Meta-IT

I’ve written quite a bit in the past months about where the IT Management role within organisations might be headed in the next few years; the CIO abbreviation has been used by others to indicate a whole series of potential options, from the ominous “Career Is Over”, through “Chief Innovation Officer” and beyond. In a natter over a sandwich yesterday with a chap behind a UK start-up called Topic Logic it occurred to me that maybe one other potential future role for IT might be in providing meta-IT services.

The Topic Logic product is an interesting one – it provides a layer of information management that sits over multiple information stores (email, file shares, cloud file sharing services and so on) to provide a level of automation when it comes to labeling and filing items, and then the ability to share those topics with others.

About ten years ago I was lucky to be able to commission some research into information usage patterns when I was working at the BBC. The output that has served most use since was a simple model that described three types of people (in particular, in reference to the way in which they manipulated information within email): filers, purgers and inboxers.

  • filers file everything; they believe in “inbox zero”, and want everything put into its correct place;
  • purgers wait until a sense of guilt gets the better of them, and then clear down the mass of stuff that has built up (often into the bin);
  • inboxers put two fingers up to the concept of file space limits and leave everything in the inbox.

The middle category I tend to think of as “Catholic inboxer”s – in that they have inboxer tendencies, but with too much guilt to really live the dream. For the other two types of person, the really interesting thing is that one cannot understand how the other could possibly function. I’m an inboxer – I both fail to understand why people who file waste their time doing so, and also why they don’t find search to be a useful enough tool. My wife, on the other hand, is a classic filer and fails to understand how I can live in the midst of such chaos. (That extends to our physical world as well as the virtual world of information, by the way. Particularly my sock drawer…)

As we see an increasing proliferation of services to be able to create, consume, share and collaborate with information, the challenges that lie ahead are going to be ones of making sense of where things are; since university I’ve often thought that one day librarians will take over, but in the absence of information scientists with world domination tendencies, it might be up to information technologists. There’s two things here: firstly providing tools that offer this meta-information – consolidating information sources to provide a seamless access to information where ever it might reside; but then secondly providing these services in a way that can help to recognise and reconcile the differences in working styles that often lay at the root of challenges to collaboration within teams and organisations.

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