Peter Morville

President and Founder, Semantic Studios

Ambient Findability
46 minutes, 21.4mb, recorded 2006-03-07
Peter Morville

Findability is the quality of an object (be it a physical object, a person, or a bit of data) to be locatable and navigable. While larger than the concept of search on the Internet, nevertheless this talk by Peter Morville from the 2006 O'Reilly Emerging Technology conference deals principally with issues of search over the web. Findability is largely a problem of information architecture, a subject with which Morville is highly familiar. Information Architecture, in Morville's view, is a blend of art and science, and is largely practiced by people who never use the term: designers, engineers, product managers, and marketers among them.

Google has raised our expectations of search, but many aspects of searching the web still leave a lot to be desired. Site search, or the ability to find things within a specific site, is a particularly thorny problem. Morville suggests that, among other things we should "Embrace the genius of the 'And'," and provide multiple paths to access the same information as well as give users tools to reduce their result set and guide them to the next step of their search. This last is especially important because searches evolve as they progress and many users, especially information workers, learn through the process of search. Morville further notes that information architects need to have one foot in the past and one in the future and must be aware that they're designing the legacy information architectures of the future.

Ambient findability can be defined as the capacity to find anything or anyone from any where at any time. While achieving this ability isn't necessarily possible or desirable, we are getting closer to it all the time. Standing "at the crossroads between the Internet and ubiquitous computing," ambient findability raises serious privacy concerns, and Morville asks what tools we have that will help us navigate these issues. After discussing a few ambient devices, such as tools to monitor the size of your inbox or the state of your stock portfolio and to notify your of substantial changes, Morville mentions his favorite scare tactic, a device that will track the location of one's children and provide a history of where they've been. Interestingly, Morville notes, while this device brings up serious privacy concerns that today's laws cannot address, the customer comments all focus on the fact that it doesn't work well enough.

Peter Morville is president and founder of Semantic Studios, a leading information architecture, user experience, and findability consultancy. Peter is widely recognized as a father of the information architecture field, and he serves as a passionate advocate for the critical role that findability plays in defining the user experience. Peter holds an advanced degree in library and information science from the University of Michigan's School of Information, where he now serves on the faculty. His work has been featured in many publications including Business Week, The Economist, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal.


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