Monday, April 25, 2005

Evolution in the Geekwave, pt. 1.

I originally wrote the passage below before seeing this BBC article...

E-mail is the new database

...but now I figure I can tie them together in one big post.

I started thinking about Things that were useful when the geek ruled the net, but that have fallen into more "disuse" now. This post concentrates on the first of those - Formatted e-mail responses. i.e. taking the time to structure a reply to an e-mail, inserting responses where relevant, snipping irrelevant text, and adding "topic reminders" if felt necessary. I've noticed that over the last few years, generally only those that have been around the net for a while now continue to do this. Few others do.

Why is this?

People top-post. Because of 2 reasons, I think:

a. 99% of conversations are real-time, and people tend to read from the beginning and post instantly. The current state of the thread is all in their head, and replies are made in response to the last post, which is also in their head. Is there some reason why people respond to things "on the whole" as opposed to particular points one-by-one?

b. People don't think about conversations in a context outside of the one in which they're replying. They're not generally aware that people may or may not be looking at random points of the conversation in months or years to come. I think *this* may also boil down to 2 reasons:

i. People aren't used to searching through conversations. Why should they be? For most of history, it hasn't been viable to store conversations for long periods, and as such, stored (and thus searchable) documents tend to be about the facts, rather than who said what. Even today, I suspect that Google web search is used much much more than Google Groups.

ii. People's conversations tend less to be about practical information, i.e. the kind of information that people would want to refer to. You may want to find out who said what at a particular time, but not (generally) about a particular fact. Other mechanisms are generally rammed into place to otherwise keep track, more formally, of the _fact_ obtained from conversation.

So people tend not to in-line reply, as it doesn't fit in with their _contextual_ view of either the conversation, or the information within the conversation.

Do we need a different way of organising our conversations? I seem to think so. So does Phil, although I think our techniques (and goals) differ a little bit. Certainly nobody else seems particularly concerned about it, so I hereby flag it as something that'll come out of the current investments in knowledge organisation...

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