Commune with Information!


Marshall, C. Toward an ecology of hypertext annotation, Proc ACM Hypertext 1998, 40–49.

Kumiyo Nakakoji, Yasuhiro Yamamoto, Shingo Takada, and Brent N. Reeves. Two-dimensional spatial positioning as a means for reflection in design, Proc DIS 2000, 145–154.

Webb, A., Kerne, A., Promoting reflection and interpretation in education: curating rich bookmarks as information composition, Proc ACM Creativity and Cognition, 2013, 53–62.

I took the liberty to change the word ‘Interaction’ to ‘Commune’ in the title because I felt that the authors of these beautiful papers given in the readings have found a level of exchanging thoughts and responsibilities between the users and information that is far beyond just plain interaction. Their work seems to give life to the usually inanimate heaps of information in such a way that information itself motivates its consumers to become producers of richer new ideas and information!

Did any of the stuff we see around us today from the moment we wake up in the morning exist since the inception of mankind’s journey? No, right? So how did all of this come into existence? Because over the years people realized their needs , reflected upon those thoughts and realizations, and put together chunks of whatever was around them to create something new, something better every time.

All they had, and all we still have to make something bigger and better are pieces of that whole, scattered around for us to find the association between them and put them together!

As is said the paper Promoting reflection and interpretation in education: curating rich bookmarks as information composition, we reflect, looking over the building blocks that constitute a space of ideas, contextualizing with processes including tasks, activities, and one’s internal thinking and meditating, and deriving new understanding, known as interpretation. We reflect on the interpretations, constructing relationships that connect the ideas. And as interpretations are a subjective sensory experience and are not predefined, it can be different for different people,different in different situations, different when linked with different sets of ideas. This is what aids creative design.This paper introduces the idea of rich bookmarks which have also been implemented in the software InfoComposer, wherein I could create a mache of images and at the same time get necessary in-context metadata details about the images to support in the process of extending the web of ideas further to other areas that could be related to it. What I liked about this process is that the I could weave the web of ideas with images. I feel images always leave room for some imagination unlike text which seems more explicit. A piece of text by its inherent nature fixes a definite idea or interpretation , whereas an image presents a context with a only a slight constraint such that it expresses what it has to say , but also has the capacity to project onto something outside itself. Having the seemingly unrelated images laid out in front somehow fuels ideas regarding the possible relationships between the different concepts represented by the images, thus giving rise to possibilities that I had not even imagined earlier. Another interesting concept that I came by in this paper is ‘reflection in curation’ which is a very important aspect in designing as the designer acts and reflects almost simultaneously; acting, interpreting and reacting to the evolving design. I think IdeaMache is also a beautiful implementation of this concept.

In the paper Two-dimensional spatial positioning as a means for reflection in design the authors use a two dimensional space to allow writers to play around with chunks of data until they find a satisfactory representation of how the ideas expressed in those chunks are connected to each other. Position of the chunks have played two major roles in this concept. Position as a state allows the user to reflect on his previous actions by reflecting on the properties of the chunks like size or spatial distance between two chunks ,thus allowing reflection in action. Position as an action refers to what the user does to achieve the state of position of state, like for example the action of enlarging the size of a chunk or relocating it from one position to another.

As they can keep modifying their creation along the process by changing the spatial positioning, they do not feel the need of committing to a fixed pattern as is the case with usual text editors. They can represent the current state of their mind without verbalizing or formalizing the state , just like an artist does while sketching on a piece of paper. This way as the writer works on his creation, he can reflect upon his intermediate state and this will further give him new ideas on how to proceed.

Also when a user reflects back on a creation, he enjoys the freedom of interpreting the arrangement as he wants as there are no explicitly defined relationships. The same positioning may indicate different relationships to different users and in different situations, thus leaving room for emergence of new ideas through varied interpretations.

In the paper Toward an ecology of hypertext annotation, the authors stress on the importance of annotations as it is the essence of collaborative hypertext.

Most digital textual systems in use today equip us well for the initial design of a hypertext, but not much effort has been put towards developing a system that allows easy annotation of an existing material. This severely limits interaction of the users with the content of the text.

Annotations create the possibility for the users to wander through the text, collect related information, organize their thoughts regarding the content, interpret the content in their unique ways, and finally mark in what they gather; thereby reflecting the user’s engagement with the text. They provide the bridge between reading and writing as the users commune with their documents which again I feel are cases of reflection on action and reflection in action respectively. However the most interesting question I came across in this piece of reading was if annotations were helpful or distracting? What would be the perfect balance between the needs of students who prefer taking the dirty books which had more marginalia and others who would prefer pristine new copies of the book for them to have fresh new ideas, uninfluenced by users of that text before.

I feel the connection between the contents of all these three readings is that all of them are trying to promote the use visual semantics for development of new and varied interpretations and ideas , as it doesn’t require an explicit formalizing from the user but gives the user the freedom to have a reflective conversation with his curation. Though mentioned in one of the papers , I think the idea of reflection in action and reflection on action holds true for all of them. Both reflection in action and reflection through curation denotes the reflective processes that take place while he is curating or drawing or externalizing representations. The emerging and changing shapes and contents “talk back” to a designer, who simultaneously talks back to the material by changing representations, such as adding a circle or thickening a line or adding a new image, text or annotation . Reflection-on-action is the reflective processes that happens when a designer sees a resulting representation. In the latter reflection, the designer is not doing anything constructive in the design space. The designer is simply looking at the representation and reflecting on it and interpreting it ways that gives rise to new ideas.