Posts Tagged ‘“information ergonomics”’

Controlled Vocabulary

August 4, 2010


Language is a powerful thing, it’s not only a prime medium of expression, but it in turn shapes concepts and thinking – terminology frames concepts and makes some ideas more expressible and others less so – it emphasizes or diminishes in turn. Some ideas flow naturally from the syntax and terminology of the language in use and others are not even expressible.

In real terms an argument or proposal resonates better if it is expressed in the dominant terminology, and seems weaker and off-key if it doesn’t, and due to concision effects and psychological set, it allows or limits innovation.

Inconsistent use of jargon and terminology results in higher cost of translation and localization, less effective training and education materials, and raises the cost of product support.

The Foundational Nature of Language

From an Organizational Psychology point of view, Language in the form of endemic jargon, special terms and terminology, and accepted forms of speech and protocol are part of the social structure of an organization.

For example, Chao (1994) proposes six dimensions of Organizational Socialization:

  1. History

  2. Language

  3. Politics

  4. People

  5. Organizational Goals and Values

  6. Performance Proficiency

Language deserves a special mention though because it is through language itself that the other dimensions are expressed and how strongly they are communicated. Historical narratives are elevated or decreased in prominence according to the terminology used to relate them, and so too are the organizational politics detailed and distributed according to the rules and parameters of internal language.

Organizational goals are couched in terms of organizational metaphors, and proficiency itself is measured according to articles of the organizational terminology.

Language thus forms part of what topics are allowable by means of both the “correct” protocols, but also at a more fundamental level by means of the terminology itself.

In this sense, Single-Loop Learning and Type I homeostatic systems in an organization (Argyris1987) are strongly influenced and delimited by the vocabulary that is allowable.

User Experience

A major part of user satisfaction is the feeling of confidence they feel in the product (whether that be using a transit system or a software suite), and in many cases also the degree to which use requires mental computation. Unwelcome processing or decision-making requirements result in low satisfaction.

A major part of this in turn is the continuity of the information architecture – the way terms confirm expectations and make sense, and are used where and when expected. While most suppliers of products take care about simple things such as a hyperlink anchor text being immediately visible on the landing page, many do not consider how multiple designers and engineers may use different text for the same meaning in different parts of the product, its documentation, its sales collateral, its training, and in communication related to the product.

Encountering terminology in unfamiliar context undermines and attenuates information scent, and reduces the user’s confidence and overall satisfaction.

OD & L10N/I18N

Cost-effective Internationalization (I18N) and Localization (L10N) depend on the source language usage being tightly controlled and not having a significant degree of equivocation and ambiguity. The more a single term is used for multiple meanings or multiple terms used for the same meaning, the higher the complexity of translation, the higher the bulk of terms to be translated, and the lower the coherence of the final translated text.

Machine Translation is powerless to fix this, and simply multiplies the variances – requiring lengthy and costly human involvement each time.

Inconsistent terminology equates to duplicated effort and difficulties when it comes to translation of product, documentation, and training materials – greatly increasing the complexity, time, and cost of translation. Creating meaningful Translation Memories when the terminology is overlapping and inconsistent is very difficult, and tends to lead to an even worse degree of inconsistency in all the translated languages.

Likewise, training becomes more costly and less effective when terminology is used with any significant degree of variation in meaning.

Knowledge Management

Most Knowledge-bases rely on keyword searches, and the more sophisticated systems also use tagging, which at heart is still a keyword search and in its best form gathers tags from a Folksonomy.

Unfortunately the power of search-engines in this situation results in very high retrieval but low precision. This results in infoglut and lower search effectiveness, and thus a significant impediment to use of Knowledge-bases to augment knowledge-workers such as customer-support staff, and lowers effective re-use of knowledge.

Since a major component of cost-reduction and quality-improvement in customer-support hinges on use of knowledge-bases, terminology control is a significant factor.

Branding and Market Mastery

Part of gaining mastery or dominating a market niche is having a degree of control over the terminology and therefore the expressible concepts – The degree of influence one player has over the terminology translates directly into their freedom of movement within the domain, the cost incurred in terms of effort to thrive, and the extent to which discourse tends to be channeled in their favor.

At the very least, a clear brand and value proposition relies on message consistency across the many external communications an organization makes – be they the deliberate marketing efforts, training materials, or even HR recruiting information. The terminology used by Recruiters should for example be consistent with those of Sales and Training Materials, and so on. Any one department or group that injects noise will reduce the brand coherence and effectiveness.

Gaining Control

Influence over terminology is not something one can beg, buy, or steal – it can only be attained by thought leadership. In other words, good knowledge management practices around intellectual expression.

It is determined by who is disseminating authoritative information, who provides attractive ideas, and who is leading in thought value – and who gets to saturate the frame of reference and the concept terrain.

An early step in gaining more control over the influence of language is to formalize usage and to self-consciously construct a lexicon detailing what terms mean and where they are used, and it sets the stage for searchable knowledge-bases, single-sourced documentation, and consistent branding.

A low-cost approach is to establish an internal terminology wiki along the lines of wikipedia, and to build and refine a corporate lexicon in three phases of limited crowdsourcing:

  1. Open invitation to internal staff

  2. Invitation to business partners (and industry luminaries) to contribute

  3. Invitation to customers to contribute

Step 1 requires some preparation to identify people who are influential in terminology as well as obtaining buy-in from content-owners and domain experts.

Steps 2&3 are a Marketing bonanza that yield many spinoff benefits.

Making the terminology visible in this manner is not just a step in protecting against erosion of meaningful terminology but also forms part of a knowledge-management approach to organizational-learning.


If an organization is inconsistent in its use of terminology and language, if it vacillates on meaning and implication, if terminology is used hesitantly and passively – then the information scent attenuates, and the audience becomes uncertain and less likely to agree with the message or see the source as trustworthy or authoritative. In addition it leads to escalating costs and loss of effectiveness in training & development, and significant barriers to cost-effective translation & localization.

To get in a position where you influence the discourse and the frame of reference in your market niche you must settle on a controlled vocabulary, use it strongly, and use it consistently over every part of your products, documentation, and communications.

The place to start is inside the company – to practice, refine, and then deliver.


Two areas I left out but deserve mention are the effects on Content Management and Health &Safety.
Inconsistent terminology can be a significant safety risk, and this is a topic that deserves its own paper.

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Argyris C & Schön D (1987) Argyris C & Schön D. “What is an organization that it may learn”. (1987) : .

Chao G, O’Leary-Kelly A, Wolf S et al. (1994) Chao G, O’Leary-Kelly A, Wolf S et al.. “Organizational socialization : its content and consequences”. Journal of Applied Psychology (1994) 79: pp. 730-749.


Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

Knowledge Management – The ITIL/Quality-Management Aspect

July 2, 2010

Knowledge Management has been portrayed as being a direct descendant of the quality movement that started with W. Edwards Deming, and quite rightly we can trace many of the core tenets of KM to the various Quality Management offshoots. The concern for parsimony and efficiency, the analysis of work structures, and the interest in keeping libraries of best practices are all cemented in the foundations of both the Quality Management and Knowledge Management spheres.

It has been a source of concern however, if not irritation to many people that the focus on procedure and structure in the quality movement may have inadvertently displaced the human side of the equation, and that insufficient attention is given to learning and behavioral aspects. Sometimes the builders of procedures seem to forget* that processes and procedures are executed more in vivo than in silico, so to speak – humans would be performing the procedures rather than computers. (*Perhaps a legacy of the Taylorite turn.)

Many otherwise well-designed processes fail simply because they ignore that humans learn, do not always respond rationally, and may simply get bored (or take short-cuts as a result of learning). People require motivation, knowledge, and ability to perform a procedure, and no matter how carefully and how ingeniously a procedure is crafted, if it isn’t constructed to accommodate humans, it is bound to fail – sometimes with impressive results.

