Organizing Information

Libraries organize information. They also collect, preserve, and provide access to information (as well as a host of other things). But organizing information is key the mission of libraries.

I’m currently working on a project to rearrange some of our internal information. Our library has been using Windows SharePoint Services for about 18 months. Shortly after its introduction the SharePoint site became our de facto intranet site, and we’ve added a lot of content over the past year-and-a-half. Unfortunately, some of the content SEEMS rather disorganized. I say it “seems” disorganized, because I think in one very real way it is not disorganized at all. Close inspection (and discussion with content creators) reveals that documents have been added according to employees’ different organizing priorities.

This reminds me of a class I took during my library school program. We looked at how items can be organized and classified, and we did a number of exercises to explore some of the less-obvious characteristics that can be used for organization. As I look through our SharePoint content, I’m seeing several different organizational trends. Some people organized content according to the unit that created it. Others created new folders to contain similar content. Some quite simply put documents where they thought people were likely to look for them.

As we work to reorganize this content, I find myself constantly thinking of that nearly ubiquitous web 2.0 feature: tagging. Tagging is certainly no substitute for solid, well-ordered organization, but it can definitely provide additional access avenues to help guide people to content. It looks like there is at least one group out there that has implemented a tagging web part for SharePoint, so that’s a definite area for investigation!


How Do You Like Your Information – Early, Late, or Just in Time?

This year’s Olympic Games in China raises some interesting problems and questions. NBC paid a lot of money for exclusive U.S. broadcast rights to the 2008 Olympic Games. However, the time difference between the actual competition and the local broadcast time is making it difficult for NBC to maintain its exclusivity. As expected, content is leaking out. YouTube is playing a part. News agencies in other countries are making footage available to their local audiences. Enthusiasts are finding video clips and posting them all over the Internet.

Besides being a management nightmare for NBC, this poses an interesting dilemma for local fans. What if you really don’t want to know the results until you can tune in and watch the broadcast for yourself? If that’s the case, the Internet could absolutely ruin your Olympic experience! Imagine waiting to get home to watch a swimming competition. But then a friend forwards an Internet article that shows all the results of the competitions you were planning to watch. Or perhaps you’re researching something at work and you stumble across a news site that has the medalists plastered across the front page. This takes the idea of spoilers to a whole new level.

This is a situation where I definitely want my information late. Even if the medals were awarded 12 hours ago, I don’t want to know who won until I can actually watch the competition!

On an related note, I happened across an article about a new Philadelphia Inquirer policy. The Inquirer has decided that it will no longer post online versions of news items until the print version is available. No features, no reviews, no blogs, no nothing. Honestly, I can’t imagine a better way to destroy your readership. When there is a breaking news story, people turn to the Internet. It’s automatic. It’s also automatic to turn to major news sources to cover those major news stories.

But imagine this frightening scenario. A major news event is unfolding. Your local news team is covering the event. But they don’t break the news. While all the other newspapers and television stations in the city are updating their web sites, you’re sitting on the story and waiting for papers to be delivered before you update your own site. Very soon your readers learn that your service can’t be relied on for up-to-the-minute news. Because you insist on holding your postings, you almost guarantee that you will never break a story again. And suddenly – almost before your very eyes – your readership migrates en masse to other services.

Frightening, yes . . . for the Philadelphia Inquirer. In fact, they should be downright terrified by this misguided policy. The reporters should probably start looking for jobs with other papers who want to break the news.

These two extremes made me wonder just how people want their information. In my Olympic example for this year, I really do want my information late. Usually I want it as early as possible. And unfortunately, I think the Philadelphia Inquirer’s just-in-time strategy is doomed to failure.


Killing the cash cow and other acts of media indecency

Tape Delay by NBC Faces End Run by Online Fans

Privacy, Openness, and Access to Information

Time for some randomness. A trio of stories caught my eye recently. The topics are vastly different, but there is a loose common theme that ties them all together: restricting or opening access to information.

Libraries are all about open access to information. Libraries have tons of great content, and they want to share this content with the widest possible audience. The very title of Meredith Farkas‘ blog emphasizes this: Information Wants To Be Free. However, librarians will readily admit that there is some information which should not be freely available. (Patrons choosing to opt-in on book reviewer services is another matter.) Patron reading records come to mind. Patrons’ reference questions are also taken to be private and confidential with libraries taking great steps to anonymize all questions before analyzing their service quality.

I guess this dual perspective of openness and privacy helped pique my interest in these stories:

CNET: Olympic head: No deal on Internet censorship
CNET: The FCC on Comcast: Confusion in spades
MSNBC: Recordings raise questions about inmate rights

The first story continues the saga of China’s ongoing efforts at Internet censorship. In spite of an agreement with the International Olympic Committee, the Chinese government continues to block access to Internet sites of which it does not approve. International journalists are up in arms about it. This censorship limits their ability to do their jobs, and it simply isn’t what China promised.

The second story deals with Comcast‘s throttling of BitTorrent traffic. Interestingly enough, what Comcast did is regularly replicated on university campuses across the country through various packet shaping technologies. Apparently the FCC’s biggest complaint about Comcast was that the company hid their activities from customers.

The third story highlights illegal eavesdropping on privileged attorney-inmate conversations by the San Diego county jails. Apparently the jails were not only recording these conversations, they were also making them available to prosecuting attorneys. In at least one case, this gave the prosecutor explicit information about the defendant’s trial strategy. The story also reveals that similar recordings occurred in other counties as well. Interestingly enough, in California eavesdropping on inmates’ telephone calls with their attorneys is a felony. I wonder how the state will choose to punish the county?

So here we have a country censoring information that should be open and freely available. We have a company secretly throttling customers’ access to certain types of data streams. And we have county governments clandestinely recording privileged conversations.

In the United States we (SHOULD) treasure our free speech. We (SHOULD) treasure our free press. We (SHOULD) maintain an awareness of corporate practices that impact our access to information. We (SHOULD) actively protect confidential communication from unlawful scrutiny. These stories serve to illustrate that people need to protect their information rights. Without demanding constant accountability, these rights will be slowly, surreptitiously whittled away.