Monday, February 28, 2005
Archaeology and ethnography in weblog research
Yesterday I watched Ray Mears' Bushcraft: Aboriginal Britain. At a certain moment Ray Mears was looking at different flint tools and said something about understanding a culture via understanding tool people use. I immediately thought about a parallel with my PhD research (a hungry person sees food in everything :)
I study personal knoweldge management, but since it's often invisible (implicit, embedded or locked in personal spaces) I study it via tools (weblogs to be more specific ;).
For an archaeologist studying tools is pretty logical - there could be thousands years after a culture has dissappeared, so artefact (tools, buildings, art, etc.) is all what is left for today's researcher. In my case (studying today's "culture") "archaeology" is a good way to start, but I also try to complement it with "ethnography".
And, then I write this, I get two more associations. The first one is with the comment of Tom Erickson on Jones' Virtual settlement paper during our discussion on weblog communities at HICSS. (Jones argues against equating virtual communities with the cyber-places (e.g. IRC channel or web-based forum) they inhabit. He compares virtual community research to archaeology and suggests studying a community through artefacts of its virtual settlement.) Tom's remark was about limitations of choosing archaeology to study online communities if they are pretty much alive.
The second one is about Elijah Wright's note on BROG anniversary (Happy birthday, BROG!):
Our project, starting from humble beginnings, has been audaciously successful. We've done well at stirring up debate and discussion, particularly where qualitative researchers are concerned. [They typically don't really appreciate content analytic methodologies, it seems -- which is kind of crazy. We're reporting *what's there*, not what we *think* is there.]
I'd classify content analysis as archaeology, so my "concerns" in this specific case would be similar to Tom's comment on a general case of online communities - "archaeology" has its limitations. To be a bit more specific:
Interpreting the meaning of artefacts (e.g. inferring that link in a blogrol indicates a relation) requires understanding of a culture where artefacts are produced and there are many different blogging cultures. So, I wonder about specific interpretations of artefacts "behind" any quantitative analysis, conclusions made based on those interpretations and potential for generalising the results.
It doesn't mean that content analysis is not valuable (and BROG researchers make great contributions to the field :), but it would be nice to see reasons for choosing "archaeology" in a case of studying live culture and limitations of this choice articulated more explicitly.
And - note to myself - see also experimental archaeology
This post also appears on channel weblog research
Thursday, February 24, 2005
How artefacts support thinking and knowledge creation (2)
Just a quote, to continue on research on how artefacts support thinking and knowledge creation
As I construct this chapter [...] I am continually creating, putting aside, and re-organizing chunks of text. I have a file which contains all kinds of hints and fragments, stored up over a long period of time, which may be germane to the discussion. I have source texts and papers full of notes and annotations. As I (literally, physically) move these things about, interacting first with one, then another, making new notes, annotations and plans, so the intellectual shape of the chapter grows and solidifies. It is a shape which does not spring fully developed from inner cogitations. Instead, it is the product of a sustained and iterated sequence of interactions between my brain and a variety of external props. In these cases, I am willing to say, a good deal of actual thinking involves loops and circuits which run outside the head and through the local environment. Extended intellectual arguments and theses are almost always the product of brains acting in concert with multiple external resources. These resources enable us to pursue manipulations and juxtapositions of ideas and data which would quickly baffle the un-augmented brain. […] In all such cases, the real environment of printed words and symbols allows us to search, store, sequence and reorganize data in ways alien to the on-board repertoire of the biological brain. Clark, A. (1998). Magic Words: How Language Augments Human Computation (.pdf). P. Carruthers and J. Boucher (Eds) Language And Thought: Interdisciplinary Themes. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1998, pp. 62-183.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Information overload: questions
After first steps in our research on information overload things get a bit more clear for me: it seems that it's not about information overload, but our practices of dealing with information. Questions I find particularly interesting:
- How do you manage multitasking? Strategies, tips and tricks to handle multiple processes...
- How do you manage working with multiple sources needed for a task? Especially when there are a lot of them and they are in different formats (emails, files, paper documents, IM talks, coffee-table discussions).
- How do you manage awareness? How do you monitor multiple sources of information that could be useful in the future? (I use weblogs :)
Would be nice to find time to describe my own practices regarding those :)
Funny enough, those questions correspond with process, artefact and awareness categories from my thinking on PKM purposes and practices.
PKM: purposes and practices
Following yesterday's post Piers started knowledgenetworker wiki page to think about PKM handbook:
The idea behind the knowledgenetworker handbook is to try to define the routines and practices that help people successfully 'manage' both their knowledge and their network, and which work best.
