» Archive for February, 2011

Information Overload Stories

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 by Jonathan Spira
Is there a larger umbrella anywhere?

Is there a larger umbrella anywhere?

Overload!, my soon-to-be published book, won’t end on the last physical page.  Overload! Stories, the online component of the book, will continue its mission and will be a place where knowledge workers can share their own experiences and stories about Information Overload.  The site will be an online salon for discussion, research updates, and community support around this issue.

If you would like to contribute your story in advance of the book’s publication and launch of the Web site, please e-mail it to me at stories@basex.com.  We are looking for two- to three-paragraph stories about how Information Overload has impacted you and/or your organization and what you are doing to combat the problem.

Here are a few excerpts from stories we’ve already received:

There is more information than I can consume so it can be difficult to know if I am paying the right attention to the right information at any time.  The main concern is am I missing something crucial to the whole to produce a higher quality result.  Also, it can be easy to begin following the trail of something of interest which, although it may help develop new skills, can pull me away from the immediate.  It’s an inner tug-of-war. – Dawn, Data Project Specialist.

A huge part of my job is sifting through the vast amount of information available looking for nuggets that might give us an advantage in our pursuits.  On those days, it’s all just what I do — I read, I pursue links, web search tidbits, email for clarification, for hours on end.  However, when I’m in a highly focused “gotta get this presentation put together on deadline” mode, it’s an annoyance.  I deal with that by scanning my inbox every hour or so and only opening notes that I believe are of urgency.  -Stanley, CTO

My biggest internal problem is the desire to know everything, which leads me to follow links that aren’t specifically helpful to the tasks I need to get done in the short term.  In fact, even if I were to think of the information I’d uncovered and decide to find it again … I wouldn’t know how to.  – Margaret, President

Please send us your stories – we look forward to reading them.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Watson Puts the Current State of Search in Jeopardy

Thursday, February 17th, 2011 by Jonathan Spira

Does anyone have a map?

Is the robot apocalypse closer than originally thought?  After watching IBM’s Watson computer crush Jeopardy’s all-star contestants this week, one must surely wonder.

More to the point, what are the various practical applications of Watson now that its dominance, at least as a quiz-show contestant on “Jeopardy!”, is unquestioned?

Watson was designed by IBM researchers, who suggested the idea of a “Jeopardy!” challenge because they considered the game show to be an excellent test of a computer’s ability to understand information expressed using natural language.

Watson could neither see nor hear, nor was it actually on the stage; an avatar that resembled a giant iPad represented it there.  Watson received all of its information electronically in the form of text at the same point at which the human contestants saw the answer.

Not surprisingly, the computer power behind Watson took up most of a large room and, due to the heat generated by the IBM servers, required extensive cooling as well.

Competing on “Jeopardy!” is a huge challenge, even for the most intelligent and well-read individual.  The provided answers are sometimes vague, make use of clever word play, and require extensive knowledge of a vast range of topics, from history and current events to art and pop culture.  Entering the clues into a standard search engine would result in complete failure.

Far from being a simple search tool, Watson is designed to use natural language processing and thousands of algorithms to understand the phrasing, grammar, and intent of a question, and then find the answer that has the highest probability of being correct.  Just as human players must rely on their own knowledge, Watson uses a content library of thousands of documents, reference materials, encyclopedias, books, and plays and is not connected to the Internet or other online databases.

Let’s look at a few of the questions that Watson had difficulty answering.

On Monday, the first day of the match, Watson was incorrect in the category “Olympic Oddities”, when the provided answer was “It was the anatomical oddity of U.S. gymnast George Eyser who won a gold medal on the parallel bars in 1904.”

Watson responded “leg”, which was ruled incorrect because Watson did not specify that it was the lack of Eyser’s leg that was the oddity.  David Ferrucci, the manager of the Watson project at IBM Research, explained that Watson might not have understood “oddity,” and “The computer wouldn’t know that a missing leg is odder than anything else.”  He also noted that given enough time to absorb more material, Watson would probably make that connection.

Another interesting incorrect response (in the form of a question) occurred Tuesday night.

In the category U.S. Cities, the provided answer was “Its largest airport was named for a World War II hero; its second largest, for a World War II battle.”  Watson incorrectly wrote “What is Toronto”, while both humans correctly wrote “What is Chicago,” referencing O’Hare and Midway airports.  The problem for Watson, according to Ferrucci, was that Watson had learned that the categories in the show often have weak relationships to the questions, and thus Watson placed only a weak emphasis on “U.S. Cities”.  In addition, he noted that there are cities in the U.S. named Toronto, and that Toronto has an American League Baseball team, all snippets of information that may have led Watson astray.  Watson only gave “Toronto” a 32% of being correct, and only bet $947, a tiny sum that did not expose it to the risk of losing its lead in the game.

Despite a few other missteps and miscues Watson dominated the matches played displaying an amazing ability to understand what was being asked and to quickly respond correctly.

