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What shall we do? A note on some of the problems of information science illuminated from the starting point of a very simple problem

John Lindsay, Reader in Information Systems Design, Kingston University, UK

Introduction

This paper takes as its starting point what might loosely be called tourism information services, though interestingly the library of the British Tourist Authority has no such concept[i]. It sets out to examine the resources available to someone who sets out to "do something", and in so doing, points to some of the problems which face us in trying to systematise the access to information which opportunities in the new information and communication technologies provide.

Walking?

So what shall we do? Well, I like walking, and walking provides an interesting problem to which we shall return - routes are more come complex information objects than places. So let's start from walking. Let's also start from Kingston.[ii]. (Well Surbiton if you don't mind, as that is the better railway station.)

We also appear to have strayed from tourism as it might be understood by tourism managers, for I am starting from where I live [iii]. But I want to suggest that we are all tourists now, and by putting ourselves into the position of seeing where we live as tourists we gain a richer experience of our envirnment.[iv] We also extend the information we require.

To bond this problem further I want to suggest a limit of five pounds or one hour's travel in order to get a full day out - OK - let's go for ten pounds and two hours - ten pounds a day would be the equivalent of the travel cost for flying somewhere exotic [v]. I am also excluding using a motor car! Partly because I don't want to have one - they cost 2,000 a year to keep on the road before you even start them up. But more so because they are environmentally unsustainable and it is good practice to see how far we can get without them [vi]. There is however a further systems advantage to dispensing with motor cars - it means you don't have to get back to where you started. You have the option of a linear route, or a circular one, or just stopping when you are tired or it rains, and getting the train home.[vii]

Now I as a walker like a fairly uncomplicated route for walking is as much about thinking as anything else, and I don't want to have to spend too much effort navigating. I also like divertissements, having a short attention span.[viii] I recognise that among serious walkers this puts me in the class of unspeakables. I am not going to gainsay their pleasure at twenty miles in the rain without ever seeing another sole, and they will be able to construct information objects as I can - but their subjectivity and mine are different.

So for walking we have at the simple start river banks, canals, disused railway lines and long distance paths. These are all fairly easy to find and I am well placed. I can go down the river to London, up to Oxford, to Reading, to Guildford, Godalming, Farnham, Dorking, lots of stations and lots of walks. I can take the train to a station, walk to another one and take a train back.[ix] And there are guidebooks to help me. Being on the edge of London is cheating a little as London has enough to keep one going for more than one life. A lots of walks described [x]. Places?

But let's make the problem a bit more complicated. Walking isn't just walking, it is about places to visit and things to see and do.[xi] I happen to like looking at garden and interesting buildings. Now buildings and gardens are in places which have locations, and are generally open only at specific times. Quite often they are in such private ownership that they aren't open at all. (Though that would be unlikely to dissway me - just make getting there more hazardous.)

So we have the problem of how do we find out about these things, and what do we need to know about them - what is necessary and what is sufficient. Clearly more complicated than public rights of way marked on Ordnance Survey maps.

If of first class national importance places of interest will be marked on the OS maps too - with some further information available from the key – in the ownership of the National Trust, ornamental garden, roman or medieval monument and so forth. So clearly I need at least the National Trust Handbook and the English Heritage Guide to Properties [xii]. Both these organisations also produce maps with all their properties listed. Both go further, and this we will return to in the solution part of the paper - both produce records which are close enough to a recognisable database structure. Places have names, they have addresses, phone numbers, opening times, admission prices and access by public transport [xiii]. Both have OS 6 digit grid reference, NT also post code. Each list has a rudimentary county map and both are organised by county. Each also has an index by common name. They also give details of access for different disadvantaged groups, and say something of the catering facilities available.

And much more besides. Many of these properties in order either to illuminate their purpose or to raise money, put on "events" and members of the EH or NT will receive mailings giving details of reconstructed Napoleonic battles, music evenings, festivals, fairs and much else besides. According to you taste this is most important information - either meaning get along or avoid like the plague[xiv].

However no more than a very short paragraph saying what is there should the journey have proven worthwhile. For that you have to go there and buy the guidebook. There is though a complementary volume for the NT properties with considerable detail. So for discussion about the buildings we need more. And the only ones covered in these two are those owned by the organisations.[xv] There is much else. Churches are an obvious starting point. They are the longest surviving parts of most urban areas and are both steeped in history and architecturally fascinating. The Reader can see what is coming - Pevsner.[xvi] The trouble is that Pevsner isn't really very interested in gardens, and hardly at all in canals or railways or long distances paths (unless architecturally important), he doesn't accommodate one iota towards who might own something, whether it might be open, whether anyone else other than the greatest architectural historian ever might get access. There are rudimentary maps with each volume, but for him a walk is a perambulation and that is the only time he travels by anything other than car. So for all other information another source will be needed.[xvii]

For gardens we have the National Gardens Scheme which publishes a list of over 3,000 gardens open at some stage. This is an order of magnitude more than either NT or EH. We are now getting into quite large volumes of data. Unfortunately the NGS isn't as structured in its data at the NT or EH, its indexing is rudimentary and it is only at the beginning of each county that the lists by time open are provided. This emphasis on county for data organisation we will have to return to later. There is some but little public transport information and no OS map references [xviii].

But this is still only properties which take part in the scheme and there is no quality control so some might not make a rewarding experience. Vermilion Press has produced a Good Gardens Guide, which does have some structure to the data, but rudimentary indexing (no Jekyll for example), no index of dates open at all, which means every entry has to be looked at, no post code or OS references and a policy of saying that public transport is unusable.

