In my review of Keeping Found Things Found, I mentioned that I might want to check out some of the sources cited. Ambient Findability by Peter Morville was one of those books that appeared often in the footnotes, so I thought I’d check it out.
Ambient Findability is a brief and entertaining survey of search technologies and information architecture. In seven chapters, the author describes the current state of the art in fields of decision science, interaction design, and information architecture. He also speculates on where some of these technologies might take us in the future.
The central idea of the book is that we now live in an information-soaked environment. Advances in communications and information technology allow us to store and share far more information than in the past. As our tools and techniques for dealing with this flood of information improve, revolutionary new applications will emerge.
Most of these applications will enable near-instant access to volumes of information from wherever we are: Ambient Findability.
In the three decades since the invention of the personal computer, we’ve seen some amazing new products and services come into existence. Some of these are incremental improvements over existing technology. Shopping via the Internet is really just an improved version of shopping via mail-order catalog, for example. But some of these have led to completely new ways of doing things.
The best parts of Ambient Findability trace the evolution of these technologies to the current state of the art. You can read about early experiments, failed approaches, and the innovations that seem to have lasting power. This is the bulk of the book, so it’s definitely a worthy edition to your shelf if you’re interested in these topics.
The places where the author gets into trouble is where he tries to extrapolate from the current state of the art into the types of things we might see in the future. It’s these parts where Peter’s enthusiasm for the technologies lets him get carried away.
Sure, GPS is becoming a standard feature on our cell phones. And yes, it’s possible to implant GPS chips into our pets. And smart phones get smaller and more energy efficient every year. But I can’t imagine that I would want to go through surgery to embed a PDA-like device under my skin.
Then again, I can’t imagine getting a tattoo either, so maybe I’m just not cut out to be a cyborg.
One thing is for certain: the coming years will bring a lot of experimentation. We’ll slowly find out, through trial and error, what works and what doesn’t. It’ll take a while before we figure out the best ways to surf the information superhighway. (And maybe even longer to come up with sensible metaphors to describe the experience!)
Flights of fancy aside, Peter makes a great case that the Information Age is a technological revolution. It will profoundly change society, just like the Industrial Revolution did. And while the revolution thunders on, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the future will bring.