A Year under the Volcano

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
18 September, 2018
Editorial: 239
Fecha de publicación original: 31 octubre, 2000

Learn young, learn fair

When Ramana Rao displayed Yahoo on screen to participants at enredando’s I One Day Conference, it brought home very clearly to us all that the road to information management is a long and winding one – and that the journey has only just begun. Ramana, Inxight’s energetic and cultured vice-president, had just shown us the normal web page of the most famous search engine on the Internet, with its habitual directory divided into different subjects and services, when, all of a sudden, he turned it into a hyperbolic tree. The entire content of the last six years of Yahoo’s work, all its data bases created since the birth of the WWW, unfolded on a single screen divided into branches and then smaller twigs, all of them navigable, which branched into ever smaller ramifications at the touch of the mouse until they reached the necessary information. In that instant, the objective of enredando’s I One Day Conference – to show next generation information technologies – had already been totally fulfilled. This was also reflected in the feedback on the questionnaire handed out to the audience.

Rao, born in India but American by adoption, has a sponge-like capacity for absorbing world literature. He can jump with the same ease and depth from Japanese to Latin American literature, from the European classics of the last century to contemporary African. And he has very definite opinions on them all. So, having seen his hyperbolic tree it came as no surprise to me that his favourite author was Jorge Luis Borges and that “the only writer of philosophical literature” had inspired him to develop the technology he showed us at the Conference. Curious how paths forked and where they lead. As we have so often said in these editorials, you never know who you are working for, and even less so in this networked age. Borges would have been delighted to know that his writing had helped someone of Indian origin manage the great virtual library.

Nonetheless, the hyperbolic tree was just a foretaste of what was to come at one of the most fascinating sessions on the Internet I have had the pleasure to attend. And I have been to quite a lot of them over the last 10 years, on several continents. The audacity of the technologies on display, as well as the high standard of debate kept the audience in a state of heightened curiosity for more than 11 hours – no mean feat. And as the questionnaires they completed showed, they were only too keen to repeat the experience as soon as possible. The speakers were very highly rated and expectations 85% fulfilled (what a pity they didn’t say what the other 15% consisted of!). Moreover, 67% said they wanted to subscribe to en.jornad@ and 90% suggested topics for the next conference thereby assuming that it would take place.

And, of course, they are right. We have been planning just this over the last few weeks and hope to bring another select group of experts and researchers working on cutting edge next generation information technology and online knowledge management to Barcelona next October. As soon as speakers have confirmed their attendance, we will be able to announce the topics to be discussed which will maintain a certain continuity with the spirit of the meeting we have just held and described in full detail by Karma Peiró in her article “Cinco visiones diferentes de gestionar la información” (Five different views of knowledge management).

The Conference helped us understand something which we have been insisting on over the last few years despite what many people (some of them posing as gurus) claim, and that is that there is not an excess of information on the Internet. Instead, as David Lantrip said in his ThemeScape presentation, a lack of information systems capable of synthesising complete areas of activity which can be used intuitively in the “automatic navigation mode”. Sort of like what goes on in a city.

If we were to display the textual and graphic information contained in the multiple systems that make up the urban complex (and there is really a lot of information here, much more than a mere 2,000 million web pages) we would not be able to capture and display it in a comprehensible and usable form. We would be constantly knocked down by cars which would be something like encyclopaedias on wheels. Nevertheless, we have developed very advanced information systems, from traffic lights to the multiplicity of symbolic languages and other abstractions that allow us to function within the urban context with the ease of people who have been sucking up the city in our feeding bottles since we were infants.

This is what the Internet does not yet have and what we caught a glimpse of at en.red.ando’s I One Day Conference. From the hyperbolic tree to Cartia’s maps, through to Semio’s taxonomies and MIT’s wearable computers, we were shown a series of very discreet, intuitive but nonetheless extremely powerful technologies, capable of encapsulating huge quantities of information and distributing it bit by bit to suit the needs of each situation and the knowledge demands of each user. And what we saw is just the beginning.

But as the person with the dagger up his sleeve said, “The King is dead! Long live the King!”. So, the online phase of the II Conference begins in en.jornad@. We have a year to turn this en.medi@ into an important reference point on online knowledge management and bring together a knowledge community to prepare the II Conference on the basis of their participation in the debates and the exchange of documents. As those who are subscribed to en.jornad@ are already experiencing, things are moving and shaking and we hope to convert this energy into an earthquake which will bring about an eruption of intelligence and knowledge in October 2001.

Speakers at the enredando’s I One Day Conference.

Ramana Rao (Inxight), Claude Vogel (Semio), Patrizia Marti (Universidad de Siena), David Lantrip (Cartia) y Luis Angel Fernández Hermana (en.red.ando). Flavia Sparacino is not in the picture because she delivered her talk from MIT via a videoconference.

Translation: Bridget King