If the places I have dealt with so far involve particularity and a concept of location at the metre level, how then shall we deal with places which are more general - long and thin like a canal, or of outstanding beauty or special scientific interest? These will give us two problems - finding out about them and describing them for information retrieval purposes.[xix]

Deviations

While on the walking and places theme, if I am being consistent with the personal approach adopted so far, I have to delve into a couple of further details which show the difficulty of constructing personal meaning maps. Firstly I am gay, therefore have use of a guidebook such as the Spartacus Guide, which tells of pubs, restaurants etc., but more exotic, of outside cruising areas. These have some idea of location, though without a map are probably unfindable.

Secondly I found in Germany the real pleasure of being able to walk long distances without clothes on. In Britain going for a walk is already surrounded with legal difficulties of ownership of property. Going for a walk naked is almost a revolutionary activity. The Central Council for British Naturalism (what a strange name - a central council for taking your clothes off - good heavens) provides an information services, including the world guide of the International Naturist Federation and there are a set of guidebooks, edited by Wallach with hand drawn maps, and attempts at location, *(check OS)[xx]

Food?

Have we bored you, gentle reader, enough on gardens for the moment? Then perhaps we should turn to food? For one does not walk by foot alone. Food means restaurants, and pubs and hotels and another set of books, with different structures to the data and different questions, about price and quality[xxi]. But some parts of the structure remain - they are in place, have addresses, postcodes, though none of the guides give OS locations.

As food is a particular interest, rather than just fuel, we might go a stage further and say that specialist food shops, local cheeses, vineyards, delicatessen, excellent cakes, are in some areas a long way apart and need planning, or are worth a journey in their own right. This sort of information however will require much more discrimination and detail to collect than most of the other types I've referred to so far.

It is also worth noting that in rural areas shops even at the most basic level might well be few and far between so we might even need very basic information, including opening times (for there is early closing and market days remaining from centuries ago)? Let's go a stage further – even drinkable water is hard to come by in some areas, so if nothing else a warning to take a water bottle? And toilets? Mostly closed? Consistently into the bushes, carry toilet paper or stick to nettles? But development is the process whereby some even object to dogs shitting - their attitude to people is likely to border on the hysterical.

Accommodation?

And from food there is a logic to accommodation, for the walk might not mean a return to home every night, despite the condition I put on the boundary at the beginning. Accommodation must be must more complicated from the information design point of view, for it will range over campsites, youth hostels, bed and breakfast to five star hotels, and the organisations which represent both the providers and consumers of this particular commodity are varied and unlikely to collaborate.[xxii]

Clearly though, even separating food and accommodation is going to lead us to an information organisation problem to which we will have to return later. There is a matrix of who provides what across the range which I have suggested - a pub with rooms, hotel with restaurant and so forth. This will lead us, in any computerised system to the problem of maintaining integrity and indicate that a word processed file will present problems, hypertext considerable navigating, and almost certainly we are already pointing to a not inconsiderable database. But pointing to a database will generate a new layer of difficulties for the level of standardisation or interchangeability which exists in flat ASCII files doesn't exist in databases.

It will also have been noticed by now that most of the guidebooks to which I have referred function at the national level and therefore include much more material than my delineated area. This means that should their full files be included we will have a comprehensive national system, though large; should we limit ourselves to the area I specified at the beginning, we will have a smaller set, but the boundary problem.

Transport?

The marvels of privatisation and competition are surely worked out to their full in transport in the area I've defined? And yet to go further, along with a road building programme which will take an area the size of Oxfordshire and turn it into roads. However, digression ends. All that remains to be said is that you require a twice yearly updated British Rail timetable, plus or alternatively the parts E, F, J, K T (30p each but carriable), for Surrey four volumes of bus timetables plus Sunday travel Guide (which says almost nothing about trains), and something similar for each other county in the area if you could work out how to get hold of them.

Fortunately some of the other documents I've referred to make some concession to providing information though never sufficient. Working out how to use public transport effectively is probably the main impediment to using it at all, and the major reason why many use motor cars for whom on all other measures it would be irrational.

And let us not get into reliability, but draw a cloth discretely over this entire matter.

Guidebooks?

This problem is elaborated when considering the range of available guidebooks. These attempt to integrate some or all of the activities I've discussed so far, either at the national or regional area. They might be conveniently divided into those aimed at the motorist and those aimed at the walker. Clearly from the information organisation point of view they are trying to cover two quite fundamentally different domains - the journey route description and the what is there. They also differ widely in emphasis and quality of layout or presentation. It would be to stray too far from the central point of this paper to write a "Which" guide to guidebooks, but attention might be paid to the Sunday Times Book of the Countryside, simply because it lists 1,000 places to visit, with a national map and spatial referencing system (though idiosyncratic and with no relationship to OS), the AA Hand picked tours in Britain [xxiii] which describes motor based journeys but with much detail of why be there in the first place, the AA Illustrated Guide to Britain's Coast, much better for walkers. the AA, British Rail Guide to the South East by Train, more for train journeys, not a lot for walkers, wrong level of granularity, the Michelin Guide, which has the advantage of starring points of interest, but predictably, considering the sponsor, aimed at motorists, and its associated accommodation guide (simply the green one and the red one), and its maps, with places mentioned in the guides indicated on the maps (extremely useful) but using their own spatial referencing system, the Blue Guide, again presented for motor journeys and concentrating on buildings with very little else considered, and the series of joint OS/ AA regional guides. Probably the best from the walkers' point of view is the AA Britain's Long Distance Paths, a masterly design and layout with two pages to a day's walking. Alan Castle's Long distance paths: South East England is a pocket version of this idea. Slightly different but useful is the Guide to weekend breaks (*get details - Kutku has)

