JCL Blog

Context is Important

Even though I think that search is just getting started and that a new Google could come along any day, I do regularly have a very satisfying experience with search on Google maps.  After I broke my glasses the other day I need an optometrist close enough to the office that I could do the whole thing in about an hour. I searched for "Optometrist Bellevue", clicked on the map, and immediately had a visual display of options near my office.  As I moved the map around, say I changed my mind and wanted Seattle instead, the search results updated to give me options in the viewable area of the map.  This is good stuff.  Not long ago I would have been looking at list of all of the Bellevue's in the country...

This brings up the importance of context.  Of course this is a simple example and geographic context is the easiest to visualize and make happen.  Facebook is busy building a context system for human identity and relationships and that will prove to be a little trickier.  There are also people working to create context systems in the news.  News is only interesting when taking in context -- and news context is both subjective and illusive.  The Greek debt story in the NY Times today is indecipherable without the proper context and the context around monetary policy in the European Union is more than can be captured in Wikipedia - even though the entry in Wikipedia on the European Union is quite good.

Wouldn't it be cool if we had a simple way to present the sweeping context that surrounds every story so that we are following today?  Each story adds to the context and makes each new story more interesting and more valuable.  I like things presented in timelines, and Wikipedia does that -- but it is not terribly readable.

There was a panel discussion in Austin at SXSW this year that brought this conversation up a few levels and as a result a discussion is forming around the web site the Future of Context.

This is going to be a very interesting topic to follow.