Monday, April 21, 2008

Maps vs outlines or slides

Over the years, a few of us at the core of the Compendium community have had a number of discussions about whether there are inherent advantages or drawbacks to using maps in meetings, or for post-meeting notes, vs. other more conventional forms like text outlines or slides.

For me, there is nothing inherent about a dialog or concept map one way or the other (positive or negative) in terms of comprehensibility. The value of a map has much more to do with the way people engage with it and shape the artifact, what the discourse around it is. The same is true with linear writing or Powerpoint slides. There is nothing inherent in them, either. Just using linear writing or slides does not guarantee engagement, comprehension, or expressiveness.

In my view, while dialog maps (as an example) may have certain potential affordances, they don't inherently have them in any particular situation. They only have them if whoever created them crafted them in such a way as to take advantage of those potential affordances. The same is true with any other representational strategy. In actuality, what matters is how they are crafted in the particular context and situation, not the abstract rules for that strategy that a practitioner may or may not follow.

In other words, it's not just a question of dialog maps vs powerpoint or outlines. Dialog maps don't make themselves (and neither do powerpoint slides or outlines). Their usefulness and value always rely on the skill of whoever made them and the match between their style/content and what their particular audience expected and can deal with. Same is true with any writing, and any representational approach.

There is nothing inherent in using a mapping representation that makes it have to conform to one convention or another about filtering, attribution, etc. It's the way it's done, or more accurately, the way the practitioner(s) chooses to do it, that makes the difference. If you take one slice of the overall experience -- reading the map or text/slides as a standalone artifact, you'll get one set of criteria of success/failure; take another slice (the engagement (or lack of it) with the artifact in the context of creation), you'll get another. And the same is true with writing or slides. To me it would be more accurate to say that a preference for outlines or slides is "habitual" than "natural." There's nothing at all natural about Powerpoint slides, or for that matter conventional writing (cf. The Alphabet and the Goddess etc.). There are only conventions, habits, styles, choices, and expectations.

Having said all that, there are of course differences between the different representational formats and people's expectations. But I think a discussion of those differences should include the human/making/skill dimension, or something gets lost. I'd very much like to see a discussion of the differences that also took that into account.

It would be great if this subject could be the central focus for dialogue, debate and inquiry that it should be! When I was at the 2,500+ person ACM CHI conference a few weeks ago, I was fantasizing that such topics would be a core matter of interest to such large groups of smart, engaged people, rather than the microscopic fringe as at present.

1 comment:

Thrift Slut said...

You have hit it right on the head:

"They only have them if whoever created them crafted them in such a way as to take advantage of those potential affordances."

It's the craft that matters!

What I love about software advances is that we can do so much more with better software and instead of negating the importance of individual creativity, good software amplifies it! After viewing thousands of powerpoint presentations, I still go ga-ga when I see a great one!

The issue with software, as with everything else, is mindfulness. Used mindfully, the most banal software can produce great results. Used mindlessly, the greatest software produces banal results.

wishing you well....