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Dennis Quan: "Haystack"

Thursday, November 13, 2003, 4:00 - 5:00 PM EST

Bartos Theatre, MIT Media Lab (E15)

Information overload is becoming an artifact of daily life, negatively affecting our productive use of email, the Web, and desktop computers. One fundamental problem is that computers force users to organize information using rigid tools such as folder hierarchies—the information-age analog of the filing cabinet. Many in the information retrieval and human-computer interaction communities have begun to examine this problem in earnest by allowing users to associate information with objects such as timelines, tasks, and keywords. We have opted to generalize these approaches by permitting freeform associations between arbitrary objects, which better matches the organizational styles of some users while also supporting those who require a more structured framework for organization.

We have developed an information-management tool called Haystack that allows users to manage information encoded in semantic networks, a generalized knowledge representation scheme. Haystack takes advantage of this flexibility to integrate information currently dispersed amongst multiple separate applications, such as email, contact lists, calendars, documents, bookmark collections, and notes, and presents a unified environment that allows users to browse and aggregate items of importance in whatever way is most natural to them. Haystack also allows custom information types and modes of presentation to be incorporated into the system. Furthermore, by raising the level of expressiveness for recording information, Haystack provides a basis for users to take advantage of sophisticated approaches to information retrieval, agent-based negotiation, and collaboration envisioned by researchers in the artificial intelligence, semantic Web, and CSCW communities. The talk will begin with a brief demonstration of the system, after which Quan will discuss underlying technologies, and applications to personal information management and bioinformatics.

Dennis Quan is a research staff member at IBM Watson Research, where he works on XML and semantic Web metadata technologies and applications thereof to bioinformatics. He received his PhD in computer science at MIT based on research into Haystack. Previously he worked on Sash, creating the Sash integrated development environment and many of the user interface components of the system. He also holds SB degrees in mathematics and chemistry from MIT.

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