A few days ago, fellow geek and rock-star developer Scott Hanselman posted about adjusting your side mirrors to eliminate blind spots when you drive. I have a little commute each day (only about ½ hour), but it was long enough for me to get bored yesterday. So rather than pay attention to my driving, I started playing with the side-view mirrors. I moved them way out and a little down, and it was interesting. Now this wasn’t extreme on the passenger side mirror, which is farther away from me, and so the movement of the mirror didn’t affect the field of view as much. But the change in the driver’s side was dramatic!
Most of my commute is multi-lane highway, so I got the chance to tweak the placement of the mirror. I adjusted it so that the overlap between the rear-view mirror and side mirror is tiny. A car moving up the left-hand lane from behind me is in my rear-view mirror most of the way, and then as they move up to about five feet from my bumper, they are in both my rear-view and side mirrors. When they are about even with my bumper, their grill and headlights are right in the middle of my side mirror, and they look huge. The result is no blind spot.
Two interesting observations occurred to me. One was that it is a little distracting to have so much movement of such optically large objects in that side-view mirror. The other is that I still look over my shoulder when I change lanes. I just can’t help it. I know that I have really good coverage in the mirrors, and yet all those years of driving have just made it a habit I can’t break.
After I got tired of playing with the mirrors and driving like a Californian (that is to say speeding up and slowing down randomly and changing lanes a lot) to test the mirror placement, I started thinking to fill the time. It’s a bad habit. Everything is an analogy to me. Abstract everything to the level that it’s useful for instruction or problem-solving. It makes me a better designer and architect and is one of the things that keeps my employer from being too upset about my other, less useful, quirks.
Where are my blind spots? Where are yours? There’s the root of a joke there somewhere, kind of like a lame public speaker saying, “Everyone who can’t hear me, raise your hand.” If we could see them, they wouldn’t be blind spots. Yet that’s not completely true, either. While we may not know what’s in the blind spot, we often know exactly where it is. This is the reason for my looking over my shoulder when I change lanes. Even after I adjusted my mirrors to cover that spot, years of experience still tell me that I’m missing something unless I look.
I’m the same way with the information flow in my work and home life. I have a lot of information stores that I rely on, yet I know that I can’t keep up with all of them. This is frustrating because I know that hidden in there are little gems that would make my life and work easier, but the value proposition is just not there to justify sifting through the dross. I need more efficient filtering, but to date a lot of that has been in the form of word-based searches and filters. This works to some extent, but our dear old language has so many ways to express the same ideas that it, like my old mirror alignment, had lots of overlap and left some pretty significant blind spots. I want something better.
So we built it. That is, after all, what we do. Working with ideas from the team and product management, we started to pull together some of the technology that has been in the Enterprise product for a long time but has never been obvious or used in quite this way before. We’ve always looked for correlations between the interests of individuals. Likewise, we pay attention to what people pay attention to, aggregating meta-information about how users and groups of users deal with the flow of data. Much of this has been in the product from day one, and we have been supplementing it as it has evolved.
Now with the 2.0 release, we’re ready to start using this to cover the blind spots in your information flow. It’s like having a personal assistant who not only skims everything out there and pulls in stuff that they know from past experience might be important, but also polls your team, company and the world in general to find out what’s interesting to folks like you.
As I use these new features, I’m amazed at the subtle and yet profound change in my information management. New ideas are just waiting for me there in my folders; some from sources I’ve long known and trusted, others from new and unexpected places. I’m seeing more and searching less.
Does this mean I’ll delete all my subscriptions and let the system just surface what it knows I’m interested in? Probably not right away. I’m still looking over my shoulder to make sure that I’m not missing anything big and important sneaking up on me. But I have a feeling that if the system keeps surfacing the right information automatically, I’ll have different things to think about on my commute.
Director – Enterprise Applications