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Emergent Design. What Does It Mean?


After our recent work was through at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, a fellow member of The Value Web and I spent a week exploring Jordan. We traveled to Petra and wandered slack-jawed through the siq, past the treasury and into the marketplace, along the roman high road, and then by mule up to the monastery, trying to envision it as it must have once been – a bustling, busy, smelly, noisy, crowded market and city. It was fantastic to imagine so much of this marvel still buried beneath years and years of dirt, hidden by earthquakes, floods, and time. We were told that an estimated 85 to 90% of the city has yet to be excavated. It’s incredible to imagine what there is left to be discovered. This feeling reminded me, suddenly, how exciting it is to know that there is so much you don’t know, how exciting to know that there is in fact so much left to uncover. It is something that would serve us all well to be reminded of every day: there is so much out there that you don’t know about. There is so much out there that I don’t know about. The elegance of this conundrum lies in the fact that together, we have the capacity to know a lot. We have the capacity, together, to take advantage of our collective knowledge in our decision making, in our actions, in our ways of thinking and ways of being. The real problem lies in the how. It’s astonishing to me that with all the technology that is at our disposal we still have yet to figure out a way to effectively share, communicate and take advantage of our collective knowledge. It’s near impossible to do, and regardless of organizations and web technologies that profess to have solutions to knowledge exchange and application, I have yet to see it done effectively, in a way that is actually impactful on the appropriate (possible) scale. Where to start? The questions: what do I share, with whom, why and how? are complex questions in and of themselves. One could spend all day philosophizing on the multitude of responses each of these could elicit. If you think of your own network – either your colleagues at work or your fellow classmates or any community of interest/practitioners you are part of – how well do you really know what each of those people are working on/chasing/actively involved in? How effectively are you using your network? When thinking of my own networks, I can only begin to imagine the impact we could be having if we could only know/transmit/exploit our common experience, contacts and knowledge. It’s enormously frustrating to know that there is so much that we do know that we are not taking advantage of.

In my mind, I am beginning to envision a more connected space, a platform or tool that we might be able to design to more effectively capitalize on our individual and collective knowledge and experience. There are signals all around that the next wave of web applications and online tools will be focused entirely on more effective management of the noise that exists all around us – turning the noise into meaningful information, and extracting relevant knowledge from the millions of pages/blogs/news sources that exist on the web. The semantic web and all the buzz about RDF is beginning to grow louder and louder. The next wave of programs/codes/algorithms is here and is already being tested. Take Wolfram Alpha – the next generation of intelligent search. This is precisely the sort of web tool that will change the game. I imagine that even 5 years from now search engines like the current google will be hopelessly outdated. We are at a tipping point – the amount of information that exists in the world is so overwhelming – the next big thing is going to be how to manage and categorize this information. Twittter is beginning to do some interesting stuff with TwitterVision – you can begin to imagine how powerful this tool could be if designed and used to do something impactful/good. If you could filter twitter posts by topic – i.e. find where in the world people were reporting on water issues, and then be able to connect the dots between users, or people with solutions and people with problems – these technologies could have such an impact. Another interesting trend to note in the field of information sharing/data mining is the increasing awareness of the value of effectively visualizing data. The book Data Flow, which came out some months ago, has some incredible examples in it of new ways to read/understand and interact with complex data sets. One project I have come across that really struck me is Visualizing – a project that takes all the data available from and presents it in a new, innovative, intuitive way. I’d love to see this sort of approach applied more broadly, and used for bigger/higher purposes. (watch the video at the bottom) Visualizing One last harbinger of things to come – the NYTimes is beginning to play with new interfaces – this is a prototype for an article skimmer – and it’s already more interesting to interact with than the current times web page – it begins to help us sort through all the content in a more intuitive, organized manner. We still have a long way to go, however…

Data flow book

Visual complexity

In the coming months, The Value Web will be looking to engage in conversation with some developers and some other organizations who are actively trying to find solutions to knowledge and information management. The desire is to contribute to a potentially universal platform for the effective use and disemmination of knowledge, information and experience. If you would like to play with us, get in touch.

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