Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

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The thread that binds the Net

"never mind the dotted quad, it's the thread that binds the Net together." For years I've been saying of online success that people come for content and stay for community. I've just had a long and fascinating conversation* with Marc Smith of the Microsoft Research Community Technologies Group, nominally about the SNARF email triage tool and actually about the value and finite availability of attention, the value of interaction and current steps in detecting, visualising and using human relationships digitally. Ironically, talking about a tool that helps you with triage turned into a conversation that's sent me off in a lot of interesting new directions. I want to go to the Smithsonian folk music archive and find the songs from the first generation with choruses about how much people hate their cold, draughty, won’t-start-keeps-stopping, slow, dreadful, won't last wonderful new cars.

Marc is behind Netscan - software that measures and maps social spaces like Usenet; they're planning to turn it into a community reputation tool that could work for any threaded social space. Picturing Usenet - an article from the group in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication - has lots more visualisations and identifies various online personality types: questioners, answer people, trolls, locals, cynics, conversationalists... The treemaps that they produce apply to any hierarchical information - like the classic sales territories so many people track in Excel - so the Microsoft Treemapper with Excel Add-In they've made available could be handy.

Computers have the ability to slice, dice, drill and map so much data from the information we store of them and the monolithic way so much information is presented is a real waste. After playing with the colour categories and To-Do tags in Outlook 12 and the visualisation of conditional formatting in Excel 12, I'm rather hoping that 2006 could be the year of data visualisation. Marc mentioned the ClearContext Inbox Manager as a way of getting Outlook 12-style goodness now, and I notice it works with ActiveWords which I must make time to play with (I got distracted by being able to use shortcuts in the Windows Search deskbar to get verbs - so I can type lj or flickr and a username to jump straight to someone on either service).

I'm now looking forward to the two new versions of SNARF we'll get this year and the new features planned for them... luckily for me, some of the things I thought it would be neat to see (like tagging people who matter to me irrespective of the statistics of our email exchanges) are already on the list.

*best parts of my job, the conversations

**SNARF and the Treemapper have their own pages but they're also on -another of those interesting places to browse through. GroupBar is available there (a tool for grouping and managing windows for large desktops), as is the Search Result Clustering Toolbar for grouping search results into topics...
Tags: design, geek, links, maps, office, quotes, search, technology

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