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Ambient Findability by Peter Morville

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Documents

Articles, books, contracts: what is common to them all? How about a song, a weather forecast, a satellite image? Where is the border between data and documents ? In the digital era, at the edges of this family of artifacts, Wittgenstein's wisdom becomes clear. Basic definitions focus on written or printed information that is fixed in form. More sophisticated approaches invoke the centrality of intentionality, embracing a wider circle of less tangible, more mutable expressions of human thought. But all attempts fall short. Like most objects of consequence, the document resists definition; and in this free state, unbound by simple rules, plays an amazing role in our lives.

Historically, documents have served as power objects. Receipts and passports prove ownership and identification. Written contracts, charters, certificates, commandments, and constitutions glow with embedded authority. Their legal, moral, and symbolic value sustains our institutions of government, education, and commerce. Modern civilization is unimaginable without these instruments of communication, collaboration, and control.

Yet, many have characterized our time as the beginning of the end of documents. Deborah Juhnke, a computer forensics expert, says our "reliance on the document paradigm must change" because from a legal, evidentiary perspective, "the document is dead."[*] And information architect Gene Smith argues "the page is dying as the predominant metaphor for organizing and presenting online ...

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