Hyperlinked Organization Title

For those who need to understand how the Web is changing the way businesses work

Meta Data
Vol/Issue: v98 #3 (February 6, 1998 
Author/Editor: David Weinberger  
Central Meme: Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy  
Favorite Beatle: John. Duh.  
Current Personal Crisis: Caught myself hoping no competitors to Word arise to complicate my life 
Home page: http://www.hyperorg.com  
Contact information: Click here

Context Management

"Context Management" is the phrase that should have caught on instead of "Knowledge Management."

One of the many problems with KM (the term and the discipline) is that it makes it sound as if there's such a thing as "knowledge." Knowledge isn't a thing with predictable properties any more than "useful things" are -- it's more an adjective than a noun. What distinguishes knowledge from information isn't anything you can tell by looking at the object itself. Knowledge becomes knowledge because it's useful within a particular context.

That also means, of course, that "knowledge mining" has it all wrong. If knowledge were like gold, then you could tell just by looking at something that it was a piece of knowledge. But, in fact, knowledge is much more like something you find in a junk yard than like something you find in a mine. You wander around your info scrap heap and come upon a twisted piece of metal that turns out to be perfect for repairing the hole in your roof. The scrap of metal has tremendous value in that context but none outside of it. There is nothing about the twisted metal itself that distinguishes it from the fried piece of styrofoam next to it.

So, imagine we had "context management" (CM) instead of KM. We'd be running around figuring out how to make a gazillion dollars by foisting CM onto hapless companies (or onto our hapless managers). We'd be saying that while we've managed successfully at the micro level, we've not managed the broader business context very well at all. We'd be talking about building an interactive context for information, transactions, and communications -- covering not only KM but also the collaborative process management that KM so often slights.

And we'd be pointing out that the Web has provided a new context which we ought to be leveraging for CM.

And we'd point out that the Web's context is expressed as a place ... and we all ought to be adopting the place metaphor as the most familiar and effective one for providing CM to our users.

And wouldn't you have "Chief Context Officer" on your business card than "Chief Knowledge Officer"? A "CKO" sounds like such a know-it-all!

But would the academy listen to me when I proposed CM instead of KM  on Feb. 5, 1945 (at the Yalta Conference), and then again in 1989 and in 1997? No, they said I was mad, mad!

Well, you've made your procrustean knowledge bed. Now you can just damn well sleep in it.


The Price of Multitasking: Your Soul

It's depressing to admit it, but humans can't multitask -- we can't pay attention to two things simultaneously. (Obviously,we can be aware of many things at many levels simultaneously, but that's not the same thing as paying attention.)

We can time slice, which is what people mean when they say they're multitasking -- they repeatedly shift their attention from one object to another. Time slicing can be useful -- listen to the radio and check the oven now and then -- but it isn't multitasking. Multitasking would be magic. It would let us be more than one person at a time.

I've been reading Affective Computing by Rosalind Picard -- look for a one question interview with her in an upcoming issue. It's a fascinating book. The first half is a sober disquisition on what it would mean to make computers aware of human emotion and have them respond in emotional ways. Dr. Picard does a convincing job showing us that emotionally sensitive computers would be good things in a number of ways. But we'll talk more about that later.

The book got me thinking. (Bad book! Bad!) Once again it turned me to the favorite thing I don't understand at all: attention. It's my assumption -- and I think it's as self-evident as human stuff gets -- that when we pay attention to something, we do so with certain affective qualities. That is, when we pay attention to the Nazi Philosoper Heidegger pretending he Carescake that's now burning (because we were paying too much attention to the radio's description of Clinton's oral techniques or the shape of his member or his budget proposal's impact on macroeconomics or Hillary's oral techniques), we do so with some emotion, mood, or evaluation. And this is because attention isn't a dry and abstract or cognitive relation to the world. It's a relationship of caring. (Gosh, did Heidegger think of this before me? Damn! Wait, maybe I if I give it a made-up name I'll be able to trademark and claim it as my own thought. I've got it! Let's call it "e-care"™!)

