Thursday, November 7, 2002

On Faceted Classifications

I've followed recent discussions on Ranganathan's Colon Classification system and its possible application to context-aware computing.

For those unfamiliar with this, Boxes and Arrows writes that the "system is based on Ranganathan looking for “universal principles” inherent in all knowledge. His belief was that if he could identify these, organizing around them would be more intuitive for the user. Rather than creating a slot to insert the object into, one starts with the object and then collects and arranges all the relevant pieces on the fly. This allows for greater flexibility and a high degree of specificity. The fundamental facets that Ranganathan developed were: Personality, Matter, Energy, Space, and Time.

Personality—what the object is primarily “about.” This is considered the “main facet.”
Matter—the material of the object
Energy—the processes or activities that take place in relation to the object
Space—where the object happens or exists
Time—when the object occurs

And Elaine Svenonius' book defines facets as the "grouping of terms obtained by the first division of a subject division into homogenous or semantically cohesive categories...When a facet is semantically cohesive, terms in it are related by the paradigmatic relationships of synonymy and hierarchy, and the totality of facets used in the subject language is mutually exclusive."

Damn, I find that fascinating! But I think it suffers one flaw if we seek to apply it to context-awareness: context is neither homogenous nor cohesive, and any (semantic) attempt to make it so may inadvertently create representations and guide interpretations where they might be better left to emerge, or break-down, on their own. I'll be the first to admit that I know nothing about library science, and I could be completely missing the point here, but I do understand the concept of universals and its propensity towards boxing, or at least ordering, chaos. Even if the map does not preceed the territory, we're still left with a map - and maps are only ever partial truths, representations abstracted from performativity. I'd like to see context-awareness designed around principles of voluptuousness and leakage... and if this sort of classification can accomodate that, please let me know.

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