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Weblog and the mess of papers on my desk play similar roles in supporting my work

Thanks to a colleague I went rereading the paper I now automatically cite in my PhD work – Alison Kidd’s The marks are on the knowledge worker. Between other things she talks about the importance of the spatial layout and materials for knowledge workers, discussing a number of roles that the mess of papers plays.

What I find striking is the parallel between those roles of the paper spatial arrangement and my uses of the weblog.

As a holding pattern

It seems that knowledge workers use physical space, such a as desks or floors, as a temporary holding pattern for inputs and ideas which they cannot yet categorise or even decide how they might use [12]. Filing is uncomfortable for the because they cannot reliably say when they will want to use a particular piece of information or to which of their future outputs it will relate (p.187)

Weblog provides as much structure as I want to. Posts that are easy to categorise get “filed” into specific tags and categories, but the rest is just “piled” in the chronological archives with fuzzy or no tags and may be some linking. What is nice compared to the paper that a post can sit in multiple piles (and files) for the same time (see Whittaker & Hirschberg, 2001, for more on piling and filing).

As a primitive language

It also seems that knowledge workers may use pieces of paper or the marks on them as a material correlate of a model of the world which they are in the process of constructing in their heads. (pp.187-188)

All those “thinking in progress” posts, fuzzy tags and linking often represent bigger emergent structures that are not ready to be articulated as a whole.

As contextual cues

The layout of physical materials on their desk gives them powerful and immediate contextual cues to recover a complex set of threads […] (p.188)

With weblog is different: these cues (context in the text, links and tags) are not those to recover a  state of mind before before an interruption, but rather at the moment of writing the post. However, it plays similar function, allowing to get back to a task at hand at a particular moment.

As demonstrable output

Piles of papers on desks are also important as tangible objects to which workers can point to show others how much progress they have made. (p.188)

Well, this should work if you can get those who evaluate your work to read your weblog 🙂 But in any case, for everyone else it does show the thinking in progress (see also Kaye et al, 2006 on the roles that archives play).

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Stuart French September 6, 2008, 06:51

    Nice post Lilia,

    For my Masters thesis, I am using a combination of nVivo and both a personal study blog and my public deltaknowledge.net blog to capture my ideas, ruminate on them, share them for critique, link concepts and build possible models.

    Still not sure if the integrate as well as I would like for the analysis and actual thesis writing part, but I certainly have got a lot of “thinking” done by writing posts in both blogs, and I have noticed that I am posting more and more of the conceptual topics (more the Lit Review stuff and how the theories intertwine with my findings) on my public blog.

    While these probably bore the heck out of my poor readers, I find I write differently for an audience. Maybe this “pressure” is another benefit of using blogs in one’s study.

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