Saturday, June 23, 2007

Camping at O'Reilly

Rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated!

I've been mostly MIA the past couple weeks, largely due to the Ruby Kaigi and related events in Tokyo and a short family trip this past week to Lake Michigan's eastern shore (warm sandy beaches and a much-welcomed rest). But I figured I'd check in so everyone knows I'm still around and the wheels are still turning.

I'm at Foo Camp this weekend, and so far it's been a great time. Lots of good discussions, games of Werewolf, and staying up too late (I think I got about 3.5 hrs of sleep...more than enough!) Today I'm going to try to talk about something outside my usual subjects, mostly as a discussion facilitator, but with a bit of opinion tossed in for good measure. Here's the description I posted to the Foo calendar:

The Transformation Age

This is a collective presentation. There are no attendees; only nodes in the matrix. Expect to share.

Part 1: Individuals to collectives, isolated to connected, The Next Evolution.

As the exchange of information has become progressively more rapid, the communication boundaries more transparent, we are transforming into a new kind of collective entity. The swing from isolated individuals or isolated communities with their own distinct stores of knowledge toward a single global community with all stores of knowledge available to everyone is more than just an interesting represents a new evolutionary direction humanity is taking. It is the dawn of the transformation age for humankind.

We will explore what it means to be more and more a collective being in this new era, what it will mean for our children and grandchildren and nth grandchildren as pervasive interconnection becomes the norm. As all minds become so intimately connected that being disconnected from the global consciousness is like losing an arm...or one's own identity. And we'll look at how this new evolution is affecting and has affected successful and unsuccessful technologies, business models, and governments over the past several decades.

Part 2 (time permitting): Knowledge represented as transformation of information rather than as desperate attempts to snapshot or categorize information at a given point in time.

The idea of categorizing information has served us fairly well when information itself was slow to change, slow to be communicated, and largely static. Books can be sorted in a categorization scheme because the information they contain does not change over time; the categories remain as valid as when they were assigned. But what happens when the entirety of humanity's knowledge is now not only instantly available, but rapidly changing and evolving along with us? Is not categorization of changing information inherently flawed when information snapshots are almost immediately out of date? What can we do to allow everyone in this age of transformation to participate in information sharing in scalable way?

I would propose that when information itself has become so fluid it defies static categorization, that the transformation of knowledge is the new information we need to track. Already you see the signs of this:

  • Wikis are updated far more often than they have completely new entries added; the success of wiki is in transformation of knowledge over time, and in continuous evolution of the information contained therein.
  • Scientists in all fields build new ideas upon old; there are no new ideas that don't synthesize existing parts, transforming our understanding of those parts into a new entity.
  • Agile development emphasizes small, rapid, interactive transformations of data (a software algorithm + user interfaces on the large) rather than as big bang snapshots and releases.
  • Open source licenses reduce the barriers to accessing data effectively to zero explicitly to allow for rapid transformation of that data into today's entity. "Build from trunk" is becoming a normal recommendation for rapidly transforming projects, since snapshots are immediately out of date.

We'll talk about whether this all makes sense, whether moment-in-time snapshots of information are becoming more or less relevant than the changes over time to that information, and what can be done to both facilitate transformation and adapt our traditional information management ideals to this constantly changing information sea.

If you're interested in hearing more about all this, about how the session goes, or just would like to talk sometime along these lines, gimme a shout.