This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 24 November 2011.
Things are gearing up for the Thanksgiving meal, and I’ve recently
realized that Thanksgiving can work as a pretty perfect analogy for
information sciences. At the risk of stretching my metaphors beyond all
recognition, let’s take a trek through a feast of information…
There are five things required for a good celebration:
Good Friends: Information is social! Just look
around at Facebook, Twitter, G+, and any of the niche networks, and
you’ll get a sense that it’s just the tip of the iceberg. People are
creating and sharing content every chance they get, and the
conversations that spark up are every bit as good as those around the
thanksgiving table. Holidays bring us together, and the culture of
sharing we’re immersed in can spread that togetherness into the virtual
realm. Conversations have been happening over meals for centuries: why
The Main Meal: Just as good turkey needs an
experienced chef, good information is “roasted” from raw data—and the
result is delicious! (Don’t forget to baste.) The raw ingredients (data)
are blended in particular ways according to specific recipes, and the
product (information) is worth consuming. Information scientists work
with different kinds of data all the time, but at the core, they’re each
learning to cook them into more palatable forms.
Side Dishes: Accompanying that information is a host
of other skills; information organization, evaluation, and access, to
name just a few! Look at it this way—for thanksgiving dinner, (and the
rest of the year) I can’t get nearly enough cranberry sauce. Standard
canned, Cranberry-Orange Relish, sugared cranberries, take your pick! I
wouldn’t call cranberry sauce a meal, but neither is the meal quite
finished without it. In the same way, information is great, but unless
you’ve got the skills to accompany that information then you’re not
quite ready to serve it up.
Presentation: Information design is just as
important as content—bad design will turn information into mush. On the
same wavelength, tables look nice if they’re set properly, and they can
be set for different people, different meals. Information design and
user experience can be and should be tweaked for every situation, but if
it’s a well-designed information experience, people will “come back to
the table” again and again.
Pie: The sweet finish, and one of the best parts of
Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone has their own style when it comes to
pie—there are tons of recipes for crusts, fillings, toppings, and more,
and it really comes down to personal preference whether you pick cherry,
mincemeat, apple or pecan. (I generally try all of them. You know, to
be polite.) Information can be handled the same way. Library scientists,
information managers, database specialists, and network administrators
all have a slightly different flavor when it comes to work style, but
they all try to accomplish similar goals. Information scientists want to
curate their world, and help their chosen communities access the
information they need. We’re the pie—not a piece of it, but the whole
thing. We complement the rest of the information world, just as dessert
is the perfect finish to a holiday feast.
How are you sharing your feast? What information are you serving up?
How have you set your table? Let us know the answers (and what kind of
pie you are) in the comments!