Knowledge Management on the other hand has the same basic QM background, but embraces more of the I/O Psychological understanding of humans, and pays attention to aspects of motivation and leadership, learning and knowledge-diffusion, and information-ergonomics. Think of it like the difference between the standard-model of economics versus behavioral-economics. The former presumes a perfectly rational and fully informed agent executing a self-maximizing schema, while the latter presumes a somewhat predictably irrational person who may also have biases due to either a lack of knowledge or preexisting beliefs, and may simply not be motivated to act as desired.
Bringing these two streams together again seems to have the promise of the benefits of the repeatability and predictability of procedure and the stability of established infrastructure libraries, with the human factors that can put knowledge, skills, and attitudes to work to achieve a desired or preferred end goal.

Previously, knowledge management was pretty much excluded from the world of quality management, but with the release by the British OGC of ITIL V3 in 2007, KM was overtly nominated as part of the core features, and specific processes in the Service Transition part of the ITIL Life-cycle Phases were dedicated to Knowledge Management.
This embeds a Services Knowledge Management System (SKMS) in the fabric of an operational services strategy, and while not part of the ISO20000 framework for Infrastructure or the ISO9001 Quality Management framework (and therefore not in the audit process for certification), would still be a highly convenient attachment point for expanding KM activities

There are two obvious approaches that one can take at this point – to view the relevance of the SKMS in terms of KM providing knowledge-bases for ITIL deployment and use, or additionally to view the inclusion of a KM marker within ITIL as a very expedient and advantageous eye to hook ITIL into a broader Enterprise KM approach.

Using KM only to set up ITIL Knowledge Bases seems like a bit of a waste of an opportunity, so perhaps the more productive approach would be to see how KM and QM can work together.

This can of course be viewed from both angles – a way to use KM as a vehicle to spread ITIL and QM concepts throughout an organization, or alternatively as a way to spread Knowledge Management practices on the back of the increased attention (and budget) that ITIL is currently enjoying.

Another way to picture this, is as co-infectious ideas – that is, memes that are compatible and which both act as adjuvants for each other, perhaps in a cyclical and recursive fashion. An organization deploying ITIL can gain by also spreading KM practices that extend beyond IT activities, and likewise an organization that has “caught the KM bug” could implement ITIL and gain far better advantage from IT both in cost-effectiveness of IT, as well as risk-reduction.

The potential advantages to ITIL and QM of this are many, but here are five of my favorites

  • A better way to determine when to teach and when simply to present a job aid, since while people love to know, they don’t really like to be taught anything that is boring or not clearly relevant.
  • A more effective deployment process that embeds learning in a way that increases transference by adding context and meaning.
  • Highlighting the critical question of any process: “Yes, but would they actually do it?” and addressing the motivational and leadership aspects of informational behavior.
  • Introduction of Information Ergonomics to make processes easier to understand, easier to find, and conveniently located in the person’s information ecosystem – putting regular or critical information as few mouse-clicks away as possible.
  • Establishing networks and communities of people whose processes are related and giving them stakeholdership in the design and execution (and maintenance) of procedures and processes.

The challenge of course is how to avoid killing innovation.

That is my story, and I am sticking to it

Knowledge Management Issues: How to talk to Executives

June 25, 2010

There are some important Knowledge Management and Information Behaviors needed when one deals with executives – such as front-loading communications, using layered concision, and invoking pre-existing memes.

Back when I was a young and stupid 39yr old, I discovered a perplexing thing – the more senior a manager was, the shorter their attention-span seemed to be.
At that time, several teams were being put through one of those cyclical “teach middle-managers about business” efforts, and the consultant that was paid to teach this was at loggerheads with several of the managers.

Some of these managers were under the impression that I was clued up on this topic, and asked me to help turn their 40-page business plan into something the consultant would smile upon. So far she had just kept telling them it was wrong and too long, and they couldn’t interpret the reasoning or explanations she offered. I didn’t help much because basically I agreed with the managers that if it took 40 pages to detail, then by golly, that was what the Exec would just darn-well have to read – I mean if we could read 40 pages of code in a siting at our salary, then why couldn’t a clever exec digest a business plan of similar dimensions?

