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~~~ Ramana Rao's INFORMATION FLOW ~~~ Issue 2.5 ~~ May 2003 ~~~~

Information Flow is an opt-in monthly newsletter.  Your email
address was entered on www.ramanarao.com or www.inxight.com.
You may forward this issue in its entirety.  
Send me your thoughts and questions:	     rao@inxight.com

~~~ IN THIS ISSUE ~~~ May 2003 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* Introduction
* Giving Credit 
* Reader's Pointers
* The Information Flow Diagrams
* 49 Classics cont.
* Why 49?

~~~ Introduction ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

May has been a busy month.  To begin, I was "PeterMe-ed" (kind of
like being "Oprahed" or "Slashdotted" but in a lower-key calmer
kind of way :-) Peter Merholz made a favorable mention of this
newsletter that has brought a number of new subscribers.  The
main hook was the 49 Classics of Information Flow project, so the
pressure is on.  Welcome to you all, and thank you, Peter.

A talk at BayCHI became the opportunity to get started on a long
intended project.  I've taken a first pass at a set of
"Information Flow" diagrams.  These diagrams are a collaboration
with the incredibly talented graphic designer, Jean Orlebeke.
This month's main article tells the back story on the diagrams.

Thanks to all that responded to the survey.  The upshot is that
despite blogging being widely covered by the press and bloggers,
it still seems that my thoughts on blogs and wikis and such are
of interest.  Great, since I can't help but watch these things
and then share a bit of what I notice.  Naturally, I'll do this
on the blog.

    ~> http://www.peterme.com
    ~> http://www.baychi.org/calendar/20030513/
    ~> http://www.ramanarao.com/blog/

~~~ Giving Credit ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Many of you send email with thoughts or pointers.  The rest of
you should consider doing so immediately.  So far, I've
anonymized reader input, but a few times I felt like naming
readers to give credit where credit is due.  And I've also been
thinking about adding a section with reader comments or dialogue.

Going forward, I'll use my judgement in crediting a reader by
name or quoting comments.  If you prefer not to have your name
revealed or your comments quoted, please let me know and I will
honor your wishes.

~~~ Reader's Pointer on Flow ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

From last month, a couple of readers pointed me at the following
site for Andy King's book on Web Site Optimization.  The site
contains a PDF of the 2nd chapter, which covers "Flow in Web

