Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Feedback from UDC Seminar "Classification & Visualization:Interfaces to Knowledge"

Posted on behalf of Judi Vernau

I had no idea that Paul Otlet, co-inventor of UDC, was also instrumental in bringing the 5x3 index card to the world. Or that he was an early thinker about levels of granularity within the content of a book, and how you should be able to arrange and re-arrange those contents as required (what would he have made of the term 'information architecture'?). Boyd Rayward's keynote address to the International UDC Seminar on Classification and Visualisation was full of fascinating facts about Otlet and his vision for a World City which would contain a total centralization of all international power and knowledge in one place, in the interests of progress and peace. It's extraordinary to think of Otlet and his colleague Henri La Fontaine putting together their universal bibliography which grew to over 15 million entries, and using it to answer queries from around the world, like a human Google.

There were plenty of other interesting discussions about ways to represent knowledge, but possibly too few actual examples. There were two obvious and very different exceptions to this: Scott Weingart spoke about very early visualisations which most often used the metaphor of a branching tree of knowledge, a tree which over time became very complicated and hard to interpret as knowledge expanded. Scott's accompanying illustrations were lovely. At the other end of the time spectrum, we had Lev Manovich's presentation, abounding with images and video, which showed how computational analysis and visualisation of large data sets can provide some fascinating insights into how an artist's style develops or how the design of magazine cover moves with the times. His video on analysis of Rothko paintings (available at ) was fascinating and beautiful to look at.

Over the two days we were treated to many more wonderful images and thoughtful presentations: see particularly for beautiful colours and<> for an interesting method of relating concepts in a visual and informative way.  The Conference was very well attended - I counted over 100 people, from upwards of 10 countries. This all comes at a time when several of our clients have been asking for more visual representations of taxonomy and other information architecture artefacts, so it was good food for thought. Just never show me another tag cloud.

Judi Vernau, Metataxis Ltd

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