Apr 18

Visualising Complexity

For those interested in visualisation of complex information, or the visual power of mapping networks, here’s a wonderful resource unearthed by my iKMS colleague Kong Heng Sun.

It’s a collaborative enterprise sustained by donations, and it collects a stunning array of representation techniques, including a drawing by one of my favourite information artists, Mark Lombardi, and vivid illustrations of social networks.

Albert Laszlo Barabasi, author of Linked, also has a gallery page including other network images, including a whole range of internet maps… beautiful as artefacts, but the gallery itself lacks commentary on what the maps mean.

Both galleries give hyperlinks to the original project sites if you want to pursue them further.

For a different take on what network visualisations can tell us, take a look at this fascinating 2002 project from the Social Media Group at MIT Media Lab (another treasure trove), “Fragmentation of identity through structural holes in email contacts” – unwrapping the various email identities of a recent graduate “Mike”, and how they connect (or don’t connect) to each other.

Back on more practical social network analysis ground, here’s a set of studies by Valdis Krebs, looking at an innovative range of SNA applications, complete with illustrative maps that tell interesting stories.

Apr 18

Defining “Taxonomy”

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Yesterday I made the claim that a taxonomy cannot be defined by its shape, which is mostly how it does get defined eg “A taxonomy is a hierarchical arrangement of terms blah blah blah...”. I argued that taxonomies should be defined more by their purpose and use, less by the structural form they happen to take (which can vary according to circumstance).

What would a more useful definition be? To start with, we need to go back beyond Linnaeus and the rather narrow sense of “taxonomy” developed by biologists. Let’s go back to the Greek roots and see what they deliver.

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Apr 17

What Shape is a Taxonomy?

One of the big problems about taxonomies (there are many) is that we keep getting kicked back to the biological definition of what it should look like and how it’s structured. In particular we are told a taxonomy needs to have a hierarchical tree structure following some very strict rules about how each branch relates to its peers but particularly to the concepts above it.

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Mar 22

Inhibitions in Anecdote Circles

Last week, I conducted four anecdote circles for an organisation with whom we’re working. At the end of the 3rd, one of the participants came up to me and said that there were some things she’d have liked to share but she held back because she didn’t want to incriminate the characters in the anecdotes. I told her that she could share with me separately on another occasion.

Generally, we begin an anecdote circle by reassuring participants that anything they say within the circle will be kept within the circle, and nothing they share can be attributed to specific individuals. On one occasion, in an anecdote circle that my colleague Patrick Lambe facilitated, the participants made their reservations known right at the beginning of the anecdote circle, and Patrick then got all of them to promise one another that they would not repeat outside the room anything that was said inside. That worked out fine. But in my case, I was only aware of this reservations at the end of the circle. To think of all the good stories that the group had missed! Need to think of a better way to avoid this next time. Thought about doing what Patrick did, ie, making the participants promise each other discretion, but it seems too much of an overkill to do it right at the beginning of a circle when the participants haven’t quite warmed up. That might have the opposite effect of putting their backs up.

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