If this is true -- and you can take it from my sincere look and deep tone of voice that it is -- then it proves that humans can't multitask, at least not always. If attention were nothing but cognition, if it were like  a flashlight sweeping over a dark world, then maybe we could  multitask by wagging our attention back and forth. But if paying attention to two objects also means switching our emotions, feelings, preferences, mood and valuations, then, well, our souls just aren't enough like my sister Kate (who can shake them like jelly on a plate, for those of you who missed the Dave Van Ronk years of the folkie movement) to manage even rapid time slicing...except when dealing with matters that we don't really care much about.

If so, then the price of  "multitasking" is really not giving a damn.

dividing line

Buzz Soup: ECMA Script

ECMA is not only an anagram of Acme and Mace, but is an acronym that stands for the European Computer Manufacturers Association. ECMA has submitted to ISO (which does not stand for the International Standards Organization even though that's exactly what it is) a Web scripting language called ECMA Script (or ECMA-262 for the weenies among you). It's very likely going to be accepted. And both Netscape and Microsoft have said they'll adopt it.

ECMA Script is basically JavaScript (or JScript, as Microsoft calls its version). JavaScript is not Java. Java is a full programming language like C++ that can be used to build applications that have nothing to do with the Web. You compile your Java into an intermediary code (unreadable by humans) that gets read and run by the Java software on your desktop (for most of us, in our browsers, to be exact). JavaScript is more like a set of BASIC statements you can put into your Web pages typically to do fairly lightweight things.

(One way to put the difference: I can't write Java. I can't even really read Java. But I know enough to be able to mess up a document with JavaScript.)

Having ECMA Script become a standard would be a very good thing, not because it's better than JavaScript or JScript or anything else. It's just good to have standards. Already, however, Netscape and Microsoft have introduced slight improvements in their versions of JavaScript that introduce not-so-slight incompatibilities.

When will we learn: Small "improvements" on a standard are in fact huge degradations since the major benefit of any standard is that it's a standard.

If you want more information about ECMA Script, you can go to the ECMA home page, to the ECMA page about ECMAscript itself, or to an independent page that covers JavaScript and ECMAScript.



Nightmare email

John Jessen, president of Electronic Evidence Discovery, a firm that recovers supposedly deleted data from hard drives at the behest of lawyers, reports finding an email that said:
Yes, I know we shipped a hundred barrels of [the chemical] but on our end, steps have been taken to ensure that no record exists. Therefore it doesn't exist, if you know what I mean. Remember, you owe me a golf game next time I'm in town."
This was reported in the Feb. issue of Internet World. Sounds like an urban myth to me -- a particularly self-serving one considering its source...

 dividing line


Why Search Engines Suck

The on-the-verge-of-parenthood Evelyn Walsh (enough to give you confidence in the gene pool) calls my bluff in the previous issue to start a running feature with the above title: 
File this away for "Why search engines suck"-- at Amazon.com when I used key words "Hells Angels" I brought up a number of books on the topic but NOT Thompson's book-- evidently the apostrophe throws them all off! Also, I had a very frustrating "who's on first" email exchange with Amazon at some point when I couldn't find the BOOK version of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations and they kept insisting that it must not be available (sigh)

Here's my own example: 

Feed this query to Infoseek: review multimedia software 

The hit list you get back is no better or worse than it deserves. But Infoseek also suggests some topical areas based on the search terms you've entered. Often, the topics are on the mark. In this case, Infoseek apparently thinks that anyone interested in "review multimedia software" must also be interested in: 

Motorcycles, Motorcycle publications, Las Vegas

Lycos (a.k.a., "the dumbass search engine") does Infoseek one worse. Search for "Dave van Ronk" and it suggests a set of other people named "Dave" you might be interested in learning about. Good algorithm, guys! 