One I want to point to in a little more detail as it might prove useful later: Hundreds of places to visit in the South East, published by South East England Tourist Board. This booklet of 116 pages lists, in a sort of classified order, places to visit, giving the sort of detail we have come across in the National Trust and English Heritage handbooks (indeed with a considerable amount of duplication as all those are included) but also with others, though the condition for inclusion is clear. It states in the introduction "members of the South East England Tourist Board, and are open without prior appointment for more than ten days per year." There is a map, with eccentric referencing, no indication thereon of what is listed, no OS grid referencing in the entries, absolutely rudimentary public transport information, a place name index but no more general indexing and within the "classification' a further division by county and then listing in alphabetical order. This leads to duplication of entry, under historic house, garden and conceivably, museum, and makes it almost impossible to find out what is near what. Leaving Hampshire out of the southeast is presumably another bureaucratic requirement. As inclusion is based on membership, difficult for an area of outstanding national beauty apparently, there is a definite emphasis on places as things so not much about walks.

However what all these share (with the possible exception of the last) is a lack of consideration of the slightly below international importance, the limit of comprehensives forced by scope.[xxiv] Soon all these will have been exhausted and more will be required.

The greatest level of detail in one source is the Phillips series of county guides, Surrey for example. However this is again aimed at motorists, the map references are not OS consistent (indeed their system reverses the northing easting convention!), railway lines hard to pick out as thin black lines in comparison with the brightness of all the roads, there is rudimentary indexing, pubs, hotels etc are mentioned if buildings rather than relaxation is their point, there is erratic information on opening and access, there are few references to walking apart from the North Downs Way (the Downs Link for example is not mapped though there is a reference to it, there is nothing on public transport, golf courses jump out of the map, but not the churches mentioned in the text, there is a sort of Michelin starring system, but the standards on which they are allocated is incomprehensible (Leatherhead gets three!) and so on and so on. The claim on the front cover to full and on the back to unrivalled is to say the least inaccurate.

Thereafter one gets to the more specific and would begin the cataloguing of what would become a major library. Here might be mentioned only Howkins Hidden Surrey (2 vols), Charles Exploring the Pilgrims Way, Hugh's 10 adventurous walks in Surrey, the OS Surrey walks, Bartholemew's Walks for Surrey, Estate Publications Surrey

While on guidebooks it would be proper to mention guides which are entirely map based and contain little or no text. The OS I have referred to comprehensively already. Mention would need to be made of the London AZ, ubiquitous and cheap. however its boundaries are too near the centre to be very useful for this essay and it makes no concession to the walker. it is for motorists. Working out how and where to walk is almost impossible. Further afield is the series produced by Phillips, at the three inches to the mile scale (still in 1990 - no accommodation to Europe here!) But again no accommodation to the walker, roads and all in black and white. A missed opportunity I suspect. And hardback, big to carry, though easy to photocopy.[xxv]

I should also mention here the two computer based tools which have made some impact on the market, Autoroute and *get name from the AA. These are motor based route planners only, though have the basics for being much more. Mention can also be made of Journeyplanner from British Rail, unfortunately at the national inter city level really, no details of London transport, or of buses, which are essential at the walkers' level. And no further information other than trains, but a possible beginning for something more.

Perhaps mention should also be made of the SuperPlan programme of the OS, when you may have a printout of an OS map centred on a point of your choosing. However there are few suppliers, Stanfords in London being one, so that would mean a journey in itself. Telephones and the postal service perhaps? What seems clear is that the OS doesn't really understand how to market its services.

Organisations?

So far most of what we have covered is information produced by organisations which is secondary to their main reason for existing, information produced as a service to their members. Let us now turn to organisations which are in some sense responsible for providing information on leisure and tourism.

At the national level it isn't clear who if anyone is responsible. The Countryside Commission[xxvi] the British Tourism Authority, the Department of the Environment? Not clear at all. Certainly it has been shown so far how long a way down my list of important resources anything they might have produced would come.

Below the national level the major source of leisure and tourism information is the County and District authorities. They vary enormously in terms of quality and quantity and availability. In East Grinstead public library for example is twenty four three foot shelves with books and files on local activities and resources and a large collection of leaflets. (However without carping, this quantity makes information retrieval difficult without a very high level of organisation and a specific question rather than a general sense would need to be directed to a staff member. They however proved extremely knowledgeable and helpful - the role of the human intermediary we will need to return to.) Kingston Borough in comparison has the most rudimentary few handfuls of unrelated leaflets which must have arrived through the post.

Each County Council in the area I have defined makes some contribution as the co-ordinating organisation involving at least the Countryside Commission and the English Tourist Board parts. In most cases they have gone somewhat further and involved part of the council responsibility involving rights of way, environmental protection and sometimes local groups with an interest.

For example East Sussex produces a guidebook Exploring Sussex which lists "walks".[xxvii] There are 251 of them, with a very rough map of where they start and finish (always a round trip so your cart may be collected). Details of the organiser, start time, and a description. Their estimation of one mile an hour average walking speed gives an idea of how much time they are devoting to other things. However for the walker still useful as they point to places which will be well worth going to (though not on that date and time).

The Borough of County Authority also has planning responsibility, and there are two parts of its administration which might be of interest to us here, the production of Unitary Development Plans (UDP) and Library and Information Plans (LIP). I do not have time here to comment on substantial studies of these but a study of the UDP of 32 London Boroughs reported elsewhere [xxviii] show that they do in general all contain sections on leisure and tourism, though not necessarily on information services. However unless the result has been a data source publicly available they need not detain us further. Similarly the LIPs sometimes make references to leisure and tourism, though consistently they have defined their information as documents and document collections and avoided any consideration of the impact of new technologies. Again, if the result has not been an output we do not need to concern ourselves further.

