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CHI-WEB  August 1999, Week 4

CHI-WEB August 1999, Week 4

Subject:

Re: Tree model integrity

From:

Bill Dehora <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Bill Dehora <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 28 Aug 1999 04:22:54 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (90 lines)

----- Original Message -----
From: Eastwell Sarah <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Thursday, August 26, 1999 5:47 AM
Subject: Re: Tree model integrity

| I doubt that *all* information can be best represented in a tree/hierarchy,
| but it's a useful way of organising large volumes of information.
| Hierarchical systems have been used to organise information for much longer
| than 30 years. Library classification systems provide examples - Dewey 700=
| The arts 720= Architecture 728= Residential & related buildings. (In fact,
| I'd argue that creating classification schemes - ie determining like
| characteristics in groups of objects, looking for patterns etc, is inherent
| to human nature - but perhaps that's beyond the scope of this discussion.)

Almost any information can be represented within a hierarchy, which is very
different from saying that one should do so. Other than library science, taxonomical
systems have bedevilled biologists and the natural sciences for centuries, and you
can go right back to Aristotle on the matter of classification schema.


| < cut >
|
| Using a tree structure _does_ enforce a classification scheme on users, but
| as long as that structure is logical to a large number of users, and
| headings are clearly explained and unambiguous, it is a useful way to aid
| information retrieval. A classification scheme reflects the values and
| culture of the creator. There is no *correct* classification scheme - only
| ones that are more useful than others.

Absolutely. I call it 'editorial bias'.

I came up against this with digital television genre schemes when researching AI
user profiling in that area (just wait until we all have to start classifying and
organising television programs in the next decade. It's really going to drive people
nuts). A number of standards bodies are proposing genre trees for set-top
boxes/electronic program guides, but there primary benefit I think will be for
broadcasters and advertisers, which isn't surprising really but leaves the
information overloaded couch tuber with a bit of a problem in 500 channel space.

To a degree it doesn't matter in what form or topology you structure your
information, the really hard bit is designing information for later retrieval (ie if
tree systems were perfect we wouldn't need indexes in books). The retrieval issue
arises regardless of data layout, be that relational schemas, hypertext graphs,
trees and so on.

Making navigation easier obviously helps, but we need to ask ourselves is there a
difference between getting lost say in a large website and not being able to find
information? All the navigational aids in the world can't get around
semantic/lexical ambiguity.

Insofar as I can tell designing information to be found is a fundamentally Rock Hard
Problem. Even the search engine sites have given up on it, preferring to add value
and distiguish their product/site/portal with peripheral features rather than their
core competency which is ostensibly searching for information. How long before
Yahoo! indexes less than 1% of the Web?

I honestly think that retrieving information cannot be solved adeqately by usability
engineering alone and I really believe it will require three things, namely:


1:     usability engineering, and lots of it.
2:     interfaces that are designed for browsing and not processing of information.
3:     individual profiling learning technology.


Certain usability experts, notably Jakob Nielsen are generally dismissive of AI user
profiling. I think that this kind of AI failed in the past because they were both
painful to setup and unusable in practice. But these are interface limitations not
technological ones per se.  AI technology to learn your interests is in pretty good
shape. However AI reseach does not have a good record in catering for end-users and
thus the technology will tend to fail 'in the field'. Expert system shells have been
the usability highlight. Enough said.

Researchers also made implicit cognitive assumptions about people and their profiles
as if they were something that can be optimised, ie there is an 'ideal average you'
that can be learned and thats the end of it. Your personal bell curve in effect. Its
more likely that any useful kind of AI profile would have to 'drift' with the users
interests over time.

Simply put, at some point in the future we are going to need personal search
engines, that are unintrusive and easy to use, and this can't be done by any single
field of endeavour that I can think of. All this information is not going to lessen
or go away. The web is only a taster.


Regards,

Bill de hÓra                  [log in to unmask]              London

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