10 Organizing This Book

Devising concepts, methods, and technologies for describing and organizing resources have been essential human activities for millennia, evolving both in response to human needs and to enable new ones. Organizing Systems enabled the development of civilization, from agriculture and commerce to government and warfare. Today Organizing Systems are embedded in every domain of purposeful activity, including research, education, law, medicine, business, science, institutional memory, sociocultural memory, governance, public accountability, as well as in the ordinary acts of daily living.

With the World Wide Web and ubiquitous digital information, along with effectively unlimited processing, storage and communication capability, millions of people create and browse websites, blog, tag, tweet, and upload and download content of all media types without thinking “I am organizing now” or “I am retrieving now.” Writing a book used to mean a long period of isolated work by an author followed by the publishing of a completed artifact, but today some books are continuously and iteratively written and published through the online interactions of authors and readers. When people use their smart phones to search the web or run applications, location information transmitted from their phone is used to filter and reorganize the information they retrieve. Arranging results to make them fit the user’s location is a kind of computational curation, but because it takes place quickly and automatically we hardly notice it.

Likewise, almost every application that once seemed predominantly about information retrieval is now increasingly combined with activities and functions that most would consider to be information organization. Google, Microsoft, and other search engine operators have deployed millions of computers to analyze billions of web pages and millions of books and documents to enable the almost instantaneous retrieval of published or archival information. However, these firms increasingly augment this retrieval capability with information services that organize information in close to real-time. Further, the selection and presentation of search results, advertisements, and other information can be tailored for the person searching for information using his implicit or explicit preferences, location, or other contextual information.

Taken together, these innovations in technology and its application mean that the distinction between information organization and information retrieval that is often manifested in academic disciplines and curricula is much less important than it once was.

This book has few sharp divisions between information organization (IO) and information retrieval (IR) topics. Instead, it explains the key concepts and challenges in the design and deployment of Organizing Systems in a way that continuously emphasizes the relationships and tradeoffs between IO and IR. The concept of the Organizing System highlights the design dimensions and decisions that collectively determine the extent and nature of resource organization and the capabilities of the processes that compare, combine, transform and interact with the organized resources.


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