Jinfo BlogConcluding the FreePint Topic Series "Making Information Visible"

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By Martin White

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Co-producer Martin White concludes the FreePint Topic Series "Making Information Visible" by highlighting key themes in visibility and discovery, that have emerged from the series that he and James Mullan have co-produced over the last three months. These include user-centric discovery, the information lifecycle and information visualisation. He also highlights product reviews and vendor insights.


When people ask me what I do I usually reply that I am an information scientist. That usually produces a slightly puzzled look, which is not surprising as there may only be a few thousand people in the world who have this career specialisation. 

Until I started working with the FreePint team on this series I had not really appreciated that what I have been doing for the last 45 years of my career is trying to make information visible. Only the last 15 years have been intranet-focused and I was concerned to see that in the results from the FreePint Research into Visibility that almost half the respondents that have an intranet are dissatisfied with it. 

Good news for intranet consultants but not for the staff that have to use it. Levels of dissatisfaction with federated search are also high. This is not surprising as even Google does not federate scholarly and eCommerce content but provides custom applications.

User-Centric Discovery

The issues around search are well presented by Steve Bynghall in his article "Putting Users at the Centre of Discovery". I totally support his view of the need to use feedback, data, research, observation and testing to make a realistic assessment of whether users can find the things they need to do their daily work.

"Relevance" is a very personal perspective, and one of the major challenges of any information discovery project is to find a way to group together users with at least some degree of a common perspective on what is relevant content and then listen to them carefully. Jan Sykes offers some very good advice on using social media to discover information needs.

Important tools in supporting effective discovery are taxonomies and associated metadata schemes, a topic considered by Helen Clegg. These tools are well appreciated by people with a library or information science background but are often totally ignored by managers seduced by technology that claims to have superseded these tools.

Language is very complex. Take these two statements. "Noah loads boxes into the van" and "Noah loads the van with boxes". In the first case the statement is satisfied if Noah just loads two boxes into the van but in the second case it is implicit that the van ended up totally full of boxes.

Information Lifecycle

My own contribution to the series has been to set out the concept of an information lifecycle, which recognises a sequence of creating, storing, discovering, using, sharing, reviewing and then, if needed, discarding.

The most difficult of these is the decision to discard. Storage is cheap so we retain information way beyond any sensible "use by" date and then have people making decisions on information that has been replaced by newer, better information but which is much more difficult to find.

A law firm I am working with at present still has lunchtime events from 2008 on its intranet!  There have to be limits as to how visible you want to make your information.

Product Reviews and Vendor Insights

A number of product reviews and Q&A with vendors were included in the series, representing a good cross-section of companies active in this space.

Early on in the series we reviewed the InfoDesk Suite, a solution designed to help businesses maintain their competitive edge by integrating content across multiple electronic sources. The company's commitment to keeping its products content-neutral is identified as a unique selling point. 

A Q&A with InfoDesk solicited information on key discovery trends the senior management team envisage over the next few years, including insightful searching and infographics.

InfoDesk reviewer Constance Ard highlighted Manzama as a potential competitor to InfoDesk and later on in the series Chris Porter put this solution through its paces in a full review. This current awareness service is very much aimed at lawyers and other professional service users and aggregates news websites, press releases, industry and trade publications and social media content among other sources. It then filters all the information and presents only the data that is most relevant to the user's profile.

Chris comments that the fact that it can incorporate subscription content as well as a firm's own internal data is a plus point which should be taken into account when analysing return on investment.

Tableau Desktop featured in the series as a mini review. This up and coming business intelligence product offers powerful analytics and data visualisation and industry analyst Gartner has described it as the "gold standard" among the data discovery specialists. Reviewer Andrew Lucas comments on the software being content agnostic and on the appeal of individual users being able to try the application for free in a two-week trial.

Q&As and reviews with a clutch of vendors focused in particular on visualisation. Larry Rafsky, chief scientist at Acquire Media, commented on how the company's technology exposes interconnections and correlations that are simply impossible to observe otherwise (through its NewsEdge product - subject of a mini review which looked in particular at elements such as its use of complex algorithms to help determine relevancy).

Researcher Chris Porter reviewed Commetric and looked in particular at its Influencer Network Analysis methodology which uses visualisation techniques to give clients customised analytics based on traditional and social media sources.

Enterprise search is a key component of making information visible and Sophie Alexander interviewed Will Hayes, CEO of Lucidworks, "a search platform which gives companies the ability to translate massive pools of data into actionable insights faster than ever". Sophie also quizzed Mindbreeze founder and CEO, Daniel Fallmann, about its software products for big data, enterprise search and knowledge management, including Mindbreeze InSite whose search functions pull relevant data from across all of a customer's portals, websites, blogs and social media channels.

The challenge of improving workflow was covered in the Q&A with Tallyfy, a new tool which aims to simplify processes into "powerful checklists that can be tracked and shared on any device" with internal users and those outside the organisation. Founder Amit Kothari explained how the aim is to provide a real-time view of processes, from any device.

We also interviewed global licensing and rights organisation Copyright Clearance Center (CCC). Robin Neidorf's Q&A centred on the autumn 2014 acquisition of Infotrieve, the force behind the Mobile Library solution, and the newly enlarged entity's roadmap for 2015.

Meanwhile in the Q&A with Reprints Desk, we interviewed Ian Palmer, the company's chief sales and marketing officer, about how its Article Galaxy Widget tool facilitates visibility for its users in the scientific, technology and medical community. The key challenges faced by organisations making information more visible were also covered.

Information Visualisation

The final topic I'd like to highlight is data and information visualisation which, judging from the FreePint survey, is attracting more attention than I might have expected. FreePint subscribers are obviously at the leading edge.

It is worth reading two related commentaries. The first is from Tim Buckley Owen on data analytics and the second is from Andrew Lucas on what it takes to do visualisation well.

The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is at the core of visualisation techniques.

If you have not read all the books by Edward Tufte on data and information visualisation then you need to make the effort to do so. Not just because of the examples in his books but in the way that Tufte communicates information to his readers. That's another aspect of the importance of not only making information visible but doing it in a way that engages the reader and stimulates them into action. 

This Blog Item is part of the FreePint Topic Series "Making Information Visible".

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