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Peter Morville is president of Semantic Studios, an information architecture, user experience, and findability consultancy. For over a decade, he has advised such clients as AT&T, IBM, Microsoft, Harvard Business School, Internet2, Procter & Gamble, Vanguard, and Yahoo. Peter is best known as a founding father of information architecture, having co-authored the field's best-selling book, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. Peter serves on the faculty at the University of Michigan's School of Information and on the advisory board of the Information Architecture Institute. He delivers keynotes and seminars at international events, and his work has been featured in major publications including Business Week, The Economist, Fortune, and The Wall Street Journal. You can contact Peter Morville by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also find him offline at 42.2 N 83.4 W or online at semanticstudios.com and findability.org.
Peter Morville is a pioneer of the fields of information architecture and user experience. He advises such clients as AT&T, Cisco, Harvard, IBM, Macy's, the Library of Congress, and the National Cancer Institute. He has delivered conference keynotes in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. His work has been covered by Business Week, The Economist, NPR, and The Wall Street Journal. Peter lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife, two daughters, and a dog named Knowsy. When he's not running, biking, swimming, or hiking, you can find him on the Internet at semanticstudios.com and intertwingled.org.
Ambient Findability can be summed up as follows: There is a lot of information on the web so it's hard to find what you want, it's going to get worse, and the author claims to know what to do about it but won't tell you.
The book starts out with great promise. I believed it would contain insights, sage advice, and practical details about how to make my web pages findable to my audience. The first couple of chapters were great introductory material, and they whetted my appetite for the meaty material that was sure to follow.
Then, there was some more introductory material, and I began to notice that the author threw a lot of quotes around but didn't explore them very deeply, and threw in illustrations of things mentioned in passing in the book that really didn't illuminate anything. For example, he mentioned the Tower of Babel, and then presented an illustration of a Bruegel painting of it, which illustrated... not much. After a dozen of these you wonder if they were just trying to make the book look bigger.
Around page 100 or so, I wondered if the author would ever stop glossing over introductory material, and actually get to the meat of the book. Unfortunately this never happened as far as I was concerned, and so my frustration. Ambient Findability never delivered any practical tips or any insightful theories that could help an aspiring web designer.
One thing you can say for the author, he has read a lot of great books, and Ambient Findability contains references to many great classics worth reading, including Blink, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, the Cluetrain Manifesto, and Don't Make Me Think. I wish the author had chosen to emulate those books and had worked to develop and present some insights of his own, rather than just drop quotes from other sources. As it is, this book is good for gathering a few references to other better literature, and not much else.
My everyday work involves search engines, both using them for research and developing the technology. I was deeply impressed by the lengthy and highly enthusiastic reviews posted here. One day, I wandered into a bookstore and saw the book. I bought it without even opening it. I have to say that given the high expectation, I was quite disappointed by the book.
I read the book in detail for most parts of it and skimmed through the rest of it. The book I like most is that it is not just about Google, blog search, myspace, etc. It attempted to give a broad analysis of the topic, mostly from non-technical viewpoints, drawing literatures from very diversified sources, AI, social science, politics, history, etc. I learned terms like folksonomies, boundary objects and a lot of stories and quotes that I can use to make my next presentation on the same subject more interesting. This is what I gained from the book.
The main weakness of the book is twofold. First, the book does not help you understand more about the problem of findability and where the future might be, let alone giving you a hint on the solution; it repeats what most people have already known and re-asserted it with more discussions and examples. Second, the writing adopted a style commonly found in online articles and blogs. Beautiful but confusing statements. The style is good for online writing where creating controversies and arguments is an important goal of writing, but I won't expect it from a book. For example, on Page 38, the author said "... visualization approaches fail because there's no there there." It is not only hard to understand, but once you do you find it not true.Read more ›
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Morville's work is the most appropriate follow-on to the usability concepts so well promoted by Steven Krug in his Don't Make Me Think and Jakob Nielsen in Designing Web Usability. "Findability," Morville argues, is a necessary component in the success and propagation of an idea or detail or fact. Business and non-profits alike will benefit from understanding the value of findability.
Obviously, findability serves more than just internet marketers and hucksters. Morville offers an example of a nonprofit medical research agency and how the findability -- in this case, the search engine ranking of their web content -- affected people's ability to get authoritative, quality information on the web.
"[T]he [web development] team", Morville writes, "had to look beyond the narrow goals of web site design, to see their role in advancing the broader mission of disseminating [...] information to people in need."
Morville could have asked "if a remarkable idea springs up in the forest, but it doesn't show up in the first page of Google search results, is it really all that remarkable?" But findability is more than that, and there's a lot more to the book. Morville discusses findability in depth, considering both its current and possible future implications. Eventually, of course, findability will butt up against our notions of privacy, and Morville explores that as well.
Though the book will serve information architects, software designers building anything related to web content management, web designers, marketers, and PR flacks well, its real gift is to the teachers, researchers, librarians, and public servants who handle so much valuable data that must (or, in some cases, must not) be findable.
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