IN MY LAST BLOG ENTRY I described being at the BarCamp5 Spillover event held at the BCS London meeting rooms. On 9th October it will be my turn (with colleagues) to run an event in the same location: the MetaKnowledge Mash-up 2.0 gathering [But see NOTE below], organised by KIDMM and ISKO-UK and with the focus Making and Organising Knowledge in Communities.

(A word of explanation: KIDMM is a discussion community around issues of Knowledge, Information, Data and Metadata Management — its roots are in the British Computer Society — and ISKO-UK is the UK chapter of the International Society for Knowledge Organization. I co-ordinate the activities of KIDMM on a voluntary basis.)

Plastic poker chips being used to ‘rate’ the importance of topics generated on cards by group members, in a discussion about computers and climate change.

Plastic poker chips being used to ‘rate’ the importance of topics generated on cards by group members, in a discussion about computers and climate change.

The instructions for BarCamp said ‘Come with something you want to talk about,’ and I brought along with me a concern about the best way to conduct small group exercises on the afternoon of the 9th. People there will be seated in groups of up to eight around tables, an arrangement which affords a surface for a card-sorting exercise.

In the BarCamp discussion which I led, I explained how cardsorting works and how it can be used to understand how people group ‘things’, be they ideas, features of a product, whatever. In information architecture and product design enterprises, letting a representative group of users sort cards can help clarify what people expect of or hope from a product or service. There’s a variant called ‘divide the dollar’ which I read about through Uzanto’s Mindcanvas site, which offers these ‘Game-like Elicitation Methods’ (GEMs) on-line. In this, each participant is given a number of coins or chips and asked to distribute them across a set of topic cards to indicate in quite a subtle way the degree of value attached by that person to each.

What has this to do with a KIDMM/ISKO conference? Well, in considering ‘making and organising knowledge in communities’ we will be hearing case-studies from a number of organisations who are using electronic tools to enable long-term and long-distance discussion and collaboration within their communities, with the aim of accumulating and organising knowledge. Tools like email lists, bulletin boards, blogs, wikis, social networking sites, and online media repositories for documents, audio files or video — in addition of course to face to face gatherings and designed-for-print publications. Which of these approaches seem to hold out most advantages, and how might they be combined? The workshop session is when we can deliberate on this, and a cardsort is my proposed mechanism for this.

Hopefully, all participants will appreciate the opportunity this exercise will afford to sift through the approaches we’ve heard of through the day, and brainstorm a few more. And for the KIDMM community, this foray into ‘requirements elicitation’ has another benefit — with the assistance of a final-year software engineering student, Susan Payne of De Montfort University, we are embarking on our own venture into online community. In the next eight months, Susan will be writing a custom web application based on a CMS (content management system), designed to match the needs of knowledge communities such as KIDMM.

If you’re interested in learning more about cardsorting and other user requirement elicitation strategies, I have written up a five-page account of my BarCamp5 session — how I presented the topic and how people responded to it — which is available for download as a PDF file. [But see NOTE below]

Also available for download is my preconference paper: a literature and concept review on knowledge management, communities of practice and approaches to the evaluation of online community toolkits. [But see NOTE below]

NOTE: The domain kidmm.org has been kidnapped! Following KIDMM-hosted links will currently take to a Web site about baby clothes and things. Apologies while this gets sorted out. It is partly due to the incompetence of my ISP, Adept (should be Inept?) Hosting, who are also currently ignoring calls for support. [11 Oct 2008]

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I’M NEW TO BARCAMPS, and my first one was yesterday — in fact, a spillover from the main London BarCamp event, which was booked solid. (Or was it, I wonder? This spillover event organised at the BCS London meeting rooms allegedly had over fifty people coming, but half were no-shows, and it was two hours before enough people assembled to actually do anything…)

For an explanation of what a BarCamp is supposed to be, try this Wikipedia page. BarCamping shares some roots with Open Space methodology: there is no agenda in advance. Everyone attending is encouraged to make a presentation or run a workshop, with spaces and timeslots allocated dynamically.

Does it work? My verdict on that was also ‘open’. There were three sessions which I got something out of (not including my own). The first one was convened by my friend and KIDMM-colleague, Cher Devey. She asked, ‘How do we explain to people the products that we [i.e. developers] create?’ Four sub-topics emerged: Training in IT applications; Documentation of them; Interface design; and (slightly deviating from the question, but relevant without a doubt), whether the application was actually designed to meet users’ needs and expectations.

Technology journalist Arjun Jassal described an Indian government project to put an Internet kiosk in every village. This is not meeting its goals, said Arjun, because these big unfamiliar machines which whirr and blink are intimidating, and villagers have mostly never used a keyboard before. In contrast, some non-government initiatives using mobile phones have taken off in rural India. As the expression has it, ‘What has that to do with the price of fish?’ Well, in Kerala fishermen who have landed a good catch phone in to several ports to see where they can get the best price for their catch (see here).

Arjun's Hindi-enabled phone (left), and Isriya's Thai-enabled one.

Arjun's Hindi-enabled phone (left), and Isriya's Thai-enabled one. Click to enlarge.

This raised the question of which languages are used for Asian SMS and how the keypad relates to that. Yes, said Arjun, of course people write SMS in their own local language, and that language is on the keypad. At which, he pulled his Hindi-enabled mobile from his pocket, and Isriya Paireepairit brought forth his Thai-enabled one. I took a photo of the phones side by side.

Both these languages have more letterforms than English, so while every English letter is listed, the Hindi and Thai keypad annotations take the form X-Z instead: a range. Since I’m more familiar with Thai, I can explain that the No. 2 key is used for five consonants from kaw to ngaw, the No 3 key for six consonants from jaw to yaw and so on. The star key evidently accesses the inline vowels, the zero key gives the superscript and subscript vowels, and the hash key gives the most common tone markers mai ek and mai to.

I find it interesting that this imposes a further requirement on the user: to know the order of their particular alphabet. Thus maw, raw and law are all accessed by multiple presses of key 7, but none of them are marked on the keytop.