Evolving Metaphors for Managing and Interacting with Digital Information

  • Natasa Milic-FraylingEmail author
  • Rachel Jones


Digital information is ephemeral. It requires a dedicated infrastructure and a concerted user effort to ensure that it is persisted for further usage. As information technology and practices evolve, we observe shifts in the metaphors we use to manage and relate to the digital content. In this chapter we reflect on the developments that are transforming the Personal Computing (PC) Desktop environment. First, from the direct observations of users in the early days of Internet adoption, we consider the support they had for authoring, storing, and viewing digital content and the practices they adopted for organizing and sharing information. We underline the evolution of email from a communication channel to a rich authoring environment that stores and contextualizes documents created during user activities. With that we observe the increased rate at which knowledge workers are exposed to information through content streams and the speed at which they need to react and engage. These changes presented challenges to the segmented and application bound information storage on the PCs. They exposed the insufficient support for managing and organizing content from Web services. Second, we discuss the approach that de-emphasizes storage management and focuses on the support for user activities. In order to enable organization of the distributed digital content we generalize the notion of folders to collections that comprise references to digital objects in disparate storage locations and services. We also advocate semantically rich representations of collections that capture relationships among digital items and usage context. The file metaphor is expanded to a composition of digital information that transcends file boundaries and incorporates sub-document parts or alternative representations of resources in the collection. These notions are promising for transitioning to the cloud computing paradigm and ubiquitous access to resources through multi-device personal computing.


File System Digital Content Email Message Desktop Application Logical Organization 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Prototypes and research studies described in this Chapter are conducted by the Integrated Systems Group at the Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge, UK in collaboration with Instrata Ltd., Cambridge, UK. Special acknowledgments go to Yvonne Sanderson and Gerard Oleksik from Instrata Ltd. for their work on the user studies. Eduarda Mendes Rodrigues conducted quantitative analyses and, together with Gabriella Kazai and Annika Hupfeld worked on the design of the TAGtivity features. We particularly recognize the work by Gavin Smyth who is solely responsible for the implementation and deployment of TAGtivity software. The prototype is publicly released as the Microsoft Research Project Colletta


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Microsoft Research LtdCambridgeUK
  2. 2.Instrata LtdCambridgeUK

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