November 15, 2004

The Tension between the Personal and the Public

Cathy Marshall touched on this in her talk on personal digital libraries, and Gene addresses it in his post on personal information architecture: these new systems necessarily call into question the relationship between the personal and public.

Cathy discussed it with respect to annotations, markings, etc., that we might have in our personal digital library -- the are typically made for ourselves... what happens when they get "published"?

Gene makes a comment that the lines between individual and group construction are blurring. To me, that doesn't seem right... I think there's a tension there, a butting up of the local and the social that's not about smearing the boundaries.

Here's what I mean. Cathy began her talk thinking about her own personal library, and that got me to think of my own. One bookshelf in particular:

You can find that under
Click to enlarge

This shelf was organized by my girlfriend in a fit of spring cleaning. She doesn't really know much about the content of these books, wasn't interested in finding out, and so used the easiest organization method available -- by color.

When I first saw it, I thought it was funny, but didn't think much else of it.

Then I tried to use it.

You know what? It works *great*. At least, for known-item searching. When I had a book in mind, I could readily find it, because, in my mind's eye, I could picture it.

So, here we have an example of an organization scheme that's extremely useful to me, and likely impenetrable to others. This is what I mean when I say that "blurring" doesn't feel right. I think there's going to be an out-and-out tension to resolve.

On a somewhat unrelated manner, this also shows the potential perils of separating form and content. Form (size, shape, color) is very important, from a cognitive perspective, in helping me remember the content. If all my books were white, no matter how well they were categorized, it would take me longer to find the ones I was looking for. Form provides cues that we act on.

What are the cues in our personal digital collections?

Posted by peterme at 12:42 PM | Comments (22)


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