11 Introduction (II)

A set of resources is transformed by an organizing system when the resources are described or arranged to enable interactions with them. Explicitly or by default, this requires many interdependent decisions about the identities of resources; their names, descriptions and other properties; the classes, relations, structures and collections in which they participate; and the people or technologies interacting with them.

One important contribution of the idea of the organizing system is that it moves beyond the debate about the definitions of “things,” “documents,” and “information,” with the unifying concept of resource while acknowledging that “what is being organized” is just one of the questions or dimensions that need to be considered. These decisions are deeply intertwined, but it is easier to introduce them as if they were independent.

We introduce six groups of design questions, itemizing the most important dimensions in each group:

  • What is being organized? What is the scope and scale of the domain? What is the mixture of physical things, digital things, and information about things in the organizing system? Is the organizing system being designed to create a new resource collection, catalog an existing and closed resource collection, or manage a collection in which resources are continually added or deleted? Are the resources unique, or are they interchangeable members of a category? Do they follow a predictable “life cycle” with a “useful life”? Does the organizing system use the interaction resources created through its use, or are these interaction resources extracted and aggregated for use by another organizing system? (“What Is Being Organized?”)

  • Why is it being organized? What interactions or services will be supported, and for whom? Are the uses and users known or unknown? Are the users primarily people or computational processes? Does the organizing system need to satisfy personal, social, or institutional goals? (“Why Is It Being Organized?”)

  • How much is it being organized? What is the extent, granularity, or explicitness of description, classification, or relational structure being imposed? What organizing principles guide the organization? Are all resources organized to the same degree, or is the organization sparse and non-uniform? (“How Much Is It Being Organized?”)

  • When is it being organized? Is the organization imposed on resources when they are created, when they become part of the collection, when interactions occur with them, just in case, just in time, all the time? Is any of this organizing mandated by law or shaped by industry practices or cultural tradition? (“When Is It Being Organized?”)

  • How or by whom, or by what computational processes, is it being organized? Is the organization being performed by individuals, by informal groups, by formal groups, by professionals, by automated methods? Are the organizers also the users? Are there rules or roles that govern the organizing activities of different individuals or groups? (“How (or by Whom) Is It Organized?”)

  • Where is it being organized? Is the resource location constrained by design or by regulation? Are the resources positioned in a static location? Are the resources in transit or in motion? Does their location depend on other parameters, such as time? (“Where is it being Organized?”)

How well these decisions coalesce in an organizing system depends on the requirements and goals of its human and computational users, and on understanding the constraints and tradeoffs that any set of requirements and goals impose. How and when these constraints and tradeoffs are handled can depend on the legal, business, and technological contexts in which the organizing system is designed and deployed; on the relationship between the designers and users of the organizing system (who may be the same people or different ones); on the economic or emotional or societal purpose of the organizing system; and on numerous other design, deployment, and use factors.

Classifying organizing systems according to the kind of resources they contain is the most obvious and traditional approach. We can also classify organizing systems by their dominant purposes, by their intended user community, or other ways. No single fixed set of categories is sufficient by itself to capture the commonalities and contrasts between organizing systems.

We can augment the categorical view of organizing systems by thinking of them as existing in a multi-faceted or multi-dimensional design space in which we can consider many types of collections at the same time.

This framework for describing and comparing organizing systems overcomes some of the biases and conservatism built into familiar categories like libraries, museums, and archives, while enabling us to describe them as design patterns that embody characteristic configurations of design choices. We can then use these patterns to support inter-disciplinary work that cuts across categories and applies knowledge about familiar domains to unfamiliar ones. A dimensional perspective makes it easier to translate between category- and discipline-specific vocabularies so that people from different disciplines can have mutually intelligible discussions about their organizing activities. They might realize that they have much in common, and they might be working on similar or even the same problems.

A faceted or dimensional perspective acknowledges the diversity of instances of collection types and provides a generative, forward-looking framework for describing hybrid types that do not cleanly fit into the familiar categories. Even though it might differ from the conventional categories on some dimensions, an organizing system can be designed and understood by its family resemblance on the basis of its similarities on other dimensions to a familiar type of resource collection.

Thinking of organizing systems as points or regions in a design space makes it easier to invent new or more specialized types of collections and their associated interactions. If we think metaphorically of this design space as a map of organizing systems, the empty regions or “white space” between the densely-populated centers of the traditional categories represent organizing systems that do not yet exist. We can consider the properties of an organizing system that could occupy that white space and analyze the technology, process, or policy innovations that might be required to let us build it there. We can reason by analogy to identify and apply the principles used in one organizing system to understand or design others. [1]

  1. Depending on which characteristics of Google Books and libraries you think about, you might complete this analogy with an animal theme park like Sea World (http://www.seaworld.com/) or a private hunting reserve that creates personalized “big game” hunts. Or maybe you can invent something completely new.


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The Discipline of Organizing: 4th Professional Edition Copyright © 2020 by Robert J. Glushko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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