It gets into the hart of my current PhD struggle. After countless drawings and discussions it's probably a good time to blog it. It's not going to be easy, since thinking is not ready to be turned into a coherent text yet, but hopefully making an effort will help moving forward.
The core of my PhD struggle is thinking about conceptual language to talk about PKM. So far I talk about goals, practices, activities, methods, tools, artefacts, awareness... Those are things mixed in PKM model (in both versions) and I need to tear them apart, to come up with good names for conceptual categories and to get a bit more clear about their relations in order to have a conceptual frame to put in examples and instances that come from my research.
I'll start from separating purpose and practice:
- Purpose: What and why?
- Practice: How?
- awareness (to be fair I'm not sure where it belongs, but it's important, so it's here :)
Purpose is about what and why - e.g. capturing ideas, so they do not fly away and are available later. Practice is about how - e.g. writing ideas down as weblog posts or creating concept maps.
Practice needs further elaboration - I have some categories in mind, but they do not fit together well.
I'm thinking of methods and tools (methods more about strategy and tools are needed to execute it). For example, for documenting ideas a strategy would be to catch bits of ideas separately and to establish their relations to each other. This could be done by many tools, e.g. by writing in a weblog and linking posts with categories or links, by creating a concept map, by writing ideas on pieces of paper and then sorting them in groups... Tools that we have at our disposal and are capable of using influence our choices of strategies, but strategies invoke search for better tools...
Process is about steps - what to do when (e.g. get an idea, tink of blogging it, find time to blog, start writing, think of relations, find other relevant posts and add links, finish, click submit button).
Artefacts are "things" used or produces in a process: weblog posts, concept maps, paper cards with ideas...
Awareness is a strange thing... I can't define it properly, don't know where it belongs, but know that it belongs to the picture.
There are a few issues around purposes and practices:
PKM purposes are often implicit, so choices of corresponding practices (=implicit and may be not optimal)
Practices are often invisible (=not accounted for)
Practices are interrelated: we use similar strategies or same tools for different purposes, we multitask on processes and have to fit them into definite time and artefacts could play different roles (e.g. as input, output or tool) (=all these things collide in time and space, leading to interruptions, dublication, conflicts and other non-productive things).
Coming back to the PKM handbook: I don't think we can talk about "good practices" without understanding purposes. Not only from the scientific interest, but simply because choices of how? depend on what? and why?. And, since, practices are interrelated, choice of how? in a specific case depends on all other cases of what?, why? and how? currently active in the picture.
And, to connect it to my PhD: I try to come up with model describing PKM purposes. Since often purposes are implicit, I look at practices and explore motivations behind them (intentional purposes) and effects (implicit or not anticipated purposes).
At the moment I try to put all these things together, but still searching for good conceptual language to talk about it... Please, let me know if you have any associations or answers (and especially if I reinvent an exiting theory :)
And - there are many people who contributed and still do to my thinking on this issue, but special thanks goes to Aldo de Moor for inspiration over good food after discussing papers in the Zoo :)
See also: PKM purposes and practices in knowledgenetworker wiki
Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Training the nodes in the network + Kaisen
One of the things I've been thinking about recently is a training manual for people who need to do a bit of personal knowledge (or something) management. At the risk of banging on about it, one of the things that struck me about van Riper's fluid, networked approach to operations was the emphasis on training the nodes in the network. For - in this case - Network Centric Warfare to work, there needs to be a heavy confidence and reliance on the personal 'nodes', and part of that seems to be achieved by training them. Good basic training and drill.
So I've been thinking presumably, with network-enabled organisation, to optimise efficacy, there needs to be continual basic training of the employees. And if that's right, then perhaps that training is effectively what PKM is really about, and I wondered, if I were a new employee of one of these network-enabled organisations, what sort of handbook would I like to get to get me started from scratch?
Funny enough, I was thinking about something like that to translate my PhD research into - simple instruments that people could use. One more reminder about parallel thinking with Piers (btw, Piers, shall we think on some practical way to work on it? ideally not asynchronous ;)
Pierse also links to Kaizen and 5s process, which he thinks is a good place to start:
SEIRI: create tidyness. Throw away all unused stuff, file away the rest.
SEITON: keep evertything at the right place. Keep the tools you need accessible, hide materials you don't need regularly.
SEISO: keep your (work-)space clean, remove all traces from the previous task before starting the next.
SEIKETSU: develop a personal sense for organizing your things. Develop routines, optimize your system according to your needs.
SHITSUKE: stay disciplined doing the above, make it a habit and permanent practice.
