Friday, November 24, 2006

Granular reuse

One of the core aspects of Compendium for me has always been the concept of granular reuse of knowledge elements, even back in QuestMap days. This means that you can make use of the same elements (nodes and links) in multiple contexts, even in completely different projects or databases. The work you did to create the elements in the first place can be leveraged many times for different purposes. It can happen on many different levels -- for example, just the text, or the way you have constructed a whole node with its images, tags, etc., or sets of nodes and links and maps together. I wrote about it in this 1998 paper.

Granular reuse is one of the things that makes Compendium different from other approaches, like concept mapping, because the work you do in one context can be so easily and multiply reused in another. The more familiar and fluid you are with the different techniques and concepts, the more you can make use of your knowledge elements over and over, getting new and different value each time.

I spent so much time over the last few days constructing my first portfolio map -- a View by Time. It wasn't the linking and arranging of the map itself, but rather the construction of the individual nodes -- finding good URLs of the items (in some cases they'd moved or dropped off the web at some point); getting the bibliographic info for the publication; messing around with the text; doing repeated copying of the HTML files to the KMi server, seeing something that needed fixing, changing it in Compendium and re-generating the exports, re-copying the files, etc. Last night, when dropping off after the usual Thanksgiving glut, I had the thought that although I liked how the View by Time had come out, I also wanted to see the portfolio in different ways, like grouped thematically. So this morning I sat down to construct that view (and yes also to continue procrastinating on the writing I need to do).

This time it was way quicker to create even though the view itself was kind of involved, because all I had to do was transclude the nodes from the View by Time into the new View by Type map. Most of the other work was done for me (by me) already, this was just making a new arrangement of the elements. What makes it 'granular reuse' is that, as with all transclusions, if I make changes to any of the individual nodes they will be made in both views (a kind of magic that I am always amazed by). And the some of the ancillary stuff I'd done in the first view, like the "Related Links" navigation (some which point to web pages and some which are views in the same Compendium project), were immediately reusable although I modified them for the new view. I also realized that the titling and background, which I had done for the first view in by laboriously arranging the titles and category headings in Powerpoint, saving them as a JPG then using that as my map background, could more easily be done with icon-less Compendium nodes and Scribble-layer drawings. So now both views are 100% Compendium constructions, and in the same database so I could easily make new views with some or all of the same elements.

When I was making the second view, it became a lot more apparent to me how I should be tagging the nodes. I used the categories that I'd shown as Questions in the View by Time (e.g. "co-authored papers", "Compendium experiments", etc.) as the seeds for the tags. As I started to tag the nodes I realized that I could do it better by having attributes separated out into different tags. For example, at first I had one tag for "co-authored papers" and another for "papers" (meaning I'd written those alone); I realized it would be better to have a tag for "co-authored" that could be applied to anything that I'd done with others, such as papers, book chapters, workshops, and so on. A more elegant structure, but more to the point of this post, it will allow me to do other reuse activities later, such as constructing a view that shows things I've worked on with other people. All I'll have to do is search for anything with "co-authored" as a tag, insert it into a new map, and go. Using the new Tags interface was a joy (thanks Simon and Michelle!).

I don't feel that I am getting across what I'd like to here, the power and fluidity of Compendium's granular reuse mechanisms, so I will probably have to revise this at some point when I'm better inspired. Now this is the last thing on my list of must-procrastinate-because-this-is-also-worth-doing items for today; heading to the writing table (arghh! just spent another 15 minutes cleaning up the Home Window of my Compendium PhD database, which was also on my list).

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