?> INFOMATTERS | Applying a Third Force to the Architecture of Information

More iSchools on the way?

Fresh from approving the latest additions to the iSchool community (59 now) and having already marked out 10th conference in Berlin earlier this year, the iSchool movement might be considered a success on all normal measures. Of course, having new members now whose faculty members a decade ago were somewhat dismissive of the whole movement is certainly one other measure of maturity, I suppose. More impressive, to me at least, is the sense that new schools are being created, not just re-badged. To this end, there are plans at the University of Arizona to create a new iSchool which I learned about earlier this year.  That process is ongoing but I was particularly intrigued to see the announcement this morning that University of Colorado-Boulder was creating a new college, for the first time in decades,  that certainly has iSchool credentials: the new College of Media, Communication and Information. Of course, I prefer a simpler name than one that strives not to exclude any existing community by piling them into one long monicker, but let’s not quibble (they could have added a few more given the planned departmental structure!).  The call for a new dean speaks directly to the need for interdisciplinary collaboration across it’s departmental units and an integrated curriculum as a hallmark of the new college. It’s rare to see new colleges formed but in this field, Indiana and Penn State have done it well. Given the units involved, I have every expectation that the Boulder initiative will offer a program of similar impact in due course, though the noticeable absence of any computational group suggests this program might not be like any other to date.

Perhaps more seriously, the connections between communications and information schools is one to consider. There are several such colleges in the US, formed through mergers motivated by efficiencies rather than intellectual synergies, and it must prove somewhat comforting to university administrators to lump smaller  independent units into larger singletons when finances are tight. However, while communications and information might appear natural bedfellows on some measures, there are some very real differences and both academic traditions are themselves somewhat odd entities often originally created from the assemblage of even smaller academic programs in previous, resource-challenged times.  If the barriers between communications and information scholars are fading, the question to ask is if this is a process that evolves from natural scholarly advances in our theories and methods for addressing human activities in the 21st century or if this is more often a sign that on the surface, these areas look so alike to administrators that they might as well lump them together. One suspects there are strong views on either side, but we rarely hear them expressed, at least publicly.   And for what it’s worth, don’t imagine I think that only one of these routes is the appropriate path – sometimes just putting groups together can have real and previously unimagined benefits if handled appropriately. We shall see.  In the meantime, I recommend everyone reads Andrew Abbott’s Chaos of Disciplines and applies those insights to the information field.






How to publish a paper in easy steps

It’s never been easier to be a scholar — just take a look at this invitation I received from a journal:

Dear Dillon, Andrew,

It’s a great honor to select out and read your article titled Inventing HCI: The grandfather of the field in INTERACTING WITH COMPUTERS from thousand of articles. The theme History; Brian Shackel; Foundations; Review of your article is very attractive. We wonder if you get any new progress of your research or do any new study in your research field.

Till now, there are totally 380 Special Issues with varied topics presented in SciencePG:


The interesting points here: That paper of mine they like so much, was a memorial piece for a former colleague. Hard to imagine that I would have new research progress on this. Further down the invitation I learn that if I agree to edit one of their journals, I can publish two papers FOR FREE. And wait, there’s more….I can publish further papers after this at a 30% discount. Ah yes, scholarship meets commerce, is this what people want when they ask academia to be more entrepreneurial?


Seven great ideas for writing research papers

Running my writing studio again this fall for iSchool doc students, I am always on the look out for good ideas or support material for writing. Most of the stuff out there is pretty harmless but not very useful either. Here’s a pleasant exception (though I do need to point out this is really about smaller conference papers) . Over to you, Professor Jones:

Laughing just to keep from crying?

I find the coverage in the US media of the awful conflict in Gaza to be depressingly unbalanced. Even NPR has difficulty getting the perspective of all sides and most TV news commentators seem far to willing to toe a soft line when it comes to asking hard questions. Seems others are thinking the same. Fascinatingly, this clip is the work of a comedic actor from the UK who is more than a little insightful in his commentary. Take it away, Russel Brand:

Snowden interviewed in the Guardian — listen and learn

Oops, no irony intended, I am sure.

Open access publication grows in acceptance?

Taylor and Francis have just released their second annual “Open Access Survey, June 2014,” which gauges scholars opinions toward open access publication. The results reveal growing belief that open access offers wider circulation and higher visibility than publication in a traditional subscription journal, though some residual doubts that citation impact follows accordingly. There is still some strength in the view that open access journals might be lower quality, and on top of it all, there seems little doubt in scholars’ minds that academic papers will still be the main output of research in 10 years time. Plus ca change?

Anyway, lots of interesting data points in the final report, some attempt at significance testing of trends across both years of the survey, but very little synthesis or analysis of the resulting data beyond bald reporting. But hey, that’s big data.

And the tweets go wild……

Twitter data offers another measure of fan behavior…..here’s the traffic picture when that second US goal went in last night…….

Frightening stuff at the Patients Privacy Rights Summit

In DC this week for the annual PPR Summit — and just when you think you’ve heard it all about breaches of privacy and our lack of control over our own data, each year there are new findings which reveal how low we have sunk.  A Utah police officer on a major data-fish downloading the prescription data for every employee in a paramedical group to see who is receiving what treatments in an effort to generate suspects in a possible minor loss of medication. Your own health data being sold and accessed every day is now a reality. Your searches on specific health issues being used to flag you as ‘concerned’ and therefore subject to targeted marketing and worse.  Lots of hot air from the White House about ethics and health data while simultaneously surveilling every citizen.

Depressing as the stories may be, the bigger problem seems to be finding common ground on solutions. I’m hearing a lot from lawyers and policy specialists but little from the perspective of the consumer like you and me, other than how negatively we are impacted. The law will prove important here but in one sense the genie is out of the bottle and it’s hard to see how ordinary people can engage in meaningful acts to control  their own data. I think the doctor-patient interface is going to be crucial but the complicated nature of the processes involved and the profits involved in capturing and mining this type of data presents some real challenges in designing better information systems.

Discussion and its absence: sometimes the reason is clear

I have wondered a lot since serving on the Board of ASIST why we have so little discussion among members or even across the information field of issues that matter to us. Sure we have more social media than ever but there is no obvious forum in our field for interested parties to share ideas or discuss topics of mutual interest in a constructive manner. What we do have are endless announcements about talks going on somewhere that we can’t be this week, or self-promotional puff pieces that seek to convince us that some person or school is really doing great things. Yes, it’s all part of the culture of being seen, the effort to create the illusion of quality, relevance and innovation.

I cannot say I was a huge fan but I was a subscriber to the daily digest from the JESSE list that arrived in all its rough-formatted glory in time for breakfast like a reminder of the last century. So I only realized it was not appearing when a colleague asked me about it. Only then did I discover, sadly, that the driver behind JESSE, Gretchen Whitney had died suddenly. That this rather more important piece of news did not hit my inbox sooner is disturbing but perhaps it came in a form I was not expecting. I am sorry to learn of Gretchen’s death, and dismayed that it seemed to get drowned out in the sea of data that washes over me every day. I used to enjoy her rather firm way of moderating some of the nonsense that occurred on the list. The absence of even this list now highlights even more the lack of online discussion we have in the universe of information. I hope someone steps up to take that list forward  so that Gretchen’s memory lives on and there is at least some continuity in our community’s record of discourse. I hope even more that we can find a way to talk intelligently about our field.

Daily Texan article picks up this blog

Digital media changes reading habits, according to UT professor


Andrew Dillon, dean and professor in the School of Information, has been conducting research that suggests the way people read online impacts their ability to comprehend texts on paper.

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