Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Thursday, October 29, 2009day link 

 Convergent or Divergent
picture I've written about it before, but it is important enough to bear repeating.

Different settings, tools, or approaches might be convergent or divergent. Meaning, some of them tend to converge on a particular result, and some of them tend to send you off into different directions, i.e. they have a diverging effect.

These terms are also used to describe weather, which makes for some interesting metaphors.

If you maintain the illusion that you're going to get something done, you should know that most of what goes on on the Internet is divergent. There are zillions of ways of being distracted. Lots of tidbits of information are drifting by, lots of people are rotating in your periphery. A lot of this is interesting and gives you new ideas about what else you could do, or what you could study, or what you could talk about, or how you could be entertained.

Some people make the hasty conclusion that this kind of connectivity per definition is a time waster. They might still use it, but might limit it as a drug. "OK, I'll just do an hour on the Net after dinner, and I'll just check my e-mail in the morning, for 10 minutes".

Divergence isn't bad. It is great for many things. The only problem is if you only have divergence tools, and nothing else.

Somehow, tools for convergence got left out, mostly. I'd like to invent some more. Hopefully I get around to that soon.

If you're very focused, the Net is a great tool. I.e. if you ensure the convergence yourself, and you resist all the invitations to diverge, it can indeed provide what you need, very quicly. If you have a specific question or quest, like finding the best and cheapest lawn mower, the Net can help you. Actually the Net doesn't help you very actively with that, but it provides everything you need to decide it on your own.

Most tools on the net will offer you a smorgasbord at every step, even if you have something specific in mind. Like, if I spend 1/2 hour on locating that lawn mower. In that time I'd have been offered 1000s of other possibilities for products, for other activities, for reading the news, etc. If I'm weak, I'll be looking at LOL cats at the end of that 1/2 hour, and I'd have bought a couple of books about medieval mysticism at Amazon. If I'm strong, I'd have my answer, and I'd have avoided the other temptations.

It is like a repetitive game of Find Waldo. I get presented with one scenario after each other, and if I'm sharp and I locate Waldo each time, and thus refine my search, I might arrive at the target. And, sure, Waldo is always there, but so are 100s of other strange things.

So, just imagine for a moment how it would be if your tools were primarily convergent. In my lawn mower search, I'd maybe start with a broad view of everything that's available on lawn mowers on the net. Then I'd be offered sorts by satisfaction level and price and availability in my area. I'll get a cross section of these, and some table of features for the best matches, and I can make my choice. All of it without being offered all these other things, and all of it without fake information and hype.

Maybe that's the semantic web. It can certainly be hard to provide such a search tool without a consistent coding of all information on the net.

But it is also simply a decision to make tools that lead towards specific results for the user, rather than off into new directions.

E-mail, wikis, blogs, twitter, facebook, they all function more to surprise you with something new than they do to get done what you know you want to do. Yes, they could all be used for that purpose, but it requires a mind of steel.

An example of a tool would be software for running a meeting of people who need to make some decisions together. You maybe won't be able to start using it before the purpose of the meeting has been placed in the proper slot, and it will be visible during the meeting. Maybe there are different phases set up, which all are designed to lead, as a funnel, towards the desired outcome. So, maybe a visioning phase, maybe a brainstorming phase. Maybe making a list of possibilities, then having a mechanism for examining them, listing pros and cons, voting, or whatever. Finally weeding things down to the very short list of what has been decided, and then some way of making sure that everybody's very clear on what that was.

Anyway, since I only wrote this posting as a way of distracting myself from what I have to do today, let me get back to work...
[ | 2009-10-29 14:03 | 172 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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