Yesterday I had a really nice and thought-provoking lunch with Peter Morville. We had a quiet lunch at Yamato in Kerrytown in Ann Arbor – yellowtail and scallion sushi and edamame were the highlights. Yamato is quiet and homey at lunchtime, not cheap enough to make it a regular stop but a real treat.
Peter has been thinking quite a bit about findability as a key distinguishing point in the information architecture of the future, and we talked for a bit about that. Peter has a vision of the near future where enough of us are online wirelessly most of the time that it’s not a big stretch to have all of the resources of the end near us at any time, and then the questions are – how are you going to find anything in all those billions of documents – and how are you as a publisher going to make the things you publish known to others.
I’ve been working through the personal complications of how you find things that aren’t in Google (and never will be) through a couple of different techniques. My quadrille notebooks keep a log of what I’m up to, and I can search them oh so slowly but with very good fidelity; they’re a slow access record of my thinking over time. Sped up quite a bit but still not in Google are the pages I have in a couple of Socialtext wiki and weblog private workspaces. I use those often enough (daily) that I can find any page with a reasonable title without much work at all.
Ultimately, though, a lot of what I rely on for finding stuff is not the weak transcript provided by computers but the experiences and memories I can recall in my mind without the computer being “on”. For finding things in my mind I have been on and off constructing memory models according to the principles of a memory palace (ah, google shows I haven’t written about that enough, need to turn that into a full blown posting). The short version of the idea is that construct an elaborate, fictional piece of architecture that has all of the things you want to remember carefully arranged in the furniture, bookshelves, art and gardens so that to find anything in your mind you simply have to walk through the space in your mind and it reminds you of what you put there.
For our lunch then I constructed a “findability” alcove just off the great reading room of my own memory palace, gave it a window overlooking a Japanese garden and a plaza with a labyrinth maze set in stone, and the restaurant we went to at the other side of the plaza. The alcove has a nice table, some low bookshelves with a copy of the polar bear book, Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”, and Carol Shields’s “Larry’s Party”, and a few rollable lockers along the walls with the names of people who frequently visit the findability alcove and what they’re reading at the moment. The one web browser screen visible is tuned into Bloglines with a “findability” search.
(What’s funny, of course, is that the process of giving the conversation a fictional place and then putting that fictional place in google is that I’ll now have another memory hook to find this page, through whatever keyword searches find this page.)