Navigation In a Multidimensional World of Data

navigation (cc)In my last post, I picked on The Trouble With Tagging - and when you consider tagging in the context of content, you run into the trouble of navigation. Content Management Systems permit tags to be used as a way to find similarly tagged content. This is in the hope that the content itself will be similar simply because it's tagged the same, but that's not necessarily true.

If we consider it in the context of real world 3D navigation - something I know something about - using tags as they are presently popularly lused - we're taking a single data point and extrapolating where we are. While it's true that you need to know where you are to know what's around you, the reality is that it's just not a great way to navigate content. 

3D Navigation

In the days when Second Life popularity was at it's peak, 3 dimensional navigation of content was so interesting that Amazon.com spent some money exploring the idea of navigating products in 3 dimensions. That didn't work out too well, though intuitively it made some sense. The trouble was that the finding of a book in a bookstore, while charming to some of us, is not what made Amazon into the powerhouse it is. The foundation of Amazon was being able to allow people to find what they wanted quickly and purchase it quickly - allowing those lucrative spontaneous purchases where we consumers don't have time to think about whether we should actually spend the money. 

I watched in Second Life as Amazon.com did their R&D, and came to a conclusion before their project ended: Nothing they could do in a virtual world could measure up to what they had done in a 2D world (your browser) simply because they had taken multidimensional navigation to a new level. 
While much of the Internet was busy selling their goods, Amazon.com was finding ways to connect things through navigation that were working. That's why Amazon.com is still standing and many people who were late to the game remain unknown. 

There Are Still Issues

Consider what I wrote in Online Shopping User Experience vs. Design. It remains flawed because not everyone sees the world the same way, and because we use nouns and adjectives as single points to navigate by. 

The future will likely be using more than one point to navigate by. It works for use everywhere else but on the Internet. 

The Trouble With Tagging

Tagged!I've been quietly considering a new method of navigation by tags and, ultimately, while everything I want to do is technically possible... the trouble is with the tags themselves.

Just the word 'tag' has become something that has multiple meanings. On Facebook or Flickr, as examples, it could be linking content to another user - but the context I have been considering it within is as a description of content - like this blog post will have tags. 

The trouble with tags are the inconsistency. Assuming that everyone is using the same language, tags can be different based on the personal context of the author and/or publisher. 
At the meta level, those differences can be cultural, linguistic and even subversive. Pierre Levy has been addressing this through the Semantic Sphere (reference: The Semantic Sphere 1: Computation, Cognition and Information Economy) and, to this layperson who has made his way through that book, it seems like a step in the right direction - allowing symbolism to cross boundaries of culture and language (but not subversion). 

At the micro level, as usual, things get a bit messier. First, there are two extremes of tagging - tagging for people to read and get page views to drive advertising and tagging for people to find what they are looking for. Most individuals that tag are somewhere in between the two extremes of tagging motivation. I know for a fact that I try to strike a balance myself and that I lean toward 'people finding what they are looking for' - perhaps too much for me to drive revenue through my websites. Then there are the different ways in which content can be tagged with a specific tag - where 'social media' typically encompasses 'Facebook', but both the 'social media' and 'Facebook' tags are used because search engine optimization isn't trusted enough to make the implicit connection between the two. 

After all, people creating content on the Internet largely want their content to be seen, regardless of what value potential readers attach to their work(s) - and many people, despite not creating great content that people actually do want to see, instead market more than alter what they are doing to make it more popular. Tags get used and abused and generally may not represent the content as viewers see it - instead being tagged as the author of the work sees it. 

It's really a subjectively awful mess out there, all things considered. 

Is there a solution? Probably, but it would require a level of standardization that a few billion typing monkeys would need to adopt. 

My High End Point And Shoot: Upgrade or Not? (2014)

Camera Self PortraitWith Black Friday coming up, and the Christmas shopping season in full swing, this seemed like something timely to write about.

Now that I've started adding posters of my photographs to the KnowProSE Zazzle Store, I've been finding the limits of my camera and, honestly, my ability as it progressed over the 16,000+ images I presently have on Flickr. It's not that I expect to get rich - I just want to get better images overall, and my true test is whether it can be printed at poster size (24"x36"). Those I have posted came out really well with a 16 megapixel camera.

Every photographer, amateur or professional, has different needs and different budgets, and I have had the pleasure of interacting with some great photographers. I'm a geek when it comes to designing and writing software, but I would still consider myself an amateur when it comes to my photography.