In exasperation she threw her hands up and proclaimed that “no exec will read anything more than a single 5-point power-point slide” (or something to that effect).
This left us gawping and muttering amongst ourselves that evidently she was just one more of those inexperienced proselytizers of the sort of religious dogma that the business schools applied to clever young things to turn them into a highly-paid priesthood of faddish dimwits. (We held MBA consultants in somewhat low regard back then).
But it did get me thinking – what if she were right, do execs have some sort of attention-deficit issues?

This really was a puzzle – were people with limited attention-span more likely to become executives, or did the executive roles make them that way? I wondered (sometimes aloud I am afraid), if it was something to do with eroded or malfunctioning working-memory as a result of too many cocktails, or if it was stress-related interference, or maybe that the huge salaries made them less able to focus on less interesting things.

Years later when I had more experience and greater exposure to executives, I came to believe that the consultant was right, and that it was indeed a combination of stress and incremental pressure on time.
After the ravages of commoditization, BPR, downsizing, rightsizing, and globalization, executives often do not have the necessary supporting scaffolding to preserve slack in their available time.
The pace is murderous, and the average exec is responsible for twice what their predecessors were, and with probably half the supporting staff – So unless ideas are presented in very small bites and highly concise, they simply lose patience before the punchline – or will take a cursory look at the length and expected investment of time, and summarily discard the item unread.

This creates a huge problem because (a) managers and staff are not trained in how to compose an exec-readable email, and (b) as Chomsky noted – familiar and accepted ideas can survive concision well, but innovation and novelty needs longer explanation.

Unless the managers in the middle get really good at communicating with execs, much of the innovations coming from them and the staff below them will hit a mostly impermeable barrier and will never receive the necessary approval or funding.

Until we find a way of providing execs with more scaffolding or improved working memory, there are some tricks that managers can adopt in order to get a decent chance of attention:

  1. Front-load your communication
    Put the payload up front. A memo to an exec isn’t a detective-story where the punchline is at the end, you need to put the punchline and request for action right up front and not down at the end of your story.
  1. Use layered concision
    Let the first sentence be capable of approval – what you want (who needs to do what and when)  and why so that the answer can either be a yes/no or a referral. In case the exec wasn’t prepared to decide already, the next piece of information can be a single short paragraph justifying and explaining in terse format. If needed, the final part can be the 40 pages of exactly what the full story is.
  2. Invoke preexisting memes
    Cast the proposition in terms of already-accepted concepts and ideas, that way you allow the idea to be digested easier and trigger working-memory savings. If you overwhelm their working memory you get avoidance behavior. Don’t use examples or illustrations that distract.

There are of course more things to be considered, but these three steps can go a long way in getting the most likely obstacles out of the way.

That is my story, and I am sticking to it!


Matthew Loxton is the outgoing director of Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom, and blogs on Knowledge Management. Matthew’s LinkedIn profileis on the web, and has an aggregation website at
Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily shared by Mincom, but they should be.

Knowledge Management : What a toilet and Nature tell us about Information Ergonomics

June 10, 2010

I am sure that the author of Ecclesiastes who said that there is nothing new under the sun was a nascent Knowledge Management specialist. Much of KM involves “shamelessly borrowing” ideas and patterns because (a) KM loves parsimony, and (b) most innovations occur when an idea that is matured elsewhere is imported and adapted to a novel purpose.

Biomemetics, for example, takes the position of Orgel’s second rule that “Evolution is cleverer than you”. There are a great many methods and mechanisms that evolution has refined and tested over millenia and which can be adopted in chunks.

For instance, when a cell is manufacturing something in your body, it sticks a sample through a port in the cell wall which advertises what is being produced. Roaming “quality inspectors” examine these on a routine basis and if the product looks suspicious, an apoptosis signal is sent to the cell to self-destruct.

