Although I’ve conversed online with John Faughnan since my days at BYTE, we’ve never met, and we had not even spoken on the phone until last week when he joined me on an episode of my Interviews with Innovators podcast. It was a great pleasure to finally connect in realtime with the prolific author of thoughtful analysis and commentary on things in general, on information technology, and on resources for parents of children with cognitive or emotional-behavior disabilities.
John was a country doctor, and he retains his medical license, but he doesn’t see patients nowadays. Instead he directs the development of clinical productivity software, with particular focus on methods of knowledge representation, and on strategies for effective collaboration.
We share a passion for strategies that entail simple but often overlooked uses of common software applications. For example, did you know that it’s possible, in Outlook, to edit the subject of an email message after it’s been received, and is just sitting in your archive? Try it, and you’ll find that you can. Color me amazed. I’m just the sort of personal information management geek who’d have discovered a hack like that, but I never did.
Now, why would you want to do such a thing? It’s a defensive strategy. The message entitled “Re: Next week” probably ought to be entitled something like “Consensus reached among A, B, and C on issue X for project Y.” Which title would you rather scan, in search results, six months later?
(John would like to find, and personally thank, the developer responsible for this feature, so if you know that person, or are that person, speak up!)
You can think of this technique as a kind of enhanced tagging. It’s related to a strategy for enriching email — embodying the journalistic principle of “heads, decks, and leads” — which I described in my book and in this report.
People mainly still think of information architecture as a discipline practiced only by designers and publishers. But what John and I have always thought is that we’re all becoming designers and publishers of streams of information, that those streams can all be navigated and searched in one way or another, and that the value of those streams depends on the ability of ourselves and others to navigate and search them effectively.
We also think that effectiveness requires two things. First, obviously, software that embodies the right principles and enables the right practices. But second, a broad awareness of right principles and practices. Those, we agree in this conversation, are not necessarily intuited by Gen X, Y, or Z just because they’re so-called digital natives. This stuff needs to be articulated, and it needs to be taught.