Designing the Future

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Getting off the ground

Starting projects isn't particularly difficult for me... its finishing them that give me trouble. Now, for this one I do have a spur in the form of my advisor, Jim Whitehead. I have been... absent... from my own weblog for a number of months as I start to get this particular project off the ground. I wouldn't say I've accomplished that just yet, but there's at least smoke coming out of the engines.

But now I'm ready to answer a question I posed a few months ago: What does this blog have to do with design or the future?

My Ph.D. project is called Whisper, for Web Information Sharing Project. The purpose is to provide academics with a single web-based environment in which they can perform their daily work. This is useful because academics are expected to know nearly everything that is going on and has been done in their field; most of us end up with folders (physical and computerized) of papers that are barely organized and hard to search. We're also expected to work with others, sometimes people we've never met who live on opposite sides of the world. And finally, we need to publish what we find so others can build on our work. While there are many tools to assist with any one of these major tasks, and sometimes two, I have found only a few tools that can be adapted to provide assistance at all three levels of an academic's work: personal, project, and community. Whisper is intended to fill this need. While some have suggested I should adapt an existing package, such as DSpace, I strongly believe that Whisper needs to be a new system, unencumbered by the historical design decisions of other programs, and one which I can control the evolution of (at least until I get my Ph.D.).

This blog is intended to document the design and evolution of Whisper, and the ideas that feed into it. If Whisper is successfully deployed, academics will find many of their daily tasks easier, leading to more productive research. And there's nothing that says the ideas and techniques developed for Whisper can't be applied to other fields, such as law, politics, construction, or even people's daily lives. For example, politicians would be able to create a community of their constituents where discussions about pending bills could occur. Or your grandmother could start to share the family recipes, but only share them with the family... its intended to be that easy to use. But we start with academics because I'm in a Ph.D. program and around here, its hard to swing a 2 inch stick without hitting four or five of the intended users.


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