Point of View in the Interface: Storytelling and Information Retrieval


Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University February 5, 1992


Storytelling is one of the primary ways that people structure information and convey it to others. It would be ideal for interactive systems to support users in this kind of narrative activity and scale well to large information domains. However, storytelling in and of itself, may fall short of the latter task. Designers working on new information retrieval techniques thrive on being able to access data in large databases, but in the name of access on a large scale they frequently create interfaces that are difficult and boring to use. My work explores the relationship between these two seemingly unrelated fields and how they can support users in a range of activities that includes producing and consuming interactive media on a small and large scale. One side effect of this combination is the heightened importance of point of view. Point of view is explicitly represented in storytelling through the use of characters and narrative voice. Point of view is often implicit in information retrieval databases but plays a significant role, most frequently manifesting itself in the way a database is indexed or linked. Most current systems fail to even acknowledge point of view, denying its existence in the name of objectivity. This talk will explore these theoretical issues and draw upon examples from WE MAKE MEMORIES, independently produced by the speaker; THE GUIDES PROJECT, produced by Apple Computer; and SINGING FEATHER, produced by the Mendocino County Library.


Abbe Don, owner of IN CONTEXT, divides her time as an interactive multimedia artist and interface designer. Her interactive video "We Make Memories" explores the relationship between oral narrative and new media as it simulates the way her great-grandmother told stories. She was also a member of the Guides design team (1988-1991) at Apple Computer which investigated the use of anthropomorphic characters in the interface who represent information retrieval algorithms as they convey information from multiple points of view. Abbe has recently completed "Share With Me a Story," a family history and personal storytelling tool. She also assisted the Apple Vivarium program with a set of tools that enable students and teachers to develop their own databases with a Guides-like interface. Abbe has a master's degree from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University.


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