Surrey County Council produces an Environment News, with a centrefold listing walks organised by the officials with a small map indicating place, in date order. This makes linking places difficult, but again worth scanning. Walks would need to be extracted and built into another resource.

The Council also produces a free Visitors' Guide, an A2 foldout leaflet with a map of the county using non- standard grid referencing on which places are marked, and details in text of all the places marked, There is no OS referencing and public transport information is rudimentary. There is also a leaflet Buses in Surrey, which has marked various attractions and a few of the very well known walks, with bus route information, a gazetteer of places, though with non- standard spatial referencing, bus route numbering consistent with the booklets referred to under transport, and phone numbers for the route operators.

I could go on at great length commenting on the productions of the County and Borough councils in the area concerned, but patience precludes. The only point I want to make is the absolute precision with which they stop at their county or borough boundary so you can go poodling about somewhere else to find out what is next door[xxix]. SCC for example sells a guide to the Greensand Way, good in itself, which gets you to Oxted. The next step is in Kent so you'll have to find out something else.

Under the aegis of the SCC is the Downlands Countryside management Project, as an example,[xxx] which produces a newsletter, leaflets indicating walks, and markers on the ground. In turn there are a large number of similar organisations and projects, with a variety of purposes, the consequences of which might be an opportunity to walk, and possibly a leaflet. These bodies are financed in many different ways and have complex different relationships with government and the public. Trying to pull together their production so that in some way the whole might be larger than the part will involve some design issues which might prove intractable.

At this stage we don't want to do more than note that most places open to the public also produce leaflets, usually A4 folder in three for some reason, brightly printed, which are available in all sorts of extraordinary complicated ways.[xxxi]

Almost every town has a Tourism Information Centre (TIC) financed by some combination of the local authority and the English Tourist Board. They vary as widely as the quality of the other local services, though they seem to refers collectively to themselves as a network with no evidence that this activity occurs.[xxxii] Often they erect signs saying where they are, and sometimes poles with notices on them. Finding all this is a matter of pure accident, though some maps have an i. to help The Public Library is always the best place to start. But predictably almost none of these facilities is open when working walkers have the time to try to find them - Sunday afternoon the most common.

Commercial organisations too have an interest in providing information services. Leaflets are produced by bodies such as the East Sussex Tourist Attractions Association Ltd and the Association of Tourist Attractions in Kent. These leaflets contain information only on the subscribing attractions, use non- standard spatial referencing, and predictably stop at the boundaries of their constituency.

Most silent in all this is the body which perhaps above all others one would think might have an interest in getting people walking out and about - British Rail. Yet the attempts it makes at inspiring people to use the train to get out and about are sub MBA student level. Why I suspect will have to wait for another essay. There is a guide to places to be reached on Network South East, an A2 foldout map with icons which at a very top level is useful, but below the top one hundred or so, soon runs out. There are some brochures, but any detail is absent. Occasionally there are posters advertising something in a station, but the poster campaign seems to have no relationship to where it is happening or the railway connection. They have taken adverts in some of the publications I have referred to, but nowhere is the consequence clear route mapping or insistence on proper information in the text.

Just try to imagine what would have to change at the management level for each station, particularly the rural and underused ones, if a board was provided on which places to visit and things to do could be advertised. Surbiton has a very attractive map of the Kingston area with photographs of things of interest and historical notes, but it is almost unique and provided by the Kingston Society! (I wonder whether they rent the space or BR pays for the service? bargaining power of buyer and supplier it's called in the jargon.)

The last group of organisations worth considering are the range of more traditional publishers - newspapers, magazines, then possibly television? Local newspapers such as the Surrey Advertiser, which carried a long series of walks, often provide information on local places of interest, but there is no evidence of them moving towards systematising this activity, either as a new market opportunity or as a service. Similarly the major London weekly, Time Out, has nothing comparable to its music or film coverage in the area of "tourist" activity, or the outdoors, despite a presumably green consciousness among its readership, other than the most trivial. The Evening Standard, Sunday Times and so forth too provide episodic coverage, but nothing even slightly systematic. Magazines emerge from time to time with an outdoor focus, but none from the commercial stables seems to have much staying power or move towards making their information services in any way retrievable, even by the most rudimentary indexing. Even the gardening end of the world I've been describing, which is a much more significant market, shows no move towards systematicity.

Some worked examples?

Shall we just run through a few "what shall we does?" for consistency and just to make sure the reader is still with us?

Three (four) nudist beaches?

