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Making the Page Think like a Network, Part 1

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Most new information is born digital. This allows us to build tools that help order information by islands of meaning rather than page views. Barry Chudakov shows how you can format information to better manage and understand the digital environment — and make a Web page think like a network.

This series of articles is excerpted from a New Riders title currently in development, A Blinding Glimpse of Everything: Designing Information for the Multidimensional Web, by Barry Chudakov (ISBN 0735713138). To provide feedback or comment on this article, please contact the author: informassociates@cfl.rr.com

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Because of the way the Web organizes information, we now "read" information differently. No longer do we concern ourselves solely with reading front-to-back.

In fact, if information can be abstracted to be a building with various entrances, today there is no front door. This any-door access is due to the intersection of information and technology. Information now is omnidirectional. It flows in all directions, as in Figure 1.

Figure 1Figure 1 Today information comes and goes in all directions. As a result, users want any-door access to information.

So why aren't we organizing our information that way? This series of articles explores the implications of the Web's nature, especially what networked technology is doing to our page-view handling of information. Each article ends with a step-by-step demo of a tool I've developed that starts to make the page think like a network.

If Information Is Air, How Long Can You Hold Your Breath?

Every business today is an information business. Plainly, information is the lifeblood of critical industries, from medicine and aerospace to genomics and financial markets. Yet, paradoxically, we are now surrounded by so much streaming information coming at us from more sources that it settles only briefly within us. Our minds use information as our lungs use air. We take it in unnoticed and breathe it out unconsciously. There are times, during heavy mental exertion, when we may notice its passage through us, but shortly the paradox resumes: The ubiquity of information renders it invisible.

(I)t's difficult to imagine how we could possibly devote enough attention to all the information in our society ...[:] 60,000 new books that spew out of U.S. presses every year ... more than 300,000 books published worldwide ... more than 18,000 magazines published in the United States alone ... more than 225 billion pages of editorial content ... 1.6 trillion pieces of paper that circulate through U.S. offices each year ... 400,000 scholarly journals published annually around the world ... 15 billion catalogs delivered to U.S. homes in 1999, or the 87.2 billion pieces of direct mail that reached U.S. mailboxes in 1998.

—Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck, The Attention Economy

For many this causes anxiety; others are bewildered, saying that you can't trust any information: It changes too often—and you don't know who to believe anyway. At the base of this tower of info-babble, cascading streams of information have led wiser voices to call for new tools to manage it all.

The world's total production of information amounts to about 250 megabytes for each man, woman, and child on earth. It is clear that we are all drowning in a sea of information. The challenge is to learn to swim in that sea, rather than drown in it. Better understanding and better tools are desperately needed if we are to take full advantage of the ever-increasing supply of information described in this report.

—Conclusion from the executive summary of "How Much Information," a study was produced by faculty and students at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkley in October 2000

The new staging area for many of these points of view, and for the issue itself, is the Web. Why? Because the Web and other digital venues are where so much new information is born.

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