Friday, February 22, 2008

FASTForward 08: The You in User

I'm going to blog a few things about what I gathered at FASTForward08 here, and some others over on the conference blog. Items here do not assume you attended. Items there sort of do -- it's a conference blog, after all.

Several big stories played across the large conference stage in Orlando earlier this week. There was the explicit theme of the conference: The User Revolution - which has to do with a heady expansion of the notion of search from a simple task into a mode of interaction with tacit modes of knowledge and richly intertwined human relationships -- that whole messy realm that David Weinberger talks about in Everything is Miscellaneous, for example.

There was also the overarching business story -- a double story, really: Microsoft's agreement to acquire Norway's FAST for $1.2 billion (and the prospective amplification of FAST's business and Microsoft's Enterprise offerings resulting from it) on one side, and on the other, Microsoft's $40 billion gambit to acquire Yahoo.

There's a striking difference in tone between the two deals: The FAST "marriage" as several described it appears to be a lovefest involving mutual respect and commitment; the Yahoo takeover seems fraught with antipathy and louring threats of a proxy fight.

These big stories will play out in media, in white papers, in boardrooms and in code over time -- my glimpse into the Yahoo story came from a close observer who was hearing that Microsoft might not sweeten its offer for Yahoo. My glimpse into the FAST story -- other than what was specifically told to analysts, media and attendees by FAST execs and Jared Spataro of Microsoft (at left) -- was in the buoyancy and sweet scent of success hanging in the atmosphere of FASTForward08 -- the sort of chipper anticipation of prospects that supports a lexicon of possibility, of change, of dramatic 2.0-style openness within and without the corporate structure - in short, a verbal exuberance of revolution.



Now the brief point I want to make before getting into more specific stories that fill out the space demarcated by these big stories is this: I've just cited two sources as relevant to my takeaway from the Conference: One, an anonymous observer, the other not a person or a document but a "subjective" impression: the upbeat, ebuillient collective tone of the conference.

While the first kind of source is standard journalistic fare, the second is not. It's the sort of affective resonance that mostly gets excluded from "factual" journalism because it is, precisely, non-factual. It concerns an affective perception -- rooted in three days of mingling, talking, listening, to be sure -- but nonetheless highly suspect from the vantage point of traditional media assumptions about what is "significant," or "relevant," information.

It's also the sort of information that has largely been missing from the prevailing ideas of digital information (viz Weinberger) and -- thanks to insights from FAST and other edgy explorers of data analysis and contextuality -- we now understand have been missing from typical approaches to search as well.

What experts at FAST and similarly forward-thinking companies are saying seems to turn much of search logic on its head. Where before a "user" would pop a question into a box and wait for the search engine to serve up a useful answer, the industry is moving toward something far more deeply interfused (the presence of the poetic is not accidental), in which the "user" (they still use this word) is who is richly known, by a probing and sensitive process that depends on intangibles like intuition and trust.

What happens then is, you the user begin to move into a realm that presciently and reliably knows what you will be looking for before you do. Search becomes a species of thinking thing -- triggered by an event that has repercussions on your life, it starts to probe and pull into a simple, useable interface a cluster of stories, graphics, comments, sources, videos, twitterings, images and what-have-you that contain the refined core of relevant but richly affective, messy stuff that it knew you were going to ask it for. The better it knows you, the more intelligent and rapid the search result. The more deeply it understands you, the more truly it can say, as you flick on your monitor in the early morning and look through still bleary eyes at the search result awaiting you, "here you are."

This portends impact - for journalism, for blogging, for commerce, for community.

More later...

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom. This is probably a stupid question: Does the conference address and resolve your mute the press type of problem?

Kent

2/22/2008 4:07 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Hi Kent - good question. Claire Hart from Dow Jones gave that some attention in her talk. In a segment of what I plan to write, I'll try to address it a bit. In brief, the Times, insofar as it represses things, will probably not be rescued by enhanced search methods, but they're something of a special case. I've no idea if I've even addressed yr question...

2/22/2008 8:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Tom. You've addressed my question. I look forward to your future blogs from the conference. Kent

2/22/2008 11:00 PM  
Anonymous madame l said...

What happens then is, you the user begin to move into a realm that presciently and reliably knows what you will be looking for before you do. Search becomes a species of thinking thing -- triggered by an event that has repercussions on your life, it starts to probe and pull into a simple, useable interface a cluster of stories, graphics, comments, sources, videos, twitterings, images and what-have-you that contain the refined core of relevant but richly affective, messy stuff that it knew you were going to ask it for. The better it knows you, the more intelligent and rapid the search result. The more deeply it understands you, the more truly it can say, as you flick on your monitor in the early morning and look through still bleary eyes at the search result awaiting you, "here you are."

sorry, but that is EXACTLY what i don't want.

2/23/2008 12:50 AM  
Anonymous herecomesnobody said...

Hmmm... The crucial component of learning is forgetting. Philosophers have known that for a long time and and
neuroscience confirms it. If I can't forget who I am, or what I know, where can I go from there except into an interminable present? This project won't be complete until they invent a forgetting algorithm.

2/24/2008 10:07 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

I love the comment. The key is to move the discussion from memory to relevance/irrelevance. The interminable present is a given of the nature of the digital network. The task is to obliterate all but what "you" want.

Thanks - maybe say more if this is not useful.

2/24/2008 10:15 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

... and as the voice on the answering (questioning ?) machine atthe other end of the phone said ...

"Who are you and what do you want ?

And in case you think this question is trite, please remember that these two questions have been the core of the work of philosophers, sages and artists since time began"

2/26/2008 10:48 AM  
Anonymous herecomesnobody said...

yes, parmenides vs. heraclitus in its latest iteration.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ontology#Early_history_of_ontology

""Who are you and what do you want" is a later development, a psychologized victory of A over non-A?

2/28/2008 10:38 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

That would be a splendid phone call: Parmenides: "Are you?"

Heraclitus: "Never!"

Perhaps with more "relevance": A can be monetized more easily than -A.

2/29/2008 12:10 AM  

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