Why I’m an information scientist
- I believe that information is one of the most powerful phenomena. The ability to access and utilize information can help to overcome obstacles and solve problems. I want to make information more readily available to all people.There are many ways of providing access to information:
- Through better information systems, including information retrieval systems. Thus, IR is one of my main research areas.
- By providing the means of accessing information. Computer & information literacy training is therefore a big part of my curriculum interests at UNC. I also worked to bring about better information access via Prairienet (a community computing system) and iBiblio.
- By actually creating information availability — authoring Web pages and articles and providing unrestricted access. I also work with Project Gutenberg to provide free electronic books (over 100 new [generally pre-1923] books per month).
Major themes in my research
- A long-term goal for information systems, including information retrieval systems, is exosomatic memory. Exosomatic memory is externally held memory, through use of some sort of (computer) system. In order to function as exosomatic memory, IR systems must be so good so that retrieving information is like remembering.
- Long-standing interest in information visualization, especially navigable information systems. Visualization can help understanding of data, especially large data sets. I believe there are good opportunities for visualization to improve IR performance.
- Information security and privacy is an underlying theme. IR is about control over information — if we had perfect IR systems (aka, exosomatic memory), we would presumably also be able to determine which information we have is INappropriate for making available. Consistently with David Brin’s proposal of a “transparent society,” I believe that there are two very important problems with our approach to information security (apart from the problem that not enough people care or understand it):
- Many things are kept secret that should not be. The cost of secrecy is high, and often serves no purpose. (See Robert Steele’s writings, such as his White Papers and Testimony to the President on eliminating excessive secrecy.
- Greater access to all types of data is good. Things that we might consider secret, such as our health and financial information, would be boring and mundane if everyone’s data were equally available.
The papers for today (from my Vita
- Empirical Study of a 3D Visualization for Information Retrieval Tasks. Can people use a new 3D point-cloud system to navigate search engine results? Maybe. System familiarity and the interface usability are important factors.
- Cognitive Space and Information Space. In heading towards exosomatic memory, this paper examines a statistical method for measuring cognitive space (people’s perceptions) and approximating those measurements through analysis of artifacts (creating information space). This seemed to work!
- The Strong Cognitive Stance. What happens if we treat information as the outcome of interaction with “data” (aka, “stimuli”) in the environment, rather than treating the information as something contained in the stimuli? Answer: We change our approach to information systems, to desiring systems that bring about the desired information in users.