I was late arriving for the first session of the day (sorry) so I missed the start of Nigel Ford’s presentation. His discussion of pathways (as applied to europeana.eu) made sense though – surely in an ideal world what every system needs is an infinite number of routes through the information, to suit “an infinite array of users”?
Providing the most obvious, commonly used ones should meet the needs of most customers, but by enabling them to make their own paths as well you don’t exclude those who want to search off the beaten track, have the knowledge to run complex searches or whose search methods vary from the norm.
Ian Rowlands’ analogy of the college that built the paths eighteen months after the buildings, so that they followed the routes taken by users and not the other way around, really rang true (I think I’ve heard it before, but then he was my tutor at City so maybe I have!).
Ford’s rallying call for researchers and practitioners to work more closely together rang true too. Research doesn’t really influence the way I work at all, change rarely happens and I’m sure there are better ways of doing what I do. But reading research takes time and, as Ford said, practitioners tend to focus on the bottom line.
The ‘art versus science’ analogy (and I missed the author of the study) is a good one – researchers are all about robustness, vigorous data and models that don’t necessarily apply to the real world, while practitioners are good at real world usefulness but without basing it on solid research.
As Ford said, we “need both elements of our knowledge…more interaction to achieve critical mass”, or “progress will be difficult”.