Suicide is perhaps a bit over the top for a workgroup doing the wrong thing, but I am sure you can see the opportunity for either saying “hey look at this cool idea” and spreading it (Knowledge Diffusion), or alternatively to issue a “quit that!” instruction (Quality Management).

The point is that you can learn a lot from nature*.

What I really want to talk about though has to do with the balance between concision and redundancy.

Back in the days when telecom circuits were expensive, noisy, and prone to failure, we had to balance the protocol choice between whether we needed great message integrity or greater speed when sending from one machine to another. One approach was X.25, a robust protocol that had several layers of error checking and correction, and could select alternate routes, receive packets in any order, and would almost run on fencing wire. However X.25 was pretty slow, and gobbled up bandwidth in housekeeping overhead.

Frame Relay however was sleek, fast, and used most of the bandwidth for message payload and thus far cheaper per byte and far faster.

So why not use Frame Relay?

This is where toilets come in.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but during droughts in some parts of the world, reducing the flush size was a big deal. A brick or two in the cistern (or fancy adjustment) would save a lot of water over the long haul simply by reducing the quantity of water used per flush. The downside was that at a certain point, the flush was too small to be entirely effective and repeated (and embarrassing) multiple flushes were needed, and besides reducing the intended saving, the immediacy became a bigger problem than the benefit of potential savings.

Repeating a message in the datacom scenario had the same general outcome – any savings that Frame Relay had over X.25 were lost as soon as the retransmission rate crept up, and even worse, the end user was left waiting while the retries mounted and latency became observable.

This principle applies to everything from answering the telephone to sending emails – if you make the message too concise, the “excuse me?” rate will climb and message integrity will be lost.

There are some really clever formulae and algorithms that can tell you what the best concision vs redundancy balance is, but in general nature has already kitted most of us with that equipment – we just need to pause a moment and let it inform us.

So next time you answer the phone, send an email, or put instructions on a user interface – pause a moment and consider if you need to be really curt and concise to get high transmission speed, or whether you need to layer in a bit of extra payload redundancy to allow the other person to reconstruct any lost information. (Loxton, 2003)

* see Robert Full’s fascinating TED Talks video on “Learning from the Gecko’s Tail


Matthew Loxton is the outgoing director of Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom, and blogs on Knowledge Management. Matthew’s LinkedIn profile is on the web, and has an aggregation website at
Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily shared by Mincom, but they should be.

‘I found it on the Internet’ : The use of internet search engines to retrieve information.

May 8, 2010

Search engines have dramatically altered the information landscape over the last two decades, and have provided information ecosystems for many categories of information users –  ecosystems that previously did not exist and which now empower them and give them access and range that was previously only theoretical.
WiFi access and the use of handheld devices to access the web “anywhere, anytime” have made the web a ubiquitous information resource for the layperson at the same time that the increased power of advanced web-spidering and search engines make both precision and power user-malleable.

However, much of the information resources on the Internet are invisible to the web and are not spidered by the commonly used search-engines, which creates a divide between what is available to the general public and that reachable by the academic researcher.


 We live in an era of both unprecedented ubiquity of man-made information sources, as well as an immediacy that has not existed before. In his book “Cosmos”, Carl Sagan puts the size of the collection held at the library of Alexandria as running as large as a million scrolls, in comparison the website “” gives the number of pages indexed on the Internet at 19.86 billion pages (Saturday, 13 March, 2010)[i].
Clearly we have reached a degree of information availability that beggars previous collections.

However, this has come with some challenges regarding the technology itself that prioritizes technical abilities over purely literacy aspects and in a very real sense the Internet can be seen as occupied by a “special club” with a small membership of “geeks” (Morville 2005) who have privileged access to information by virtue of special knowledge, devices, and information techniques.

