Re: [unrev-II] faceted classification

From: Alex Shapiro (
Date: Wed Sep 26 2001 - 14:10:36 PDT

  • Next message: John J. Deneen: "[unrev-II], home of "E" - Capability-Based Smart Contracts"

    Hi Jeff, I'm glad that you liked the term.

    "Faceted Classification" is a cool name, isn't it.  Not quite the same as multiple hierarchies.

    With the recent explosion of readily available information, it seems that many different approaches for categorizing and presenting the data have evolved independently of each other.  However, with each approach, comes it's own bit of jargon, making it hard to use search engines to find related work unless you know the magic phrase.  So it always great to find a term which makes you say 'aha, that's what I've been talking about all along' and plus, you suddenly realize that a lot of other people are talking about the same thing.

    "one of the most powerful, yet least understood, methods of organizing information."  isn't my quote by the way, it was said by Peter Merholz of .

    Also, I really liked your (or your workgroup's) analogy between a meeting and playing Tic-Tac-Toe without writing anything down.  If others reading this post haven't seen it yet, you can find the article (Written by Eugene Eric Kim) here:

    Here is a further quote by Eugene:
    "Playing Tic-Tac-Toe without writing anything down is challenging, but not impossible, and most of us managed to complete three games successfully within the time allotted. Afterwards, Conklin asked us to repeat the exercise, this time on a 4x4 grid. This, we discovered, was virtually impossible.
    The problem is that humans have a limited capacity for short-term memory. "
    "This basic human limitation is one reason why meetings are often so inefficient. Because people have limited memories, and because we are often unsure of whether or not our ideas have been heard and are being taken seriously, we often spend the bulk of a meeting repeating the same thing over and over again. This repetition cycle makes it extremely difficult to move forward and make progress."


    At 01:27 PM 9/26/01 -0400, Jeff Conklin wrote:

    Thanks Alex -

    We haven't had such a cool name for it, but have been using faceted classification in the Compendium approach ( to facilitate groups working on complex (often system design) problems for several years.  Compendium uses a graphical hypertext system (such as QuestMap ... or Mifflin ... with a group (usually face-to-face with a computer display projector) to collaboratively weave a hyperlinked model of the issues and information on a design problem.

    >From one of the creators of Compendium, Al Selvin:

    "Compendium enables both "top-down" and "bottom-up" (faceted)
    classification (as well as the "side-to-side" type of "classification" that
    the transclusive stuff gets you), and the interweaving of both has been a
    hallmark of the approach from the beginning. Also, Compendium is about
    being able to interweave different classification schemes in the same

    Technically, it is not at all complex.  For a simple example, if during a session there is something actionable in a node (e.g. "Frank will call Alice about this requirement"), the technographer (e.g. scribe) adds a metatag like "$Actionitem" to the node, and later searches all the nodes with that metatag into an "Action Items" summary view.  It's a very flexible approach to organizing ill-structured information on the fly, and, as you say, it's "one of the most powerful, yet least understood, methods of organizing information."

    It's wonderful to have a name for it ... to make "faceted classification" a distinction.


    At 01:29 AM 9/26/2001 -0400, you wrote:
    Read more at <> --Alex

    ... faceted classification, one of the most powerful, yet least understood,
    methods of organizing information. Most folks, when thinking about
    organizing objects or information, immediately think of a hierarchical, or
    taxonomic, organization; a top-down structure, where you start with a
    number of broad categories that get ever more detailed, until you arrive at
    the object. In such structures, each object has a single home, and
    typically, one path to get there--this is how things are organized in "the
    real world", where each item can only be in one place. Oftentimes, when
    thinking of organizing information, a hierarchy is where people begin
    (think Yahoo!).

    Faceted classification, on the other hand, is a bottom-up scheme. Here,
    each object is tagged with a certain set of attributes and values (these
    are the facets), and the organization of these objects emerges from this
    classification, and how a user chooses to access them. Toys, for example,
    lend themselves to a faceted classification, with the facets being things
    like, "Suitable Age," "Price," "Subject Type," "Brand," and even
    "Character" (like Barbie or Elmo). Someone might be price conscious, and
    want to start there; another knows that the child in question loves science
    toys, and wants to begin with that. Faceted classification allows for
    exploration directed by the user, where a large dataset is progressively
    filtered through the user's various choices, until arriving at a manageable
    set that meet the users' basic criteria. Instead of sifting through a
    pre-determined hierarchy, the items are organized on-the-fly, based on
    their inherent qualities.


    Dr. Jeff Conklin             <>
    CogNexus Institute ... Collaborative Display, Collective Intelligence          Phone/Fax: 410-798-4495
    304 Arbutus Dr., Edgewater, MD 21037    USA

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