JOHO's Theory: Search engines are idiot savants. 

JOHO actively solicits your own evidence that Search Engines Suck. 


Middle World Resources

A BiWeekly Compendium of Resources
Walking the Walk   

When in a presentation about a successful intranet implementation you see "Consult your users early on," it's actually code for "We screwed it up at first, but our users straightened us out." 

So says Chris Lindesay, who has been in this business for quite a while. 

To avoid this, when Chris was consulting to the BBC to help them design their intranet, he organized a 2.5 hour focus group with 15 users chosen "off the street." They brainstormed what an intranet could do for them and came up with a list of 65 items. Then they picked their favorites and wrote before and after scenarios. This formed the basis for the spec of the intranet. Notice that there were no IT folks involved in this. 

The result was they got the design pretty much right the first time. For example, the site enables people to find other people as well as find information. For example, if you're going to Malaysia, the information abut the BBC program on Malaysian mammals may be of less immediate concern than getting access to the people who made the program because they can answer your travel questions, whereas the closeups of the mating habits of the orangutans, while at least as invigorating as part 2 of the Pam and Tommy Show, provide less immediately useful information (depending, of course, on your sexual preferences which are solely your own business unless you by accident wake up as an elected official). 

The BBC's intranet is accessible to ex-BBC employees as well as the current wage slaves since the once-weres are the top of the potential employee pool; when the BBC needs to staff up, those are the people they'll look to first.

Cool Tool 
For the Hyperlinked Organization 

I've been trying out a news service from Inquisit that has me on the fence. 

The site lets you set up agents that scour tons of sources and sends you notices on a schedule you set. It's easy to use, seems quite flexible, and will even page you if something really important turns up. 

Fine fine fine. But I set up an agent that looks for "standards" in conjunction with "intranet," "extranet," or "Internet," and I feel like I've been spamming myself. Every day I get a list of about 50 articles that are largely irrelevant. Why? It turns out that the articles off the BusinessWire contain a standard line at the end stating where you can find the file on the Internet. Thus, I'm seeing every article that uses the word "standard." 

I can't blame the tool. Well, sure, let's. Search engines suck. Inquisit gets everything right ... except the value of the information it provides. 


Self Employed Professional (Jan/Feb 1998) reports: 

In a recent study conducted by the Ethics Officers Association and the American Society of Chartered Life Underwriters, more than half of the 1,300 workers surveyed admitted committing one act of illegal or unethical behavior in the last year. 
I find this statistic plausible only if the other choice on the questionnaire was: "Did you commit more than one?" 

Email, Comments, Suggested Lifestyles

Bob Treitman has accepted the official role of Chairperson of the JOHO Fact Checker Board. This is an Ex Post Facto position which means he gets to whine without responsibility whenever I get something wrong in this journal. What a dream job!

In his first act of Nit Picking Terrorism, Bob writes, in response to last issue's assumption that triplets like aaa.com are Three Letter Acronyms:

TLA is an abbreviation, not an acronym. As are aaa, bbb, et. al.
Bob actually resorts to the dictionary to prove me "wrong," something having to do with acronyms forming words from initials. You know, Bob, I'm disappointed you had to bring out a dictionary to settle this issue. I expect my fact checkers to be a bit more imaginative than that (you know, in the Kenneth Starr sort of way).

(Bob, did I mention when appointing you to the Checker Board that I don't take criticism well? Expect retribution.) 

Keith Davidson saw fit to leave the country before passing along the following "problem" he found with last issue's Internetcetera:

66 million email users receive 2.7 trillion messages in 1997?? Is that what you said and who told you so?

Have I got a decimal point in the wrong place? That's 140 emails per day per person. Now I know a few who allege they receive that kind of traffic, but that seems a bit excessive to me for the average. I make the email traffic to be more in the 1-1.5 trillion range and it's really tiring counting all those little devils so I'm sort of intuiting from my understanding of document volumes generally, but I think if the 66 million users is right then my number comes to 50-75 per person per day which seems more realistic to me. Still high when you consider the number of casual users there seem to be out there.

