Friday, August 19, 2005

Convergence is Making the Difference

The development of networked technologies is NOT the most important thing on the block - important? Yes, but it's not taking us anywhere.

The most striking trend in Communications is the tendency to convergence among the various media and the speed in which communications gets out and gets to work! This convergence is shaping our experience and making a difference.

The diffusion of new communication devices and experiences will soon change our online experience. The new tool for the developing nations is not the internet - it's the cell phone.

Suppose our cellular telephone could connect to the Internet at speeds faster than many DSL or cable modems or even corporate local area networks. How would that change things? That's a question we may find out the answer to much sooner than we expected, now that fourth-generation (3G? forgetaboutit!) cellular devices are appearing.

New forms of content will emerge, representing complex or real life objects, perhaps designed to be shared between collaborative user groups.

How do we face this new challenge?

Web managers must actively promote a cross-disciplinary approach into content management, multimedia content processing, visualization and language technologies, to make the whole larger than the sum of the parts. Today these areas exist with too little interaction.

The functional driver is the user perspective and the way in which content gains new value in by improving its usability. The challenge is not just a question of more technology (IT departments beware).

In fact, we would be missing the point if it did not facilitate increased enrichment and satisfaction for users as a result of using advanced services, or joining in to online interaction of any sort. (Semantic web, anybody?)

To be successful, we have to provide new content and services, not just new technologies.

For instance, lite portals (for Blackberry's and Smart Phones) will be intelligent and knowledge-based. They will enable knowledge acquisition and retrieval. They will have advanced features and will support information transformation and integration models e.g. process support and up-to-the-minute knowledge transfers and alerts.

In order to sustain this vision it is necessary to model the process of knowledge transfer as well and to apply new findings about user behavior to the whole 'information flow' lifecycle. And if the ultimate goal is human-to-human interaction in a networked context, the knowledge process in a device-to-device environment is vitally important as well.

Key questions Web Managers will have to answer are:

  • How can heterogeneous information be handled in knowledge and information environments?
  • How can it be delivered and which form is optimal?
  • How can contextual content be valued and translated?
  • How do we measure success?
  • How can performance be enhanced?

We will need to provide some guidelines for understanding the processes - construct identities, create communities and make meanings - in order to create the most advanced communication.

These topics directly involve critical issues for designers and users BUT management has to understand that to take advantage of opportunities, they have to change their organizations, define what they want to achieve and by when.

It's not hocus pocus - our job is to instigate and support the process.

Assessing the meaning and impact of new communication planning is always a challenge. In fact it is very difficult to separate 'social' from 'technical' issues. It's our job to identifying some key paths for reaching this goal. Who else is going to do it ... Consultants?

Not only a lazy way out .... But it ain't happening. It's up to us!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Who is that masked man?

"Who I Am" and "Why I am Here" are the first two stories communicators must tell before their message is accepted. Branders spend millions on this - and it makes sense.

Readers, before they take heed of the message, must answer in their own minds those questions demanded of the communicator. Experienced writers already understand that considerable effort can be expended in validating information and knowledge, a fair amount of which time is spent vetting the sources to establish trust in them and how to understand properly what they have to communicate.

This is even more important in the public sector, since the government context is missing. In the government sector, there is some expectation of public trust in the authority and certain points of view that stand behind what is published. But in the "Wild West" of the global Internet all bets are off.

Hence the burden of validation becomes even heavier. By updating editorial standards and guidelines as new communication channels evolve, authors have a chance to rise above the noise floor in the chaos.

Due to differences in language and logic constructs for understanding the world, human kind since the Tower of Babel has had some difficulty in communicating very well to common purpose. Yet, humans as social beings possess a basic set of concepts they understand at an instinctual, subconscious level.

But here's the problem. Understanding becomes common between members within a particular organisational context, explicit means of expression becomes redundant and not generally necessary. But, in isolation from other cultures, each culture develops its own specialized terminology, nuances of meaning, and non-verbal means to express meaning grown and contained within the culture's own information silo.

When verbal communication migrates to text-based documents, even richer vocabulary and more careful crafting of how ideas are expressed can hardly compensate for the loss of meaning defined by cultural and non-verbal context. Great writers and poets over the millennia spent their lives trying to use words to express the human condition in textual form. But this does not translate to new media. Just as Radio didn't translate to TV, offline publications do not work well simply 'dropped' on the Internet.

In a cross-cultural context, misunderstanding can occur due to the message receiver lacking this native level of tacit knowledge. This means that what we are trying to say (which of course we understand) is being rejected by the user as 'whatever-eze' - we've lost them - credibility out the window. Time's are a changing and we need to change as well. Has to happen.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Communication and Human MarkUp Language

Technology is for human use. It is designed to satisfy some human needs and to aid people in reaching their goals. Technology, therefore, is a part of human activities and, for this reason alone, it should always be considered within the context of human life, the human experience.

This basic credo forms the foundation for the concept of human technology. Instead of seeing technology as a construction following the laws of nature, the challenge of human technology is to explore and understand how humanist and social research can contribute to the conceptualization and implementation of technology.

Human markup language (HumanML) is one possible technology for addressing some of these critical aspects of communication. This is cool - so listen up.

I am not just intending to expound upon a vision but we should look at how HumanML may play a role in doing so and how it may be applied in the government and private sectors to improve overall collaboration.

Some of the questions that the use of HumanML could hopefully address are: Is the retrieved document informational in nature? Is it intended as policy, as advertisement, propaganda or some other purpose? At the point in history of document creation, what was the unstated motivation to create and publish it? What was the author's attitude toward the subject?

How to avoid accidental release of protected information by ignoring or forgetting to include external markings? How to avoid distortion of original meaning or intent whether intentional or not? How to understand cross-culturally and interpret specialized lingo such as "governmentese" in current layman's terms and in the current context?

Perhaps it could be said that we are living out the ancient curse: "May you live in interesting times." Civilization has largely crossed the boundary from the industrial age into the information age and is already moving beyond into an age governed by a knowledge economy. The transition has thrust "interesting times" upon us. We are struggling to cope with the chaos of an explosive growth in the flux of information and novelty that is increasingly difficult to ignore. We just can't ignore it.

We need to deal with an ever-increasing pervasive nature of change where our privacy and personal time is more challenged. We can try to run from it, but places to hide are disappearing where we might escape from an onslaught represented by variety, volume and velocity (V3) of information and change. Interesting times indeed!

Old paradigms for understanding and communicating no longer seem to serve us well and actually hinder our ability to cope. Somehow we need to find a balance between a state of being computer illiterate - viewing technology as a toy or passing fad - and a state of being unable to get through any hour of the day without worshipping at the altar of instantaneous connectivity: on the Web, on the mobile phone, instant messaging, 24-hour news broadcast - never out of sight.

But this flood is no solution ... we are coming to a state where we're drowning in information but starving for the right knowledge. Solutions are in sight.