories per editor, these figures having an amazing stability at any moment in the growth of the project. I noticed that a year ago when I was an editor, there were about 1 500 000 URLs at the time, and now with 1 000 000 more, the figures are the same! I check it every month ... you can do it yourself at . These figures are all the most amazing that they are obtained against the guidelines for ODP editors, trying to refrain them from unleashed creation of too many categories, recommanding not to split a category in subcategories before it counts about fifteen or twenty links. What does that mean? Does the categorization of knowledge have a kind of dimensionality, a scaling constant or whatever? I would be curious to know if other types of organization of collaborative knowledge bases will lead to such constants? For example, in building semantic graphs, do people converge towards a mean incidence - that is the number of edges incident to a node - around 7 maybe?

    The discovery of existence of such scaling factors should be useful to optimize the structuration of collaborative knowledge bases.



    ----- Message d'origine -----
      De : Garold L. Johnson
      À :
      Envoyé : samedi 14 avril 2001 01:45
      Objet : RE: [unrev-II] Collaborative Discussion Tools

      Jack Park wrote:

      Violent agreement, indeed!

      And, your comment that, given the fact that we don't know each other, we
      might well be thought of as just avatars for somebody else. But, and I have
      often wondered this myself, what if I did log in here as, say, Ted Kazinsky?
      Would I be treated any differently? (I suspect I would, particularly if my
      return address were faked to a penal institution). It's true that people
      often defer to those who are articulate, even when the articulate ones are
      wrong -- which, I often am )-:

      Analogizing to a book is a very good way to state the case. On that, I
      agree. But, I must inject that I do not see this list as anything other than
      fodder for somebody's book(s), so this list must reflect the collective
      stream of consciousness, no matter how chaotic it may be. And, others
      should be encouraged to step in and occasionally summarize threads, or write

      I think we're on to something here!

      For me, however, the problem remains. I am explicitly building an IBIS
      system into Nexist now. I remain excited to begin playing with it, though,
      now, a bit apprehensive about its power given the things I have learned from
      Jeff Conklin.

      Cheers, and happy holliday.


      [Garold L. Johnson] > . . . this list must reflect the collective stream of consciousness, no matter how chaotic it may be.

      I agree. But wouldn't it be nice if this list, since it is archived and uneditable, supported purple or plink addressing and transclusion? The addition of reference links could be done prior to sending out the copies, and links could then go directly to the archive. Now if I had an editor that worked with that archive as a knowledge base . . . hmmm, I *like* that!


    > I am explicitly building an IBIS system into Nexist now. I remain excited to begin playing with it, though, now, a bit apprehensive about its power given the things I have learned from Jeff Conklin.


      I think that the categories are too restrictive. I had a martial arts instructor tell me that all of the world's major belief systems provided, among other things, a set of buckets into which life's experiences could be categorized, and that the ones that were successful all had a 'miscellaneous' or 'unknown' category.

      There are several examples of the value of this mechanism:

      1) Netscape bookmarks are in an outline. There is a default folder for saving bookmarks. Periodically I sort through the recent collection and put them into the 'right' folders, creating new folders or categories as necessary.

      2) EGem Collector Pro, InfoSelect, Ecco, and numerous other systems for gathering information support as a model dumping everything into the equivalent of an 'unfiled' bin and reorganizing them later.

      3) The directories on my hard drives work the same way. I have a downloads folder that gets fanned out into an evolving organization.

      4) My email inbox is another instance. It gets all of the messages that I don't have folder allocation rules for, and I have to sort them later. If I am intent on the topics of the emails I have to extract notes and organize them in a form more suited to my purpose, whether I put that organization or summary back on the list. I would love to have a more versatile tool for processing these message than I do currently.

      5) When I use an outline tool for thinking, one of my most effective strategies is to start listing ideas without any thought to organization until thoughts slow down or possibly stop, and then organizing some part of the list into a category structure, leaving behind those that don't have a home yet. Then list more thoughts in any area that sounds interesting, organize them, and so on.

      So, as I see it, even if the original chaos needs to be preserved, it must be possible to put entries in some sort of 'uncategorized' pile, which systems such as IBIS, as currently conceived and implemented, do not support.

      When I looked at IBIS and Jeff Conklin's experiences it occurred to me that adding an 'information' category that says "here is some relevant data. I don't know where it fits, what ideas it supports or opposes or proposes - it just (possibly) relevant data. A 'comment' category would fill a similar need with regard to personal viewpoints. Much of the material on this forum is of one of these types. This seems to require that the 'uncategorized' information eventually gets 'categorized' in some way. In many cases this can require pulling apart a document that wasn't intended to fit the IBIS model, in which there is any conceivable mixture of the IBIS categories, and putting the pieces in the right spots. For anything sizable such as any of the reference papers referred to in this forum, this cannot be done on the fly and probably not by a single individual. Here we do a similar thing - a reference is put into a message, and that spawns one or several discussions in which the reference is quoted in support or opposition to various ideas put forth by the individuals. I don't see why the pattern would be different with an IBIS system.

      In short, I think that the study of interaction and discussion among designers that gave rise to the IBIS concept missed a few of the interactions that take place in a real discussion, and that some of those lacks are (at least partly) to blame for the problems found in using such a system. As I see it, IBIS was an attempt to 'pave the cowpaths' of actual practice, but some of the paths that were thought to be unimportant or mere distractions turned out to be heavily traveled for a reason.




      Garold (Gary) L. Johnson

      DYNAMIC Alternatives

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