You have any notion of how I might resolve this earth-shaking issue?

Sure. Do what I do when it comes to statistics: go with whatever feels right.

But be careful, Keith. More mail like this and I'll have to appoint you to the Checker Board. Man, do you know what it's like to be locked in a small jury room for an entire sweaty weekend poring over the latest issue of JOHO with Bob Treitman and the rest of the Fact Checker Board? (And we're not supplying free donuts anymore, not after the EPA citation for "particulate pollution" due to the excessive sugar powdering by the over-enthusiastic amateurs at the Wholly Donut Shoppe.) 

Chris "RageBoy" Locke enters our previous Bogus Contest which asked for obscure punning product names based on an non-existent scripting language called "No Script":

OK, I'll see your Dead Cyrano and raise you:
Product Name
No-Script Tie-in
Probosc-O-Bleed(tm) Gnosis Ripped  Results from running with scissors or snorting too much coke
Probosc-O-Vice(tm) Gnosis Gripped Results from sticking your nose into others' business, e,g. SnapOn Tools
Chris acknowledges he may have missed something here, although I'm enjoying trying to parse his thought process. If you'd like to parse his process, you should quickly visit his newsletter since the current offering is a sort of "Historical Origins" issue (like the Superman edition that explains all about the explosion on Krypton and why his clothing stretches to keep up with his growth and why he's only one characteristic short of God). In it, Chris reprints an interview with Charlie Rose (no, not that one) in which RageBoy explains it all. 

Jeff Millar, confessing that he needs a hobby, sends a Vatican press release that begins:

(Vatican City, AP) In a move that astonished the Software Markets today, Pope John Paul II announced that the Vatican will adopt Microsoft Office 97 for all its desktop computing needs.

"It is very easy to use," said the Holy Father to reporters and a crowd estimated at 240,000, "and now, thanks to Power Point 97, I can see the entire operational organization of Heaven at a glance."

He includes a complete Powerpoint presentation -- heavenly org charts, among other things -- that's quite amusing. To fetch the entire caboodle, click here

Richard Vacca responds to our article on trying to explain terms like "petabytes" via analogies:

Reading about petabytes made me think about a humorist's campaign some years ago to put "lotsa" in the dictionary. McDonalds sells lotsa burgers. They have lotsa cold days in canada. And so on. Everywhere people feel the need to use a large and meaningless number, just use lotsa. And let the football players have their field back.

Adina Levin passes along the following question from an Atlantic interview of Jack Beatty about his new book on Peter Drucker;:

What is the difference between an intellectual and a consultant? Is a consultant an intellectual who sold out, or is an intellectual a consultant without a portfolio?
Neither. A consultant is an unemployed intellectual. 

Trevor Sharpe has discovered yet another reason why JOHO is a smokin' crater of marketing:

David, you made the classic marketing blunder in naming your newsletter.... Like GM before you with their NOVA (no go) car, JOHO (Joe-Ho in English) is actually pronounced "Yoe-ho" in Spanish, and is a pickup line used when soliciting South American prostitutes.... whoops!
We're reaching the edges of good taste with this thread, folks...which will only encourage more of you, I'm sure. 

Christel van der Boom -- an implausibly lovely name, don't you think? -- is a Dutch public relations person who says she enjoyed last issue's listing of all triplets.com (e.g., "aaa.com") because her company, DLV Public Relations is currently tussling over their Dutch domain name (dlv.nl).

I checked out dvl.com. It is now 5th on the list of Wasted Domain Names. (The previous leader, www.knowledge.com, has slipped to #9 since new content was posted in January. Damn!) 

Bill Zoellick writes:

I have actually found a site that rivals yours -- perhaps exceeds yours -- in terms of hyperactivity -- and is, all the same, not a porn site. And it contains serious stuff that is worth having a look at.