All these makes me thinking hard - something is missing... There are many books on time management and personal productivity, but even if you read them, change is not easy. You can tell me about 5s, GTD or any other approach, and I may even agree, but how to make it work for me? Talking about 5s:
- SEIRI: how do I access what is useful and what not? how do I file something if I think it's useful, but don't know yet where it belongs?
- SEITON: what is the right place? what to do if I need many tools together?
- SEISO: and if I'm multitasking?
- SEIKETSU: easy to say... where shall I start?
- SHITSUKE: ah, if you know the trick to make me disciplined, you are welcome...
And now I have to run, so will think it over dinner :)
Research on how artefacts support thinking and knowledge creation
In my yesterday's post on Blogging as creating space for important I mentioned that "I can go into a body of research on how artefacts support thinking and knowledge creation, but I wouldn't". Well, BensonBear asks to do so:
No, please go into the body of reasearch on how artefacts support thinking. Perhaps point to a survey paper? If you are not familiar, look up Andy Clark's work in philosophy of mind on "linguistic scaffolding".
Don't think that I'm ready for a proper literature review :) Actually, my thinking on roles, interplay and affordances of physical and digital artefacts in thinking and communication is heavily based on knowledge work/personal information management research - studies indicating how paper and digital documents, as well as their organisation in time and space support thinking and communication.
A good way to start it to read these:
The first one is a good introduction to the role of documents for informing thinking (~ turning information into knowledge). The second is a must read book for many reasons, but especially for understanding the role of paper and digital documents at work.
Personal information management is a more complicated issue - there is a lot of interesting things to read there. A good overview could be found in
In fact, Richard Boardman keeps PIM bibliography and finished his PhD on PIM in 2004, so his dissertation is a very good starting point for the topic (I'm reading it :).
Unfortunately, his site is down at the moment and I have no idea if it's permanent or not.
The proposal of BensonBear seems to complement my current reading pretty well, as I didn't look much into the literature on cognitive processes that would explain why reliance on artefacts (as observed in PIM literature) happens.
I looked at papers by Andy Clark and this one seems to be relevant:
- Clark, A. (1998). Magic Words: How Language Augments Human Computation (.pdf). P. Carruthers and J. Boucher (Eds) Language And Thought: Interdisciplinary Themes. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1998, pp. 62-183.
I just scanned it, but especially this seems to be very relevant - "six broad ways in which linguistic artifacts can complement the activity of pattern-completing brain":
- Memory augmentation
- Environmental simplification
- Coordination and the reduction of online-deliberation
- Taming path-dependent learning
- Attention and resource allocation
- Data manipulation and representation
I know that these sounds a bit too scientific, but I didn't have enough time to read the paper properly to add human-readable commentaries :)
Anyway, if you know more research relevant, please, let me know.
Monday, February 21, 2005
Blogging as creating space for important
Last couple of weeks I did an experiment. I had big pieces of work (mainly PhD-related thinking and writing) and lots of small things for a variety of tasks. I decided to postpone starting work on big pieces and to focus on all the small things, so I could get them out of my way.
Somehow it didn't work. Doing small things was painfully slow and was frustrated as well since I tried not to get into a bigger work. I guess the main reason that those "big tasks" are really important to me, so they were "hanging in the background" anyway and eating my energy as I didn't give them a space to grow.
Blogging has a role in it. It's a long time since I think about blogging in a frame of urgent/important matrix by Stephen Covey. It's easy to be "too busy" to work on important things when everyday urgent stuff piles up and requires its share of attention. In this case blogging creates a legitimate space for important.
There are two sides of it, reading and writing.
Reading weblogs as a way for prevention, preparation, relation and expertise building. It's like everyday exercise to stay fit - knowing what is going on, what are the trends, who are the people. It may feel as not very important in everyday scale, but everytime when I face a new big challenge I appreciate it - like appreciating everyday exercises and being fit if time comes to run for your life.
Reading is also about taking time to develop ideas (I often think of "being pregnant with ideas" :), having time to explore, bit by bit, creating a space for emergent connections and associations. This is where writing comes into play* as well.
For me writing is about catching ideas on the fly, growing and connecting. (Here I can go into a body of research on how artefacts support thinking and knowledge creation, but I wouldn't :) Somehow the process of articulation is largely the process of idea development as well. Like a sculpture that exists only in a head of sculptor and needs to be molded into physical shape to get a life, writing gives shape and life to fuzzy ideas in my head.
Still, reading and writing are very vulnerable. Unless you are at the "almost final product" stage, they are difficult to put in a list of deliverables and deadlines. They are rather small things that need everyday bit of attention, like everyday watering of a plant that would bring you fruits one day. Not urgent, but very important.
This is where blogging helps. It creates a space for those small activities. Through fun of "distraction" between other tasks to read weblogs, urge of writing a small bit of idea before it's lost in a middle of deadline, pressure and pleasure of knowing that there is a audience, others who may enjoy reading... Because it's so fun I steal time from urgent things to blog, but as a result I create a space for important, so ideas have a safe place to grow before they are big enough to become urgent in a list of all kinds of deadlines.
And, there is a couple of practical implications :)
1. Contrary to others, I do not have any need to integrate my news aggregator with my email. Email is about urgent, and sometimes I want to ignore it, so it doesn't fight with important.
2. I take time to read blogs and write myself in a middle of deadlines, with unanswered emails and long to-do lists. And I try not to feel quilty about it - because urgent can wait (and - survival of the fittest - really urgent things will get through anyway :)
* Don't have a book with me to check, but as far as I remember from The Myth of the Paperless Office in one of the studies in 80% cases reading coincided with writing.
Sunday, February 20, 2005
Fun of book reading...
There is so much fun in opening a long wanted book after finding the only place it could be ordered and patiently waiting for it to arrive. Fun of waking up and heading for it, before everything. Fun of taking time to read knowing that it would be a long day with lots of things to do. Fun of discovery, noding at every other page - "ah, true.." - and stopping for a minute thinking all about all those association with your own work...
Of course, sometimes it's nice to start a day from the blogosphere news, hot and exicting, but somehow this couldn't beat the fun of reading a well-written book that travelled over five editions and thirty-something years.
And - in case you are curious - the book is Life between buildings by Jan Gehl. It's part of my reading about cities and thinking about life between weblogs.
Friday, February 18, 2005
On weblog audiences...
A piece from blogs readership analysis by Dave Pollard that I missed:
If you're an average A-list blogger (those getting at least 15,000 hits per day), your 150,000 40-second visitors in aggregate are spending 1700 hours per day reading and commenting on your blog. The average B-list blogger (those getting at least 1,000 hits per day) is getting 62 hours per day of 90-second-per-visit aggregate reader attention, the average C-list (150-1,000 hits-per-day) blogger 13 hours per day of aggregate reader attention, and the average up-and-coming (50-150 hits-per-day) blogger 2.5 hours per day. These are not staggering numbers, but certainly an encouraging return on time invested in writing.
Ethnography: being there with critical perspective
As I dive into reading on ethnography I start understanding better what type of work I'm passionate about. It's work which is about "being there with critical perspective".
It's about understanding how people live, work and do things, better through experiencing and participation. I like first-hands experiences, like exploring a foreign city by myself instead of being on a packaged tour.
But it's also about not taking things for granted, critical perspective, all those "why?" and "what if?", as well as comparisions and associations. I guess this is something that brought me into doing research since I wanted more space for reflection and exploration in my work.
So, I'm reading all kinds of things on ethnography, struggling to catch the essence of "how to" next to the spirit of it... So far it's not easy, so I'm thinking about the reply of John Seely Brown on my innocent question about good way of learning to do ethnographic research. He said that the best way is to learn by working with an experienced ethnographer.
It feels right - learning from paper is so painfully slow, so I'm looking for opportunities to learn from people. Next to looking for possible meeting/doing/learning options which are relatively close I'm thinking along lines of distributed apprenticeship - what if something like that may work?
And, discovering a bibliography on ethnography and a course reading list by Louise Ferguson I kind of regret of not having a time travel machine: now I know what kinds of questions I had to ask when meeting her at BlogWalk/London.
I'd love to have someone more experienced around to help me picking up problems and issues that I can hardly articulate yet and to suggest where to look for solutions...
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
I'm learning to make choices. It's hard, but gives a good feeling. After cleaning and packing my office stuff, I'm doing the same for my house - deciding what do I really need and what may go. And I'm doing the same for my work - finalising this year targets and plans.
The parallels between physical world and mental world are funny. Making decision of not writing a paper I planned because it will get me distracted from my PhD research feels exactly like deciding to sell a sofa that is nice, but doesn't fit anymore :)
But the physical side is easier - I just pack and move. Mental is much more complicated - I have to cut out many "I'd love to do" activities at work to make enough space for my PhD research. I guess it's a stage where divergent mode turns into convergence. The choices are difficult, but making them gives a very strange sense of accomplishement. Just like getting rid of house stuff that do not fit anymore.
And - in case you are wondering why I wasn't blogging - it's simple: the machine that runs Radio got disconnected and I didn't do anything to sort it out to have time to sort all other things. It will take a bit longer (for emails as well).