So I started asking myself what I needed. Since I started shooting wildlife, I've been a big fan of point and shoots with very high optical zoom. I've been in the HDR trap for some time (hat tip to Mark Lyndersay for gently and reasonably pointing out the stages of photographers).

If You're Reading This, You're Probably Not A Professional

I'm not a professional photographer - with some images sold, I'd call myself a semi-professional or more accurately, a hobbyist who gets an image sold now and then. I am, however, a photographer who is interested in becoming better and who truly enjoys capturing images. This blog entry assumes both you and I, gentle reader, have that common goal.

Key Things To Ask Yourself

  • What don't you like about your images now?
    For me, at this time, it's that I want more DPI for printing, and that I'm a little frustrated with the shutter speed of my present camera. Let's not forget the pain of low lighting, which I have been beating (sometimes) with HDR processing.
  • What are your limits as a photographer? This is a hard question, requiring a level of honesty with yourself. For me, it's that no matter how much optical zoom I have, I haven't been able to catch a bird in flight in detail yet. In fact, I've found that I only use about 50% of the optical zoom on my camera. So maybe optical zoom isn't such a big deal for me, and maybe I am not in the market for the 60x optical zooms on the market.
  • What and Why Do You Actually Shoot?
    For a long time, while I was traveling, I shot wildlife as I found it - particularly birds. Before that, and the reason I actually started digital photography, was so that I had my own images for my blog(s) rather than licensing the images of others. Creative Commons has made that easier for me now on Flickr, so that's not why. Why do I shoot now? My present challenge is to make more posters I would like on my own walls, and by proxy increasing the overall quality of my photographs for prints.
  • What's Your Budget?
    I could probably afford under $300 right now. I could lie to myself and say that all the images I take with the camera will help subsidize the purchase, but the reality is that to pay for a $300 camera I'd probably have to sell 150 posters. So it's not about making money as much as creating better images - so below $300 is reasonable.

The Harsh Mirror

After looking through the harsh mirror and seeing what I actually shoot, and what I have tried and failed to shoot, I know I still have some work to do myself that the equipment won't help. Tracking a moving bird, for example, is hard at 1x, but at 30x it's much more difficult (30x?) - and that's something I do need to work on. The top end 60x point and shoots, while drool-worthy, are not something I see myself growing into anytime soon except for tripod stills - and if it's that far away, maybe I should get closer (old photographer trick - moving closer).

In the end, as I look at the old Canon I bought in 2011, the only issue I see with it now is the raw amount of DPI that I get out of a print - and that's a factor of sensor quality and the number of megapixels.

As I wrote this, Mark Lyndersay mentioned to me in a comment, "You'll also want to consider pixel cramming on the sensor. 16MP on a four-thirds sensor won't give you the same result as the same resolution on full-frame or an old medium format camera." To balance that with cost effectiveness, this opinion is also worth reading.

Armed with this knowledge, I headed to Amazon's Point and Shoot Cameras and poked around. I found some promising things, but as you should know the manufacturers are more interested in selling cameras than actually telling you how their product compares to others. Before you click and buy a camera, go to Google or your search engine of choice and paste in the camera model number accompanied by 'review'. Read the reviews, even if you don't understand everything, and read at least 2 reviews before buying.

I didn't find anything worth gambling my money on, but you might. I then looked through Flickr's Camera Finder to see what was popular, and the most popular are well out of my budget.

Speaking for myself, after a long and arduous search for what I wanted, I saved myself a few hundred dollars... by not upgrading and sticking with what I have. This may not be an option for you if you're buying a gift, so just pick the best option you can.

Why I Chose Not To Buy Now.

There were a few factors involved. First of all, my Canon SX30 IS is still versatile and gives me really good bang for dollars already spent. While I'd like more megapixels (it's 14.1 megapixel), I've been able to squeeze poster prints out of it - something that, given the amount of reading I've done today, makes me feel a bit better about my level of ability.

The reviews of the cameras I was interested in were less than stellar. The noise on them was reported high on reviews consistently, and I don't want to buy noise. I have enough.

Frankly, I haven't seen anything that warrants an upgrade. There are so many variables involved and manufacturer's haven't really been knocking my socks off with their 'upgrades'. The way the high end point and shoot market seems stationary. It may be time for me to save and go to a DSLR and get out of point and shoot hell, but I just don't want to spend all that money and lug around all that gear.

Your mileage may vary.

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