    ~> http://www.websiteoptimization.com

~~~ The Information Flow diagrams ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This newsletter explores a set of topics that have been
challenging to distill to a simple statement.  I've probably been
involved in 25 "missioning" exercises in my life, and I found
every one of them instructive and frustrating at the same time.

I tend to oscillate between statements like "anything I'm
interested in" which seems quite useless and "making people
smarter, faster, better" which doesn't quite seem useful.  The
need for simple statements are clear enough.  For example, a
small string of words is easier to remember and apply as a test
against acts across periods of time.

So I see no avoiding acts of mission stating.  Yet, as a way to
say more at once, I'm increasingly drawn to visual structure, say
a shift from stating to portraying.  Of course, this brings a
whole collection of different challenges.

A few years back, I designed a chapter in Richard Saul Wurman's
book called Understanding USA.  Much of what RSW cares about in
fact is making complex subjects understandable.  He coined the
term Information Architects as a term for people that do this.
(The forming professional discipline of Information Architecture
seems narrower than what RSW had in mind.)

I was happy to be assigned the Ecology chapter.  I took off on a
reading campaign that took me through probably 20 books and
another 30 books worth of materials.  In the end it left me
struggling mightily to find a way to "cover" the range and
complexity of issues in just 10 spreads.

In the end, what guided me were a dozen or so, motifs or themes,
for example, these two on Science (Knowledge) and Politics
(Values).  Science is not just the green category in Trivial
Pursuits, a set of simplistic factoids that somehow didn't fit
into any of the other categories.  It's about relationships
between one thing and another, the fine-grained
interconnectedness of everything.  Or in Ted Nelson's words,
"everything is deeply intertwingled."

And, on Politics.  A general fatigue with political debates with
two extreme positions has led to a default assumption that the
truth lies in the middle.  From my readings, I developed the
distinct sense that at times truths lay at both ends and not in
the middle.  And that a danger of the public detuning to the
debate was a misdirection of social capital.

Themes like these provided the structure to not only focus the
content but also to create design structures.  And the fact that
the final product was ten visual spreads had its influence on
thinking about the material.  Forces of both compression and
expansion were in play.  As with years of work in Information
Visualization, this experience reinforced my beliefs that visual
structures were powerful for not only presenting or communicating
but also for understanding and examining.

Coming back to Information Flow.  As I think about designs or
pursuits I find certain ideas about essential truths driving my
sense of why or why not something may or may not work.  So with
an itch to try visual representation as a tool, I wanted to
portray all of these ideas in a series of diagrams.

There were all kinds of reasons that came to mind that almost
chilled the exercise.  In the end, rather than allowing such
judgements to stop me, I've embarked on the path.  You really
can't see what you can't see.  This principle is understood in
all design and creation processes.  For example, Annie Lamott's
"Shitty First Drafts" to an architect's or graphic designer's
sketchings to the various kinds of prototyping tools used in
interactive design and even to product plans and roadmaps.

Rather than focusing on "tell", I'll "show" the diagrams in a
early prerelease cut.  At the end of my BayCHI talk somebody had
asked if they could get the slides, and I said sure under a beta
agreement.  The quid pro quo of it being for getting early
access, you give feedback.

You, cherished readers, get access for coming along on the ride,
however I may state or portray the mission.

~> The Information Flow Diagrams
   [ .. subscribers received link in email newsletter .. ]
   [ .. new subscribers will receive link in welcome letter .. ]

   Please don't link to this document yet, refer the newsletter.
   New subscribers will get the link in the welcome message.
~> Ecology Chapter in Richard Saul Wurman's Understanding USA
   You can browse this chapter or others spread by spread.  My
   chapter has a lot of detailed print, so you will be better off
   downloading the PDF (warning, it's almost 5 Mbytes).  Not
   exactly the spreads as they appear in print, but closer.

~~~ 49 Classics cont. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The diagrams took me my attention away from the 49 Classics work,
but they are intertwingled.  I'd like to select mainly from
content available on the web, but this probably subverts the
classics requirement.  This is going to be an exercise in
understanding how to build a personal digital library without
breaking laws or robbing innovators.  I've found links to a few
of the papers from last month and add some more here.

~> Human-Machine Symbiosis, J.C.R. Licklider, 1960

   [This document was published by Dec SRC and includes
    Licklider's 1960 paper as well as the following paper]
~> The Computer as a Communication Device, J.C.R. Licklider and
   Robert W. Taylor, 1967, 

~> SketchPad, Ivan Sutherland's MIT Phd dissertation, 1963 
   [ ... searching ... ]

~> Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, Doug Engelbart

~> Reactive Engine, Alan Kay, 1969
   [ ... searching ... ]

   Alan Kay has two papers in Scientific American that are worth
   finding still: 1) Microelectronics and the Personal Computer, 1977
   2) Software, 1983? 

~> Computer Lib/Dream Machines, Ted Nelson, 1974

~> The Xerox "Star": A Retrospective
   Jeff Johnson, Teresa L. Roberts, William Verplank, David C. Smith,
   Charles Irby and Marian Beard, Kevin Mackey, 1989

~> Generalized Fisheye Views, George Furnas, 1986

As I continue to search for various papers I have in mind for the
Classics list, I provide the following links to open Web content.

~> The Acquisition of Insight, Bob Spence

~> Bringing Design to Software, Terry Winograd et al, 1996.

   This book gets mixed reviews on Amazon, but I recommend it
   strongly.  The book collects the essays of a number of
   illustrious designers, researchers, and scholars.  It reflects
   viewpoints on software design just prior to the dotcom era.  A
   number of the chapters are available for reading on the web.

~~~ Why 49? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Did you wonder why I picked the number 49?  If you knew me at
all, you would know that when a choice seems like it could be
arbitrary, I search all the harder for rhyme or reason, which
ends up having the effect of generating a number of reasons and
often a rhyme.  So the survey question this month is why 49?

Ramana Rao is Founder and CTO of Inxight Software, Inc.  
Copyright (c) 2003 Ramana Rao.  All Rights Reserved.
You may forward this issue in its entirety.

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