Friday, December 01, 2006

My 1994 spark!

Over the last ten years my friends and colleagues have asked me what was the spark that lead me into structuring collaboration and social network information. Here it is. I found the bar napkin!

Just before being acquired by Lotus in 1994, I was hired to help solve the problem of the collaboration breakdown emerging from too many Lotus Notes applications at Lotus, each with a different design and team practices confusing the users that belonged to many teams. It was then that I discussed the issue with Peter Rothstein, at a well-known bar by Lotus employees, and wrote this model on the bar napkin.

My idea was simple; if the information is the unpredictable variable, can the structure that wraps it be structured? I then proposed that information in context needed to be associated with four vectors that will be the foundation for organization, reporting and access. The assumption and vector analogy was particularly provocative when one or more vectors were left undefined, thus causing the information to be out of context. It is with this model in mind that I created TeamRoom, a standard template for collaboration where each team would define their terminology in these four dimensions (what we describe today as taxonomy and tagging). I later used the same inspiration to create a Contextual Navigator in InterCommunity in 1996. The object tags where used to assemble a portal designed to support collaboration and communication for communities of interest. The model was then recycled in IBM's Websphere in 1998.

Today I am still inspired by this initial model and continue to build solutions that leverage tag clouds with multiple dimensions. But to be completely honest the inspiration of the napkin came from my understanding of a brilliant product that died by 1990; Lotus Agenda. Thanks to Mitch Kapor!


Mikel said...

This is very cool. Also very impressive tht you were able to hold on to, and find the napkin!

Peter said...

I remember when you did this drawing. This was ahead of its time. Now it's all about context. You got that right. Kudos to you.