How did Watson reach a final response?  Watson considered thousands of possibilities and ranked them.  The top three were displayed, with the probability it assigned to each.  That would be a welcome addition to a Google search, an honest appraisal of how likely each result was of being correct, or even better, its usefulness.

With Watson, at least on “Jeopardy!”, we moved one step closer to the type of search envisaged in science fiction (“Computer.  Does the king of the Watusis drive an automobile?”).  We won’t have the computer from Star Trek here tomorrow, or even next year, but the technology developed for Watson does bring us that much closer to developing search tools that will resolve search’s Achilles heel, the fact that it delivers results as opposed to answers.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.  Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

More Information on Information Overload

Thursday, February 10th, 2011 by Cody Burke

Did anyone see where I put that survey form?

Our current survey focuses on the personal sources of Information Overload that knowledge workers deal with, as well as the specific actions that individuals and organizations are undertaking to deal with the problem.

The survey is ongoing but some of our preliminary findings are quite interesting, and worth sharing:

By far the greatest perceived cause of Information Overload is e-mail, with over 66% of the votes for the number one cause being for e-mail.
The second largest source is a dead tie between interruptions and social networking sites, both at 20%.
Rounding out the top four is required reading (online and offline) at 23%.

We are also seeing trends emerging when we ask what the greatest enabler of Information Overload in the last two years has been.  Many respondents are selecting “Access to greater amounts information” as both the number one, and the number two factors.  This is interesting because many people who did not select it as their number one choice went on to select it as their second choice, reflecting the scale of the problem.

Thus far, we are also seeing a clear favorite method of reducing Information Overload.  When asked what the number one thing that could be done in their organization to combat Information Overload was, over 50% of the responses were to send fewer e-mail messages.

We would like to share our favorite comment from a survey taker with you.  When asked what would help reduce Information Overload, he said the following: “Have someone else read everything for me”.

A nice thought, but wishful thinking.

Please help combat Information Overload by taking this important survey ( http://www.basex.com/io1110 ).  We will provide a new update on our findings soon.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Lotus Gets Social

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011 by Cody Burke

How do we connect the dots?

The talking points at this year’s Lotusphere were all about people, people, and people.  The official tagline of “Get Social. Do Business” was tempered with an emphasis on remembering that the point of social activity is not just sharing and moving documents around, but allowing individuals to communicate more effectively with one another.

The buzz word for the new generation of Lotus products is “Next.”  The gist of Next is that IBM is taking a set of social features developed in Project Vulcan (the company’s collaboration, business analytics, and aggregation user experience initiative) and applying them to the core products, namely Notes and Domino, Sametime, Connections, and LotusLive.  The underlying idea is to build a platform that incorporates various social features such as activity streams, content sharing, and automated suggestions of relevant content, people, and groups or communities.

Additionally, the new features and interfaces will be standardized across the offerings, to create more symmetry between the Notes desktop and browser-based tools such as LotusLive.  They will also include new calendaring features such as the ability for non-chairs to edit calendar entries.  The Next group of offerings will move into beta later this year.

Here is a quick look at the major collaboration and knowledge sharing announcements coming out of Lotusphere:

Activity Stream Clients for Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, and Nokia
This set of clients will bring the new and refined activity stream functionality to mobile devices, and allow users to take action on items without leaving the mobile environment, a concept that extends to the other announcements, and is referred to by IBM as “embedded experience.”

LotusLive Symphony
This cloud-based release of the company’s office productivity suite will feature real-time co-authoring, in-line commenting, presence integration, the ability to assign sections to specific authors, notifications of edits, versioning, and auto save.  It will be available as a technical preview next week, and is expected to be released in full in the second half of 2011.

LotusLive Next
LotusLive Next will benefit from the new activity stream, which looks quite powerful and uses complex algorithms to filter and surface relevant content, people, and groups for the individual user.  The stream presents relevant applications, content, people, activities, mail, and even voicemail.  A useful feature is the ability to hover over suggested content to see why it was suggested, such as mutual interests or past projects.  As in the mobile activity stream clients, users can view and take action on items in the stream.

Connections Next
New features will include a new media gallery for video and photo sharing, ideation, enhanced community moderation capabilities, a Microsoft Outlook social connector, ECM library integration via widgets, and plug-in connectors for Notes files.  Another new feature is a share box, which allows quick and painless sharing of content without having to leave the environment.

Sametime Next
Sametime will be seeing advancements in the mobile realm, with an upcoming (second half of 2011) native Android client that provides the full functionality of the current Nokia, RIM, and browser-based iPhone applications.  Additions include support for location information and voice-to-text and text-to-voice capabilities.  Further down the road, IBM expects to release native iPhone and Symbian3 applications and increase its focus on audio and video functionality.

For the desktop client, Sametime Next will feature video conferencing, browser-based online meetings, and audio and video functionality via browser plug-ins.

Notes and Domino Next
The big news around Notes and Domino Next is, of course, the social aspects that the features and interfaces that have emerged out of Project Vulcan, such as the activity stream and share box.  Domino will also be moving towards cloud deployment, and users of LotusLive will be able to run Domino applications via the cloud.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.