Quest for the Perfect Dissertation

Michael Zimmer's presentation at SDP 2007Michael Zimmer has been talking this afternoon about The Quest for the Perfect Search Engine: Values, Technical Design, and the Flow of Personal Information in Spheres of Mobility – otherwise known as his recently completed dissertation. Michael started off with a quick gallop through the theoretical background and the major figures (Williams, Innis, Postman and more, the above being the names that are of particular interest to me), talking about “value-conscious design” and his study of the development of search engines. The perfect solution includes perfect reach (which a lot of people have been working on) and the more difficult perfect recall (contexual). The amusing, on-screen example was knowing whether a search for Paris Hilton was for the hotel or the ‘celebrity’. The dark side, of course, is what Michael refers to as the “Faustian bargain”, not new to search but a very controversial and current one in the context of supersize megoogle etc. The possible solutions/responses include legal regulation of search, internal policy/self-regulation, and value-conscious design; I was struck by the problem of how researchers can engage with techies and designers to encourage such design.

In the last few minutes, we’ve been listening to a helpful exchange over presentation styles and so on, led by Jonathan Zittrain. He has been throwing out various ideas (now and earlier) – a good suggestion is that you should “say enough that someone can disagree with you” (rather than lock it down so tightly and avoid any risk!) Already, this sort of feedback looping and wandering is a theme of the summer programme, and is extremely valuable for me (and hopefully for others). We have two or three presentation sessions a day from students, although usually we’ll have to choose from a menu. So unfortunately, I won’t get to mention all of them, but I’m sure the other bloggers will. On that note, we have a del.icio.us stream going on now – over at del.icio.us/tag/sdp2007, and a GREAT aggregator at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/planet/sdp2007/. Check it out….

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