Access to internet resources has an entry-bar set by technology in terms of computer hardware and software, but also a special heuristic techniques (Effken, Brewer et al. 2003)

The economic force unlocked by the linking of advertising with provision of free-to-use web-based search engines led to the so-called “Search-engine wars” in which vendors apply a range of different tactics to woo the public user whilst competing for subscribers. This drives not only the functionality offered by vendors, but also the range of searchable categories of informational artifacts. It additionally leads to some vendor specialization, such as concept-search like Kartoo[ii] and meta-search engines like Dogpile and those dealing with specific media such as YouTube.

”Apart from standard web search, search engines offer other search services such as image search, news search, mp3 music search and product price search. The current search engine wars will mean that there will be fierce competition between search engines to lure users to use their services, which is good news for the consumer of search, at least in the short term.” (Levene 2006)

This is not to say that the results of search-engines cannot be manipulated or “gamed” by both the people or organizations acting as information sources, as well as by third parties who may wish to influence the behavior of search engines. The term “Google-bombing” reflects an aspect of this practice.

The user thus needs to be aware that some participants may “game” the system and manipulate search-engines to artificially raise the search ranking of a specific site or page. (Poremsky 2004).

In order to combat this practice, and to make search-engines as competitive as possible, the vendors constantly engage in search-engine optimization, and the user should bear in mind that the algorithms and techniques used by search-engine vendors are trade secrets and subject to change, and that specific sites may be systematically or even deliberately selected or de-selected based on somewhat inscrutable rules. Web sites may also trigger anti-gaming algorithms designed to detect attempts to manipulate the search-engines and be removed form the result set entirely (the so-called “google death-penalty”), and would be entirely unknown to the user. (Levene 2006).

This thrust and parry relationship between the information suppliers and the search-engine vendors has given rise to an industry of supplying various tricks and techniques to safely influence visibility and palatability of information to search-engines (Kent 2004), as well as spawning guide-books for webmasters (Reynolds 2004) and every imaginable aspect of “Findability” (Morville and Rosenfeld 2006).

Information abounds on topics ranging from “Search-zones”, to the need for and creation of thesauri to catch miss-spelling or alternative and preferred terms (Poremsky 2004)

These have been so successful that they have created a further challenge to the researcher or user that has been aptly termed by some as “infoglut” (Herhold 2004)  – that is, an overwhelming size of an informational query result-set such that a manageable hand-full of appropriate text is often not what is retrieved, but rather a result set that becomes simply too large to handle as it approaches several thousand or million texts.

As Herhold (2004) puts it:

“The implication for the design of retrieval languages is that disambiguation is a serious and very large problem. It is the homonym problem writ large, writ in the extended sense of including polysemy and contextual meaning, that is the chief cause of precision failures-i.e., infoglut-in retrieval.”

Various stratagems and approaches to infoglut from the information provider’s point of view have been suggested, ranging from clever use of information-mapping (Kim, Suh et al. 2003), to the creation of portals (Firestone and McElroy 2003) in which relevancy is driven by proximity to the user, measured in mouse-clicks[iii].
On the user end of the equation there are also guides for users and researchers including use of subscription-databases and intelligent agents (Foo and Hepworth 2000)

A very large result-set obviously challenges the information-processing capacity of the user, but also calls into question the heuristic technique used, bringing into light two distinct elements that bear attention, namely the precision of a query result, and its recall. (Herhold 2004, Pao 1989)

Precision : The proportion of retrieved documents which are also relevant. A low precision implies that most of the documents retrieved were not relevant, thus info-junk.

 Recall : The proportion of all relevant documents that were found and retrieved. A low recall factor speaks of the effectiveness of the query in finding the universe of all documents that are relevant and also speaks to the phenomenon of the “invisible web” that is not targeted by search-engines (Smith 2001)

This invisible or “deep web” is hidden from view primarily because the information sources are not amenable to discovery by the typical search-engines that troll the “surface web” and thus forms an invisible web (Henninger 2003) often estimated as being orders of magnitude bigger than the total available for search – “Deep web” being 400-550 times bigger than the surface (Bergman 2007)

Smith (2001) explains this in terms of linking and permanence:

”Traditional search engines create their indices by spidering or crawling surface Web pages. To be discovered, the page must be static and linked to other pages. Traditional search engines can not “see” or retrieve content in the deep Web — those pages do not exist until they are created dynamically as the result of a specific search. Because traditional search engine crawlers can not probe beneath the surface, the deep Web has heretofore been hidden.” (Smith 2001)

Part of dealing with these different aspects of information retrieval is to deliberately adopt a technique or heuristic to searching.