Prof. Stern's site indeed looks like he took a deck of classnotes on index cards, a deck of animated GIFs, and shuffled them randomly. In short, I love it!

As for the serious stuff Bill says is in there, I wouldn't have any idea. I fell into a catatonic state and found myself communing with the spirit of a Japanese 11 year old. Sorry! 

Bill Z. forwards yet another link, apparently thinking that all JOHO subscribers have to do is sit around and read! Hey, Bill, how about all the time we have to put in loving one another, hmmm? Or doesn't that figure into the busy reading schedule you've devised for us?

Here's Bill's note:

A nice, contrarian piece. Much good sense here. http://www.herring.com/mag/issue50/rap.html

Ken Currie passes along an online thesaurus. I resent thesauri because no two words really mean the same thing (oh, spare me your counter examples!), but this one seems serviceable -- so long as you think that adjectives, nouns and adverbs are all really interchangeable. Picky picky. 

RageBoy passes along a link one of his readers pointed out to him that lets you test your company's "IQ." RB comments:

I just took the test and clicked every radio button that said "We're Clueless" so I got a "perfect" score of zero (0). So what did it tell me? That my organization was fucked? hopeless? ready for the dustbin of history? no, it ranked:

"0-17 ACCIDENTAL Innovator - You have a lot of work to do to capitalize on the power of innovation."

oh good. so if you have no idea which end is up, you're an accidental innovator. that's rich.

Well, duh, Chris! It tells you at the beginning that the first choice is always the right answer. I took it with that in mind and now I'm a freakin' genius! Jeez, Chris, can't you get *anything* right? 

Lilly Buchwitz points us to a source printed with ink on paper. Well, ok, here it is:

I think you'll enjoy Victor Navasky's article "Saving the Nation" in the January Atlantic. Comments on business students from the far-left. I laughed so hard I spit coffee into my keyboard.
Thanks for the link. And for the image. 

Marxism at Work. I didn't know where else to put this, so here is a page (fromn a group pronounced "ArtMark") that rubs right into the painful tear in my flesh where Hippie Young Me pulls away from Corporate Greed-man Me:

®™ark is a system of workers, ideas, and money whose function is to encourage the intelligent sabotage of mass-produced items.  The projects that the ®™ark system helps fund are aesthetic or activist in their aims, rather than capitalist or political, and tend to be relatively benign--they do not cause physical injury, and they do not fundamentally damage a product or a company’s profits.  This is not because product or profits are good, but because ®™ark is more likely to survive in the viciously jealous world of the American market if it is not seen as attempting to damage its hosts.


Kevin Weatherston submits the following, too delicious not to quote in its entirety:
I have tried a little experiment with JOHO. 

I took a snippet from JOHO and went to the babblefish site at Altavista (http://babelfish.altavista.digital.com/cgi-bin/translate) and translated it into German and then back again - there was no real reason why (possibly for the pure science of it). I cannot tell you how the translation into German is (since I can only count to 10 and order beers in German - which is pretty much all you need in any language), so you will have to ask someone else to see how it translates. 

The result, well, you be the judge. I found that there were a few too many commas in the "back to English" translation for my liking. But, I don't think that translation companies are out of business for another few months anyway. 

[In no way is this meant to attack Dan Bricklin. His cv was just a random text selection] 

Here is what I got: 

Dan Bricklin not only was there at the Creation, he actually helped the sun come up on the PC revolution. After founding VisiCalc, the company that created the killer app for PC's -- the spreadsheet -- he's continued to innovate. His latest startup, Trellix, aims at doing nothing less than changing the way business writes. Business has been slow to adopt online as a way to distribute business reports and the other fodder gushing from our word processors. That's because even though we all write electronically, and we usually write to enable people to skim and quickly navigate as if our documents were hyperlinked, our tools act as if every keystroke is destined for paper and only paper -- from fonts to footnotes to page numbers, it's a paper world, baby! 

