The information snowflake - consuming, collating, commenting, collaborating and creating
We spend a lot of time at Synop thinking about information and what happens to it. Richard and Nathan last year came up with a fairly sophisticated but elegantly simple model of the lifecycle of content. This grew out of our experiences in trying to model workflow and activities over content in the context of Sytadel, our CMS product. I'll leave them to write about the full model when appropriate.
However, as I've got some meetings coming up where I need to explain how Sauce Reader (in combination with weblogs) can bring value to an organisation, I've been writing some explanations for the different activities that are involved with information, and thought they might be of wider interest.
We bucket the activities into 5 distinct areas, each of which may be supported (or not) by an information tool. I've created some icons to represent these different areas. This figure is from the perspective of some information - a data-centric view.
Figure 1 - information activies.
Inspired by Peter Morville's User Experience Honeycomb, I've also created an information snowflake, which represents the facets of the user's experience when acting on information. This is a user or activity-centric view, and as such the user is at the heart of the diagram.
Figure 2 - The information snowflake - facets of a user's information experience
A quick explanation of each facet is in order.
- Consuming. We typically start by consuming information. There are many more information consumers than information creators in the world. The huge success of web browsers testifies to the importance of this versus the number of web logging tools. Human beings are chronic information consumers, probably for genetic reasons as it's the key to our survival.
- Collating. Once we consume more than one lot of information, we start sorting and collating it. We put different pieces of information together which are related or relevant to each other. This arises from our own mental models and associations. Thus my collations of information may look very different from yours. For example, I file a collection of notes into my OneNote repository of ideas for future blog entries. When I want to write a new entry, I can always look there for inspiration. More sophisticated forms of collating involve active editing of the information as it is stitched together.
- Commenting. Whether it's just one lot of information or whether we collate many, there will be many circumstances in which we wish to add our own comments to it. Comments help us to remember why we thought the information was useful/relevant/interesting/choose-your-own-adjective. They may also be applied (semi)publicly to other people's information. For example, think weblog comments or the ticks and crosses and remarks from your supervisor on your assignment.
- Collaborating. Most of us are highly social individuals, and communicate widely with our friends, our colleagues, and people who work in organisations we do business with. Often we will collaborate to produce new information. That can be very formal, passing a document backwards and forwards with MS Word's Track Changes facility on to see what has happened as new material is added or removed. Or it can be very informal, scrawling design notes together on a paper napkin over dinner. We may just wish to share information with a friend, and send them a link to an article using email that we'd like them to read.
- Creating. Lastly, we create completely unique new information. We may write a blog entry, a journal article, or a press release. Many of us do this every day. And so the cycle continues, because someone else is likely to consume this information we've just created, someone else may collate it, or make comments, or collaborate with it.
By looking at each of these facets, we can start to understand our own use of information or that of other people. Where are the flaws or weaknesses in our own information snowflake? Why would a new information tool help us to process each facet more effectively? When designing a tool that crosses facets, how can we minimise the disruption between user experiences of each activity? Which facets are we particularly good at? Which could be improved?
By breaking down the activities of handling information into these facets, we provide a clearer lens with which to view the multitude of ways we interact with information each and every day.