The dilemma of needing terms and knowledge to find information, but needing access to usable information in order to know terms to use is approached in a discursive browse-search-browse pattern reminiscent of how people search for food. Heuristics is the partially formalized approach to the employment of various information-stratagems.
According to Spink & Cole, it is likely that human information-seeking behavior is a evolutionary correlate to other older foraging patterns (Herhold 2004), and thus not just an individualistic behavior, but a deeply social one.

Examples of how a user (or provider) of information can approximate these patterns include social-bookmarking (Hammond, Hannay et al. 2005), and tagging.

These drive a social taxonomy that makes searching and finding on the web a more ergonomically human activity through both the social aspect of observing what other people tag and being able to create information-paths through a folk-taxonomy or “folksonomy” (Mathes 2004, Porter 2005)

A similar approach is being adopted by many retailers on the web, where finding an item often results in a list of other items that users who bought the item under view “also bought”. E-stores such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble are thus able to guide purchases with collaborative filtering using patterns of other users.(Anderson 2004). This has ramifications for the business user who might wish to know what their peers are looking at.

Information tools accessible on the web that cater for the social aspects of information-seeking have been made available by both entrepreneurial groups such as Yahoo in their tagging tool, as well as by scientifically orthodox publications such as the journal Nature with their freeware tool and site connotea.

Folksonomy is therefore an applicable tool for the business researcher as well as the general public.

The ability to identify information quality is a further dimension, since the quality of information involves inter alia “the properties of accuracy, precision, credibility, currency, pertinence, precision, relevance, reliability, simplicity and validity.” (Evernden and Evernden 2003)

Information quality tends to deteriorate over time (Evernden and Evernden 2003) which is problematic in any collection where the architecture does not require the dating of items. It is important for the seeker to use this as a guide as to the trustworthiness of a collection.

A further available heuristic tactic is to use humans as search catalysts in a more direct and old-fashioned manner – Many library services provide library research assistants who are skilled and studied in taxonomies and search techniques, and are able to provide suggestions for search strings and databases.[iv]

For the seeker, parts of this invisible web are exposed via academic and research search tools operating on organizational or subscription collections, some of which are accessible through citation-manager software such as EndNote[1] that have search and connection tools,

The Future

Crystal balls have proven notoriously inaccurate in seeing into the future with regards the Internet, and probably the best I can manage is to say that things will get bigger but more user-friendly, and that the social-bookmarking trends will continue. The drive towards “web 2.0” Social Networking and “web3.0” semantic-web technologies, and contextual search tools will doubtless shape both user-interface design and make more, and more kinds of things available, as well as continue to make available texts and artifacts previously only available in hardcopy media.

Information architecture is likely to become increasingly important as collections increase in diversity and size (Morville and Rosenfeld 2006, Batley 2007).

Privacy is also likely to become increasingly important as Internet tools make it easier to identify users purely from the search queries they use – This was made clear when  an AOL user was identified purely through her use of search terms[2] (Barbaro and Zeller 2006). The user assumption that web activity is anonymous is unwarranted, and has implications for researchers whose subject-matter might be politically or socially controversial or disclose their business intent. There are thus serious privacy concerns with regards search-engines (Cohen 2005).