Dan, den Bricklin nicht nur dort an der Kreation, er war, half wirklich der Sonne, oben auf die PC-Umdrehung zu kommen. Nach der Gründung von VisiCalc, die Firma, die die Mörder-APP für PC's erstellte -- die Kalkulationstabelle -- er wird fortgesetzt, um zu erneuern. Sein neuester Start, Trellix, strebt an, nichts weniger zu tun, als, das Weisengeschäft ändernd, schreibt. Geschäft ist langsam gewesen, als Weise online anzunehmen, Geschäftsberichte und das andere Futter zu verteilen, das von unseren Textverarbeitungsgeräten strömt. Das ist, weil, obwohl alle wir elektronisch schreiben und wir normalerweise schreiben, um Leute zu aktivieren zu gleiten und schnell zu steuern hyperlinked, als ob unsere Dokumente waren, unsere Hilfsmittel fungieren, als ob jeder Tastenanschlag für Papier und nur Papier bestimmt ist -- von Schriftkegel zu Fußnoten zu den Seitenzahlen, ist es eine Papierwelt, Baby! 

Dan, which was Bricklin there not only at the creation, it, really helped the sun to come above on the PC revolution. After the establishment of VisiCalc, the company, those the murderer APP for PC's created -- the kalkulationstabelle -- it is continued, in order to renew. Its newest start, Trellix, aims at, doing nothing fewer than, modifying the way business, writes. Business was slow to assume as way on-line to distribute business reports and the other fodder which flow from our text processing devices. That is, because, although all write electronically we and we normally write, over people function to activate slide and rapidly control hyperlinked, as if our documents were, our aids, as if each keystroke is intended for paper and only paper -- from writing cone to footnotes to the page numbers, it is a paper world, baby! 

My German isn't any good any more, but let me give you my impression of how that German translation ranks: Do you like Kipling? I don't know, I've never kippled. Do you like Bricklin'? I don't know, I've never brickled.


Bogus Contest: Lurking Trademarks

Billy Joel™ is copyrighted. Honda has trademarked (or attempted to) the sound of its motorcycle. (Ok, so maybe it's not Honda. It's some big motorcycle maker. And don't tell me this is an urban myth. I have my fingers in my ears and I'm going "Niiiiiiiih.")

So that's our premise. What are some Web or computer-based things that can or should be trademarked? For example:


Peter Norton's PosePeter Norton
  Color scheme 
  White space 

Surely you can do better! Send me your best work and you may even win an exciting "JOHO" business card to impress your friends!


Editorial Lint

The following information was found trapped at the top of my washing machine when I ran some issues of the JOHO through it.

The JOHO is a free, independent newsletter written and produced by David Weinberger. He denies responsibility for any errors or problems. If you write him with corrections or criticisms, it will probably turn out to have been your fault.

Subscription information, or requests to be removed from the JOHO mailing list, should be sent to [email protected].

Dr. Weinberger is represented by a fiercely aggressive legal team who responds to any provocation with massive litigatory procedures. This notice constitutes fair warning.

Any email sent to the JOHO may be published in the JOHO and snarkily commented on unless the email explicitly states that it's not for publication.

Note to distributors: If you are interested in reselling the popular Hyperlinked Organization brand line of memorabilia, please contact our manager of JOHO Channels, Divad Regrebniew. (The JOHO corn dog attack vehicle with lifelike action figures is no longer available, and will return once we fix the eject button and pending the outcome of the lawsuit.) 

The Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization is a publication of Evident Marketing, Inc.

"The Hyperlinked Organization" is trademarked by Open Text Corp. JOHO gratefully acknowledges Open Text's kind permission to use this felicitous phrase.

"JOHO," "Internetcetera," "One-Question Interview" and "Buzz Soup" are trademarks of Evident Marketing, Inc.