Information routing


I'm working on an article on KnowNow for InfoWorld. One of the things that KnowNow enables is the ability to easily create message-oriented (i.e. pub-sub) alerting systems. For example, suppose that whenever a service order is placed on a Web-site, the correct service provider (based on information in the order) needs to be alerted so that they can contact the customer and arrange to provide the service, customize the order, etc. Traditionally we'd have the system fire off an email, but that has a number of pitfalls.

FIrst, email has a low signal to noise ratio. More importantly, email communication happens out of band. We can alert someone easily, but its difficult to engineer the system so that any actions they take with respect to the alert are handled appropriately. While its served well, email is really the wrong tool for this kind of task--able to be pressed into duty, but clumsily at best.

KnowNow's solution is to create an event driven architecture that drives the alerts to people or systems that have subscribed to them. This includes such non-traditional messaging systems as spreadsheets. As I was going over the product demo, I couldn't help but be reminded of the talk at SuperNova where Esther Dyson talked about social spreadheets and her comments on overflowing email boxes. KnowNow isn't a messaging spreadsheet in the sense the Esther is talking about, but it is an excellent example of pulling messages out of email and putting them where they are in context.

While this was on my mind, I was catching up on some RSS feeds (another example of pulling messages out of email) and ran across Jon Udell's post about using Delicious (del.icio.us) for information routing. Del.icio.us is a social bookmarking site that allows you to create public bookmarks lists. But Jon sees greater potential. When we have something we want to remember on the Web we do various things, such as blog it. Jon lists several options and then gives another:

[B]log it to a shared topic. This is what del.icio.us enables. It supports the operation "route item to topic," which is distinct from "send item to individual or group" or "post item to blog" or even "post item to blog topic."

It's hard to know how this notion of routing items to topics will evolve, but it feels interesting and useful. Suppose you are researching some topic, let's say Unicode. Today you're likely to start with a Google search, which will turn up some good resources. Where do you go from there? A likely next step is to identify bloggers who speak authoritatively about Unicode. But how do you construct a view of what those Unicode-savvy bloggers have said about Unicode, over time? And how do you subscribe to what they will say about Unicode? It's not easy to federate a group of sources with respect to a topic.

We can see the beginnings of a solution in del.icio.us. Here are all the items tagged 'unicode'. As I mentioned the other day, that flow can easily become chaotic. But if you inspect a topic, you'll find that there's a kind of power law in effect: a few individuals will likely stand out as the most reliable contributors of valuable links. In the case of http://del.icio.us/tag/unicode, Patrick Hall (http://del.icio.us/patfm/unicode) seems to be one such person. Others will emerge.
From Jon's Radio
Referenced Mon Aug 23 2004 21:13:25 GMT-0600

Getting the right information to the right place is something we all want, but rarely know how to achieve. The tools just aren't there. KnowNow and Del.icio.us are just beginning to scratch the service as far as I can tell.