  1. Anderson, C. a. (2004). “The Long Tail.” Wired Magazine 12(10).      
  2. Barbaro, M. and T. Zeller (2006). A Face Is Exposed for AOL Searcher No. 4417749. New York Times. New York.      
  3. Batley, S. (2007). Information architecture for information professionals. Oxford, Chandos.               
  4. Bergman, M. (2007). “The Deep Web: Surfacing Hidden Value.” Journal of Electronic Publishing.   
  5. Cohen, A. (2005). What Google Should Roll Out Next: A Privacy Upgrade. New York Times. New York.      
  6. du Preez, M. (2002). “Indexing on the Internet.” MOUSAION 20(1): 109-122.
  7. Effken, J. A., B. B. Brewer, et al. (2003). “Using computational modeling to transform nursing data into actionable information.” Journal of Biomedical Informatics 36(4-5): 351-361.             
  8. Evernden, R. and E. Evernden (2003). Information First:Integrating Knowledge and Information Architecture for Business Advantage. Oxford, Butterworth-Heinemann: 1-27.              
  9. Firestone, J., M. and M. McElroy, W. (2003). Key issues in the new knowledge management. Burlington MA, Elsevier Science.    
  10. Foo, S. and M. Hepworth (2000). The implementation of an electronic survey tool to help determine the information needs of a knowledge-based organization.           
  11. Hammond, T., T. Hannay, et al. (2005). “Social bookmarking tools (I): A general review.” D-Lib Magazine 11(4).           
  12. Henninger, M. (2003). Searching Digital Sources. The Hidden Web: Finding quality information on the net. Sydney, Australia, UNSW Press.
  13. Herhold, K. (2004). “The Philosophy of Information.” Library Trends 52(3): 373-665.      
  14. Kent, P. (2004). Surveying the Search Engine Landscape. Search Engine Optimisation for Dummies, Wiley.     
  15. Kim, S., E. Suh, et al. (2003). “Building the knowledge map: an industrial case study.” Journal of Knowledge Management 7(2): 34-45.
  16. Levene, M. (2006). Navigating the Web. An Introduction to Search Engines and Web Navigation. London, Addison Wesley: 174-184.           
  17. Loxton, M. H. (2003). “Patient Education: The Nurse as Source of Actionable Information.” Topics in Advanced Practice Nursing eJournal 3.               
  18. Mathes, A. (2004) Folksonomies: Cooperative Classification and communication through shared Metadata.  Volume,  DOI:
  19. Morville, P. (2005). The Sociosemantic Web. In Ambient Findability. CA, O’Reilly.          
  20. Morville, P. and L. Rosenfeld (2006). Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. California, O’Reilly Media.       
  21. Morville, P. and L. Rosenfeld (2006). Push and Pull. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. S. St.Laurent. California, O’Reilly Media.               
  22. O’Reilly, T. (2005). “What Is Web 2.0 : Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software.”   Retrieved 28 August, 2007, from   
  23. Pao, M. (1989). Information Retrieval.  
  24. Poremsky, D. (2004). Search Engines and How they Work In Google and Other Search Engines. Berkeley, CA, Peachpit Press: 3-18.           
  25. Porter, J. (2005). “Folksonomies: A User-Driven Approach to Organising Content.” User Interface Engineering  Retrieved September 6, 2007, from     
  26. Reynolds, J. (2004). Search Engines and Directories. The Complete E-Commerce Book, CMPBooks: 233-247.               
  27. Smith, B. (2001) Getting to know the Invisible Web. Library Journal.Com Volume,  DOI:                


[1] EndNote is provided by the Thomson-Reuters group. See

[2] The release of AOL search strings allowed a researcher to quickly identify a Mrs.Thelma Arnold, even though she was identified only as “searcher #4417749”

[i] Which is really curious because on 21st September 2008 is said there were 27.61 billion pages. Did the web shrink or is the tool a bit buggy?

[ii] Sadly defunct now

[iii] Using “mouse-click” distance as a measure is a very effective way to put information at hand

[iv] Many libraries staff a 24×7 online helpdesk to guide patrons in finding materials. Most of these are staff pooled across many institutions and locations.


Matthew Loxton is the director of Knowledge Management & Change Management at Mincom, and blogs on Knowledge Management. Matthew’s LinkedIn profile is on the web, and has an aggregation website at
Opinions are the author’s and not necessarily shared by Mincom, but they should be.

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