  1. Let's start with Fairlight Glen, an area of woodland untouched by agriculture, running down to the sea, with a tradition of being able to take one's clothes off. How do I know about it? It is in the INF guide with an OS reference. This one is easy. Near Hastings according to the map. Train timetable, journey to Hastings, turn left and begin walking[xxxiii]. Much more detailed map needed now than the OS 1:25,000 – there is a very rough touristy map of Hastings in the main beachfront area but it doesn't go as far. At an attraction there is an excellent leaflet on the Hastings County Park (as I discover for the first time the area is called - why have none of my sources referred to this worthy before?), which seems to have a lot more walking area going for it, and the possibility to avoid all the caravan parks. Why was this leaflet not at the Railway Station? In fact the route is not too difficult, by taking the wrong turn I found a farmhouse stall functioning as a cafe, which was the only source of water the whole time - but that too hadn't been mentioned anywhere. All of that though fairly straightforward, and the beach is there, and a beautiful walk.
  2. Next one let's make slightly more venturesome - Littlehampton, west of the Adur. No grid reference, just a vague indication. Train to Littlehampton. Town map at the station, plus a tourist information board which is the best I've seen, provided by Adur District Council. However no mention of nude bathing. Walk in general direction. Find nature reserve - there has been no mention of this in any of my sources. This time margram grass and dunes, quite a different ecology. Though I'm only marginally interested in this, the information boards make fascinating reading. Much of the reserve fenced off for preservation. (Again the endless problem of tourists destroying what they create, and the reason for suggesting that a better information flow would lead to a better distribution.) In addition the remains of a fort, not mentioned in anything I'd read. And on the way down a glimpse of Amberley Castle which Pevnser says a lot about, and which, by chance, in a booklet on Gardens in the South East produced by the South East England Tourist Authority as a promotion there are two pages of hotels offering special facilities to gardening enthusiasts, and there, a picture of Amberly Castle with the prices - more than a thousand pounds for a week. The distinction between information and marketing made clear - they don't want the walkers on the South Downs Way dropping in for a sandwich and beer. Also just past Arundel, but we all know that one. So still all quite simple.

    Except that at about 6pm shingle gets moved along the beech in very large quantities in very large trucks, making the place like a motorway construction site. That drives me away despite the beauty of the sunset. Would I have preferred to have known about it beforehand? I don't know.
  3. A little further still? How about Studland Bay? A National Trust property there has been a bit of a fuss about. Train to Bournemouth. That's simple. Then the difficulty starts. Get off at Bournemouth, Branksome or Poole? Not at all clear. Map at OS 1:25,000 doesn't give enough detail, and doesn't give any bus detail. The NT Handbook does, but mainly phone numbers. Not the central piece that there is one bus an hour! Or the awful complexity of train bus interchange. Extremely exasperating. And could be so easy. No information at any of the railway stations. Bus driver knows nothing about train times. Yes there are two bus companies, neither knows anything about the other. Yes they print timetables, but my document collection hasn't become that extensive. And as I do this trip possibly once a year, I'll never remember next time round, and make all the same mistakes again.
  4. Bit of a change? Is Groombridge worth a visit? Pevsner has quite a bit to say about it. No leaflets I've picked up anywhere. Oh, it is in the NGS. Seems quite generally open. But a bit of a schlep. Groombridge doesn't have a railway station - Nearest looks about four miles away with no obvious path (though again OS 1:25,000 not detailed enough). On the border of Sussex and Kent, in Pevnser for Sussex. Haven't the bus timetables, though could probably find out a number or some by sifting though the piles of leaflets and pamphlets. But now there are so many that I'll have to get around to organising them, and that will mean constant refiling. Nope, let's just try walking - that is after all the point of it. But is there anything else there or on the route? No obvious way of finding out without a lot of effort. Train to Ashurst - that's the easy bit. Get diverted to Burrwood - can't remember whether Pevsner said anything about it - actually don't know whether I'm in Kent - anyhow - can't carry around that number of Pevsners, or even own them - have to get them from the Library. Get to Groombridge Place - due to unforseen circumstances the Place and Gardens are not open until this summer (it is the end of August now incidently) - phone a number. Nope! But where? No sign of a library or a tic, but the map says a dead railway line - up to the old station - some evidence of buses with not too bad timetables for future possible returns. Find the station, now part of a housing estate, but quelle surprise, it looks like the line has survived, is still down, and someone is doing some painting - is this part of a restoration project? Groombridge Place Theme Park perhaps? Head off for Eridge - the next station, and there even more surprise - the station is being restored to Victorian authenticity, painted in livery, and there is a railway enthusiast's shop on the platform with a bookstall. Nothing I'd seen anywhere had referred to this. Of course here is another information problem - is it better not to know about things so you can stumble across them as an unexpected pleasure or plan what you are doing? What to do? Walk to the next station - but my map nothing like enough detail. Never mind. And in fact it is a perfect walk - paths - lots of them, pillboxes, woods, and Crowborough. Just in time - train to Uckfield, end of the line with the sad picture of a road crossing the track, the old station and the trackbed to Lewes. The forces of disintegration. What is the net effect on a network of breaking the connections and leaving stumps? Another type of information problem with a different mathematics.

And now for the new technologies?

All the above is really just a very long introduction to the central interest of this paper: what are we to do? I've tried to show how one user constructs a set of information deficiencies which he then attempts to solve by building up a collection of documents to which he can refer. The preceding has shown something of this complexity and the amount of expertise which has to be developed, all just to go for a walk.

Now there is no doubt that I could solve much of the problem I have set myself for myself, though the work involved would ensure I never have any time to go for a walk. It might also be the case that I could develop a small company which would produce a new commodity, though even that would mean addressing some of the design questions I want to address here.

However the more interesting point I want to establish, is that the real contribution of the new technologies will be to enable us to gain more out of what we already have. It is process which interests me rather than outcome.

One of the achievements of designing information systems in the past few years has been to get the designer actually talking to the user, finding out what the user actually wants. So it appropriate now for me to break that rule, and say that if we can establish the process, then users will be able to build systems for themselves, as I have shown in the introductory material. No one else in the world will be quite my user.

If anything, having spent effort arguing that the users' requirements must rule, we have created an entirely new industry in finding out what the user wants, just to find, that the very process of finding out changes the user, so that whatever is built, the requirements will have changed because the user has changed. Ho hum.

So I predictably want to go back to design, and say here is how something should be built, then go on and do whatever bits of the building seem to be necessary to me, in order that something is. Once it is, I don't need to bother any further, for every success has a thousand fathers. These failures we just quietly bury.

It seems there are two technological drivers at the moment we should pay attention to: networks and databases. The former gives us the possibility of providing access independent of time and space, though with a relatively low level of usability at the moment; the latter with a higher level of usability but with a problem of distribution and updating. Let me spend a little time on each.

The network approach could start from a gopher type environment, or a WAIS, or WWW or an email message or phone call or letter to a human, or an email message including a structured text message capable of being interpreted. The design questions then involve getting hold of the original data, putting it into a form in which questions may be understood and answered, what sort of interface capacity would people have, and, with the spread of the internet, how large would the information providing and consuming community be? How much bandwidth?

Now if I am the only user then I think I can construct most of this to satisfy myself. In fact that is roughly what I have done with my document collection. The problem is maintaining it even in its current form takes so much work I am precluded from reaping the benefits. As soon as I think of other users I have to say how will they ask a question, what sort of question will they ask? What sort of syntax of question form could be presented? And how would an answer be structured? This is why I started with walks, for this means that places are not enough, I don't want the problem to be too simple.

If we dealt simply with places then the simple life would be to take the text files of the contributing agencies, put them all up either on one server or simply allow each to have its own server (as it does to some extent already for almost all the documents I have referred to exist as text files). Then an email message to a server with the content "send Guildford" or "send Pashley" would supply a return message with the content paragraph. Doddle and boring. Except that the non- innocent will notice a creeping slither in granularity between Guildford and Pashley. This would mean that the file directory would have to work at a defined level and the sub directories at another, and that this would have to be structured by mutual agreement of the involved parties or that there would need to be considerable editorial involvement. (And that is expensive and unreliable.) Alternatively, each entry could be indexed by OS grid reference at the four, six and eight figure level, or only the four and six, and again two levels of granularity would be permitted, so a message containing "send xxyy" or "send xxxyyy" would produce whatever was contained in that space.[xxxiv] The user would need access to an OS map set as a reference tool. But providing a searchable index relating place and position would not be hard.

The walk problem would be handled by giving every walk beginning, every end, and every place "through" which it went, a grid reference. (At the six figure we mean 100 metres - which is probably manageable. 10 metres is probably necessary, but even with geo-positioning it will be some time before we are reliably and cheaply at that level.) The reply paragraph would then indicate other reference points as well. The mapping of the route onto a map would require some knowledge of the map reader.

It is probably that we could go one stage further than this, in one of two directions. The first is the universal resource identifyier (uri), where each database would have a "name" and an "address" with some appropriate meta level information. The message would then contain a message requesting a resource. However here we are going to have to address a more general version of the part whole problem, avoided so far in work in this field, and not likely to be conducive to the simple solution I have suggested above.

The second is to move further down the structured text interchange format (stif) path, and build templates into which the "paragraphs" fit nicely, then by making the template available as an email message, allow users to structure queries to fit the template. This will produce responses more like the database response later, so I'll return to this there.

An alternative to the email message format is the gopher or Wide Area Information Server or World Wide Web format. The first is no more than a ls, cd, and get command, but means that very wide ranges of equipment are made interoperable if at rather simple levels of query and reply. Structuring the query would be similar to the method I've indicated using email, but the pre- processing editorial work would be non- trivial. The WAIS would work in a similar manner, though each would require the building of a server, and both would allow for a simple plain text search too. The World Wide Web version would allow for navigating in hypertext through the actual files involving remote login to a server, in other words now not simply a client.

I have laboured so far the network, email facet because in that area the interoperability has been worked through, and what I have described could be client - server platform independent. A move towards a more structured database approach will present us with problems of interoperability and force us down specific hardware, software paths. This will penalise us in two ways: the editorial independence of the information providers will force us into post editorial work (expensive and unreliable) and users will be required to work in our way in our places and on our kit. Trying to find enough access points to produce a usable system will present problems. However the level of interface which can be progressed is so tempting that we must go through the ritual.

There are some quite fascinating database problems we must deal with in order to provide something approaching information retrieval. The fist is the "where" problem, in particular at the walk level. I have referred already to some of the granularity problems. I am also ruling out at this stage a geographic information system because of the platform dependency, cost and difficulty in tying into a database. So for something to be near to something is likely to require a course solution like the one I have suggested for the email.

The "when" problem, which I didn't allow for above, though there is no reason why not, except that I fear that it must have a "where" component to avoid overload. If the user can build a query by refinement, and not receive all the answers but just indications of quantities of answers (in other words some level of indexing and not just file transfer) then we can build queries mallably. However if not, not!

But formulating the when query is remarkably complex. For something to be open all the time, means you will always get it; if something is open and you have specified within that time, then fine, but if you don't specify with the same set of references used by the information providers, then problems will arise. *Find something on how databases have handled this issue.

The "how" problem is partly the "where" problem, and takes us back to my definition of the user as the walker, for this creates a new layer of problems. A walker can cover ten miles in a day without difficulty, but might not want to, or only in a whole day, not between the end of the walk and the railway station. Children, the older walker, the handicapped, will all have different tolerances, and ten miles along a canal bank is not the same as up a mountain (though my area is short of them). Ten miles as the crow flies means humans have to find bridges if rivers, motorways or railways get in the way. But the how also involves railway and bus timetable information.[xxxv]

Reference at two levels of granularity I have already referred to, but we will want to get further than this.

The "what" is our remaining information problem. Places have names and in some sense they are things. This leads us to the most interesting information retrieval issue - how to organise the data so that there is a structure of relationships how to represent this structure on the screen (or in paper printout) and how to enable people to input queries which will produce output. There are three major problems: one I have referred to earlier, the subject object problem; the second is the atom molecule problem, or the part whole; the third the separation of the lexical representation from the semantic content. The consequence is that you cannot decide beforehand the sort of real human words people will type in. The structure therefore has to be made clear from the beginning. This is where the failure of the house, garden, monument classification I referred to earlier becomes clear, as something is all three.

The advantage of scrollable windows and thesauri seems clear here, as a user may pull up a window of terms and postings, and of parent, child relations, scroll and point, if working at the word level, or input grid references and bring up windows of text.

I think though that we might be able to say that a minimum level of architecture which would provide us with a solution to the sorts of problems addressed in this paper is to go for a four field database identifier: where::when::what! The where requires the northings and eastings, at 1km, 100m level as appropriate; the when allows for month, day, hour (even minute) as appropriate; (these two relatively uncomplicated in basic structure as the notation is well understood even if the arithmetic to undertake calculations will prove non- trivial; but the what is the area which will need some work and some co- ordinations. However I think it is worth pursuing with more detail on this as some prototypes will show the idea even if in practice the complexity of organisations involved might lead to difficulty in getting agreement. From this key considerable retrieval becomes possible, as leaflets may be attached simply as binary large objects, paragraphs of text as ASCII code, either with or without an inverted file and other techniques according to level of sophistication developed, and other fields for handicapped access, children's facilities and so forth as desired. It is likely that achieving anything approaching standardisation will be optimistic.

However this sort of design would allow for a query to be put in, converted into machine readable form and answered with some sophistication, though probably prompting the user to some degree of standardisation rather than going for completely free form in order to avoid interoperability complexity.

And now for some compulsions?

Studying the tourism information problem from the view of Kingston University is interesting, for the place seems to sit on the edges of several tectonic plates, organisationally. Kingston is a London Borough, yet the County Hall is in Kingston. It is on the edge of the South East England Tourist Authority area, near Hampshire. It is on fast and good rail services, yet the timetables are split into lots of little books. There are several bus organisations and several organisations giving information about them.

On the edge of London it is on the border of the rural and the urban, with further divisions of responsibility between the Countryside Commission, the Forestry Commission, and fascinating problems of spatial granularity. And the way I have defined the problem puts it on the border of tourism and recreation, with further boundary areas. There is also a boundary between the commercial, the not for profit and the para-statal, though with shifts in government policy these boundaries are continually shifting. And the way I have defined information means a whole lot of planning players, those above plus the British Library, National Trust, English Heritage, Automobile Association, national Rivers Authority, Ordnance Survey, and lots of little ones.

It seems likely that for some time to come, most tourism information services will remain paper based. My powerbook is still too heavy, to dependant on electricity, and I get into patches too rough for it to cope. However there are still some recommendations which would in general improve the quality of paper based information.

The first is to give places OS grid references and to use that referencing system on casually produced maps. That way a place and its space can be related. There is a need to indicate nearest railway station, and points to the next place of interest[xxxvi] That way chunks of space can always be related. Secondly always give minimal public transport information - at least distance to nearest railway station with service level. I suspect bus information just has to be ruled out as too complicated or fruitless.

It needs to be recognised that BR information should be made available on all activities supported in some way by BR - for example train information should attract a discount on posters on railway stations? And on leaflets sponsored by them.

There should be minimum standards for railway stations, libraries and tourism information services, about what they contain and how they manage it, with pointers to one another's services.

There are interesting problems of thematic mapping, thematic indexing and the limits of icon based systems for information retrieval which the producers of leaflets, who seem to be more concerned with twee pretty drawings than with communication of information, should be concerned, in maybe some training?

There is scope for at least producing templates along the lines of where, when, what which would allow for some level of integration and maintenance and production of material in a more organised way than at present while moving towards the automation I have indicated. Certainly we don't seem to know what role information services could play in changing patterns of demand and utilisation.

However we seem to know little about what information services actually would be used, or how they should best be designed. There is scope for considerable further research here, though it is likely to present considerable methodological issues.

There is scope for research into the relationship between anchor sites and networks, vide the traditions of retailing, to find out how best to use information services to either focus into main target areas or away from them, according to the strategic plans involved.

There is a need for integrated planning for development of areas which are fragile, or where the absence of tourism is what makes them attractive - the old contradiction of the tourist destroying what it creates.

It also needs recognising that with computerised information services there is a change in the relationship between information provider, information organiser and information service, so that distinctions between adverts, which you pay to provide, and services, which you pay to consume, break down and change.

The most interesting conclusion is that we know very little on the boundaries of information systems design about what sort of systems are amenable to what sort of design solutions. What I am suggesting here wouldn't work for adverts in the Evening Standard or Exchange and Mart, but where are the limits?


Notes

[i] The obligatory searches on ABI/ Inform, Inspec, LISA, BLISS etc produced a little surprise. There is almost nothing on the topic I am considering here. Indeed the expected confusion instead arises. Leisure and tourism information services or systems are in general for management and planning purposes, not for the users! In addition, the term leisure in local government is much wider than that I am considering here, and leisure management involves the provision of a vast range of services. There is also what will later emerge as a clear distinction between tourism for "here" and tourism "there" - information about where I am at the moment, and information about elsewhere, of which finally travel agents will be the furthest example. The only study, was that done by Havard Williams on tourist information centres in the 1970s, there is some little material on the role of public libraries, and a couple of computer science based studies, one on multimedia, one on artifical intelligence, from Japan and Australia.

