Ambient Findability by Peter Morville, 2005

…ambient findability, a realm in which we can find anyone or anything from anywhere at anytime.  p. 65

Date Completed: 7-22-17

Amazon Link

New technology allows information to be discovered, stored, and disseminated at an incredible pace.  It allows us locate information and objects in their digital and physical locations.  But there is so much information available that it’s hard to know what to look for, and to find something once you know you want it.

Morville believes that new devices, as well as new methods of organizing information that librarians and information architects can implement, will help to overcome the challenge of finding things.

Information, and physical objects that are being connected to the web, surrounds us almost like fog.  We are inside of it, with many pieces of information nearby, enveloping us.  But it can be hard to see where we’re going and to find what we hope to find.  This is where we stand now, in the fog.

It’s possible that our tools and information architecture will, in some sense, allow the information we are searching for to manifest itself out of the cloud surrounding us.  The right information will sort of bubble up, to give us what we need, almost like Amazon recommendations taken to the next level.

I enjoyed the book, especially the beginning where he talks about navigation/findability in the physical world.  The discussion of how information could be curated in such a way as to foster ambient findability was pretty difficult for me to follow, and in some ways I feel I’ve missed the meat of the book.  I feel like I understand the outcome he’s seeking, but the method is opaque.

There are many similarities to Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger, but Weinberger’s story arc was easier for me to follow.  The works do complement each other well, but I would recommend starting with Miscellaneous.

Ideas per Page:1 3/10 (lower)

Related Books: Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger; What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

Recommend to Others: see above

Reread Personally:   no


First, ants possess the biological equivalent of an odometer that tells them not just how many steps they have taken but the ground-level distance traveled during each segment of the journey.  Second, ants possess a skylight compass that relies on the position of the sun as indicated by polarized light to compute direction.  By combining knowledge of distance and direction, ants have a basic ability to retrace their steps independent of landmarks.  18-19

…Norwegian seafaring hackers learned to bring ravens on long voyages.  When they thought land was near, the sailors released the birds, which had been deliberately starved.  The ravenous ravens often headed “as the crow flies” directly toward land.  22

Libraries exist at the very intersection of physical and semantic space. 34

Full text is biased toward description.  Unique identifiers such as ISBNs (and Zip Codes) offer perfect discrimination but no descriptive value.  Metadata fields (e.g., title, author, publisher) and controlled vocabularies (e.g., subject, category, format, audience) hold the middle ground.  52

-RFID tags can be read from a distance through walls, packaging, clothes, and wallets.  There is no minimum requirement for line of sight between label and reader.

-With barcodes, every can of Coke has the same universal product code (UPC).  With RFID, each can has its own unique number.  It’s classified as a can of Coke but also identified as a unique individual object.

-RFID spills beyond identification into positioning.  The same radiofrequency technologies that support communication (e.g., Wi-Fi, UWB) also enable the precise location and tracking of tagged objects.

As information volume increases, our ability to find any particular item decreases.  86

In 1998, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued a report detailing the prevalence of surveillance cameras in New York City and found 2,397 government and private cameras on the streets of Manhattan.  87 [from Surveillance Camera Project].

In fact, the percentage of information we actively pull toward us is relatively small.  Most of our knowledge is pushed toward us…  116-117

We write, not just to communicate, but to enhance our own findability.  142

Not only is the desired person or document six/nineteen links away, but so are all people or documents.  143 [quoting Linked: The New Science of Neworks by Barabasi]

1 A measure of the number of new or distinct ideas introduced per page. 10/10 would be conceptually dense, like a textbook. 1/10 would be almost completely fluff.





2 thoughts on “Ambient Findability by Peter Morville, 2005

  1. Thanks. I found this interesting, especially the quotes.

    They were interesting as ideas unrelated to technology. I wonder for example, how we may unwittingly/unconsciously retrace our emotional steps or not based on internal tracking related to things we want to revisit or avoid.

    Or… when we are starving for something, how do we find what we need? Do we go straight from point A to point B to get it? Is it innate? Do we even know if someone else may be withholding something from us that we need to take care of, or provide for ourselves?

    Also the idea of the UPC and RFID seems completely impossible until I considered the alikeness of our human DNA and the uniqueness of our individual way of being.

    Finally, the idea that info is pushed toward us and we seek out next to nothing by comparison is so relevant in this moment! If we consider the news cycle or constant feed of what we need, we are being so pushed! Refusing to suck in everything that is spewed out takes a real act of self awareness.

    Thanks again, I would never have read this book, so I appreciate the review.
    – dtm


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