Visual Collections for Sharing and Collaboration

Since a few months there is a big trend on the web: visualisation of data and information. It is definitely not a new trend, though it is accelerating fast; new tools like have been launched and Pinterest has developed to the third most popular social sharing tool in 2012. Why is this the trend happening, and what can we learn from it in the context of knowledge sharing and social collaboration?

In our current world two things are happening: we are exposed to much more data and information; and we are overwhelmed with these with an increasing speed. Pictures, photos, illustrations, visualisations are not only eye-catching but also help us to grasp the content much faster. In the past, overviews of news have been a simple list of headlines. Illustrations help readers to make quick (not necessarily right) decisions to jump to an article or not. Many tools take advantage of that and two show-cases are Pulse News and Google Currents.

What does this mean for knowledge management and social collaboration?

Myself, I have started using Stacks on; I chose this tool mainly because I already use Delicious for managing my bookmarks and it’s neatly integrated. The stacks display the links in two columns with a paragraph of text plus a photo if available; actually, it looks more like a newspaper than a boring list of links. Please find here an example I have created: the User Adoption stack. This design is much more attractive for our target audience and they will be more willing to continue reading; that is the reason why we should create collections in this way.

Some time back Maish wrote and article about designing collections for the web and I really like the four objectives of collections mentioned: make it easy to contribute, easy to find items; allow grouping of existing and the discovery of new items. Illustrations help especially with the finding and the discovery of news. The people’s visual eye will quickly respond to the items they are most interested in; even before they start reading the headline itself. On the other hand, categorisation help to achieve the other two objectives, contributing and grouping.

Via the status updates, users of social collaboration tools can quickly share links to interesting articles, documents and other resources. This is great sharing and a source of a wealth of interesting information. Though, just a few weeks later it is surprisingly difficult to retrieve these links which could be for example very valuable for people joining a team. Next to the news feed, we should also focus on creating collections of links that are relevant for a certain topic; these collections could be “wiki pages” of links; “wiki” in the sense that a group of people are curating the content and maintaining the links. The links in these collections can be anything from intranet pages, policies, discussion threads, manuals, presentations, people profiles and additional resources from the public web like articles, online tools, etc. To make these link collections attractive, we should use tools that present them in a useful design and make (re-)discovery simple and fast.

In which scenarios could we use these visual link collections? Here some ideas: