From the Archives: Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become, is from May 2, 2008.


Ambient findability describes a fast emerging world where we can find anyone or anything from anywhere at anytime. We're not there yet, but we're headed in the right direction. Information is in the air, literally. And it changes our minds, physically. Most importantly, findability invests freedom in the individual. (p. 6-7)

This is a very good book. If you're interested in the way the web works, you would be hard pressed to find a better book to help you in your researches.

Peter Morville is perhaps best known as the co-author of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, one of the true classics in the web design/development/architecture field. Morville is also a librarian and has great sympathy for libraries as institutions and the problems we face in adapting ourselves to a new information landscape.

So, what's this new book all about? It's basically about how to design your web presence so that people can find your stuff when they're looking for it, even if they didn't know it was your stuff they were looking for. Sound relevant for libraries? You betcha.

The opening chapters deal with definitional issues such as information literacy, wayfinding and information retrieval and interaction. The book goes on to discuss "interwingling" as an important concept -- the idea that everything is everywhere, all bunched up together. But how to find interwingled stuff? Push or pull? Maybe the semantic web has the answers? How do we make informed decisions in a complex, networked culture? What are our sources of inspiration? According to Morville, we will find the clues to these questions in an ambiently findable information landscape. But, interestingly enough, he's not really that fond of a totally miscellaneous world, being quite fond of classifications and controlled vocabularies to help make things more findable. (p. 129) Being one of the tribe, he also has a high regard for the work librarians do and for our efforts in promoting information literacy. (p. 172)

Morville is a great writer -- the writer of the kind of book that stops you in your tracks and makes you re-think

On attention:

We love our cell phones but not the disruption. We love our email but not the spam. Our enthusiasm for ubiquitous computing will undoubtedly be tempered by reality. Our future will be at least as messy as our present. (p. 97)

This book is a classic in the making. It's well worth reading and re-reading as the problems and issues it discusses are both eternal and of immediate and vital importance.

Morville, Peter. Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2005. 188pp. ISBN-13: 978-0596007652


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