Posts Tagged ‘terminology’

Enric Plaza at the WebSci summer school

The talk was entitled ‘The Web of Human Experience’: I spent a lot of my doctorate looking at User Experience issues, so this was always going to interest me 🙂

Enric was interested in the reuse of other people’s experiences in the context of ‘case-based reasoning’ (learning from experience). Examples of relevant experiences include: a restaurant review; a music playlist; a ‘how to’ guide. The web is a good platform for sharing this kind of content, of course, but he felt that despite the a wealth of experience online, it isn’t modelled explicitly on the web. Additionally, we don’t necessarily understand how people browse, filter and use results.

Queries are, of course, deeply context-dependent: the answer to the question “Which are Barcelona’s airports?” depends on your purpose and community of practice — do you want to know about the tiny budget airport that’s miles out of town?

Similarly, queries such as “Which hotels in London have a room on these dates?” need different results depending on context: a business traveller is probably interested in the availability of wifi, while a family planning their vacation may be more interested in proximity to attractions and friendliness of staff. (I was a little surprised he didn’t touch on software agents as a possible approach here.)

He also spoke about implicit knowledge, which caught my attention as it links with my previous work. I think his meaning was different to my own, though: I  believe that by ‘implicit knowledge’ he meant knowledge embedded within a community, knowledge that only becomes explicit when multiple people share their indvidual insights.

So, if people constantly trawl the web in search of people’s experiences solving given problems, how can we represent, organise and reuse such content? I don’t think this is a universal problem: for instance, sites such as Tripadvisor provide pretty decent structures as a starting point when planning one’s travels. On the other hand, there really is a lot of unstructured information out there… maybe I need a software agent after all.

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Multidisciplinary fun: when words have different meanings

Speaking of disciplinary differences… I co-organised the panel at WebSci’11. We wanted to talk about locational technologies and their implications for privacy, the law and interation design. The panel, of course, was composed of people from different disciplines: two lawyers (Lilian Edwards and Judith Rauhofer) and two computer scientists (Derek McAudley and myself).

First thing’s first, the panel seemed to go down well — hooray! We received positive feedback and chatter on Twitter seemed happy, particularly with Judith’s presentation.

We ran into an interesting issue, though: having organised the panel months in advance, a mere 24 hours before kicking off I realised that when my co-organiser Lilian said ‘panel’ she meant a rather different beast to what I meant by the same word.

So, in law it turns out that panels don’t really open to the audience: the allocated time is split evenly between the panellists, who each give their piece (presumably responding to one another). By contrast, my understanding of a panel session is that each panellist will speak for a little while — say, five or at most ten minutes — giving their position and pertinent information, before opening to the audience for a general Q&A that will probably take at least half the allocated time.

In the event, of course, we came to a compromise: I think we as panellists spoke our piece for perhaps 40 minutes, before having 10 minutes for questions. For myself, I felt uncomfortable during that because I was concerned that the audience was going to be expecting what I had been expecting — the opportunity to really interact with us. There were a few confused tweets, although as I say, the panel appeared to go down well in general.

All’s well that ends well, then. Still, lesson learned: different disciplines have different vocabularies and assumptions. This is something I have been saying for years, and I still got tripped up by it! I shall take the experience as a gentle reminder about the challenges of working across disciplines.

$n-disciplinary: meaning(lessness) and competing terms

I stumbled across some blurb that included the word ‘transdisciplinary’ today. I’d already been thinking about the meaning of ‘interdisciplinary’ as opposed to ‘multidisciplinary’. In a typical “dear lazywebs” moment, I posed the question to Twitter: what is the difference?

Max Wilson was good enough to respond, remarking that to him, ‘inter’ is a point of union between disciplines, and ‘multi’ presumes many disciplines. So far, so good: interdisciplinary refers to the intertwingling of disciplines, multidisciplinary means drawing on techniques and views from multiple fields.

And transdisciplinary? I’m still not sure. Max pointed me to this PDF that provides definitions:

  • Multidisciplinary: relating to, or making use of several disciplines at once
  • Cross-disciplinary: coordinated effort involving two or more academic disciplines
  • Transdisciplinary: approaches that transcend boundaries of conventional disciplines
  • Interdisciplinary: combining two or more disciplines, fields of study or professions

I’m not convinced. I see multi and I see trans. But how is the above definition of cross-disciplinary meaningfully different from that of multidisciplinary? What does it mean to ‘transcend boundaries’ of conventional disciplines? How do people make these arbitrary decisions about which words to hyphenate, and have I repeated ‘disciplinary’ enough in this post that the word is beginning to lose meaning?