[ii] Philosophical interlude number one on designing information systems - projects and papers have starts, but they don't have beginnings. This paper, and the projects on which it comments, are all situated in processes involving people who have histories and interests. To try to cut out the "not to be discussed here" is an early experience of the boundary problem, to which we will return.

[iii] This of course immediately gives us an interesting information problem - what I'll call the here and there problem - should a tourism information service delivery device be concerned with there - some other place, like a travel agency does, or with the here - what is immediately around - and how would one decide which boundaries to draw - to the boundary problem I'll return.

[iv] However this is not true of all the researchers who have worked on these projects, so in each case we have been viewing the information through the experience of a native and a stranger.

[v] Here again the boundary problem - how to make a description manageable, though it will have implications for later discussion - let us now just bear in mind that we have made this design decision - it is not something outside our control.

[vi] In addition the most sophisticated information service exists for the motorist as tourist - that provided by the Automobile Association. Well return later to how their services might be put to our advantage.

[vii] Oh no, I am not naive, lest the outraged reader at this points is screaming - "what chance a railway station!" We will return to railway stations - they will prove an important part of the story.

[viii] Here we reach another major philosophical interlude on the relation of the subject and the object. I approach an information problem with my own subjectivity - my own set of preferences and desires, which a system, to be of value to me, is going to have to satisfy. There is a trade between the perfectly designed and the cost of its construction and the satisfying which, through economy of scale, may be provided at a price I can afford. The world in which I am walking is the world of objects, including the information object. I pick and choose among all that objectivity that which serves my cognitive filters at that time, though some objects and some information will change my subjectivity. However no other, not even I, can "know" before hand what the impact of one object or some of them will be. So there will be elements of accident no matter how far we take this journey. To that extent the possibility of mathematically proving the completeness of a requirements definition may depart a fenestre.

[ix] But already I am cheating - the easy to find out about is because I already know about them. The navigable waterways are covered by Nicholson's Guides (two volumes to cover the area I've defined), the North Downs Way, Vanguard Way, Downs Link Way etc all by little leaflets produced by a variety of organisations, with a variety of guidebooks, some ten of which I'll list in the bibliography just so I can't be accused of lack of diligence.

The train to station throwaway covers another multitude of signs. Partly we might be tempted into the realm of train spotters, those fascinated by steam engines and the details of what unit is drawing what carriage, all points I must admit leave me stone cold (in other words once more my subjectivity is shaping my semantics, not some inherent property of the information objects.) However it is worth pointing to the series of handbooks produced by the Railway Development Society which, while they vary in their text between the extreme enthusiasm for describing sidings and very brief descriptions of possible walks, and linkages with the bus system, do point usefully to how the Network South East works and give very useful tips on how to get the best out of the system. As structured sources though they remain rudimentary.

[x] though there is a very clear distinction between a description of the walk as a route - turn left here, over that style, interminable detail even with a map to avoid getting lost, and description of the walk - this church, that building, here this happened, look out for that. Anything attempting to be comprehensive is too heavy to carry. See for example Andrew Duncan's Walking London, which just gives too much routyness and not enough why you're there.

[xi] Next philosophical interlude. I am going to make a leap from walk to garden. This isn't a leap for me, they are as together as fish and chips. But there is nothing in the lexical organisation of the terms to put them together, and nothing in the semantics either. It might be anthropologically recognised that someone of my description will form this link, and that is a pattern of my position in time and place, but it might be that I'm just putting them together for contraryness, or because I'm not getting enough sex. Dewey doesn't put them together. In fact bookshops much less systematised and presumably closer to ordinary humans don't either.

[xii] another general point - I am already evidencing a set of knowledge which I don't even know how I gained. I have no way of proving it is the right starting point - OS, NT, EH. But there it is.

[xiii] The NT has made a policy of giving very full public transport information, drawn from a source to which we will have to return.

[xiv] Further information philosophy interlude - precisely that point - the information might be provided only to a small privileged number as exclusivity is what is desired and if everyone knows they'll all turn up, or because it is something somewhat out of the ordinary, those not interested are warned. However these events are more specific in time that even the opening hours, and most irregular, so we will have to return to them later as part of design.

[xv] Museums are playing almost no role in this story. Partly I find them horrendous and they have a tendency to turn into Disney Worlds. But no comprehensive tourism information system could be without them.

[xvi] Every town and university library will have, and most bookshops except W.H. Smiths will stock. All are still in print, though many have not been revised since the original and North & North Rast London doesn't seem to have arrived yet. But each volume is about £25.

[xvii] The mathematically inclined reader will also have worked out by now, that given my limit of two hours travel by rail, I can cover Surrey, all fours volumes of London, Hampshire, parts of Wiltshire, all of Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Buckinghamshire, bits of Oxfordshire...... and so on - I will need a considerable wealth to have a collection of my own, or the time to visit a library

[xviii] notice also that my checklist of information components (lets get technical shall we and call them attributes?) makes no mentions of the plants, or plant types. At the level of the Niss Garden in Liverpool there is already an excellent multimedia presentation on optical disk including details moving towards the botanical.. This opens up another vast area of information - the plants, their taxonomy, how they look at different times of the year, which moves towards gardening and garden planning. I'm leaving that all out, as I'm starting here with walking and gardens are only incidents on route. Another complex could start with the garden, and hopefully someone will build such a resource guide.

[xix] notice that I am going to leave out details of what they are for.... geology, botany, though potentially of interest goes beyond my core focus. Were I a geological field trip I would need a different locus for the information. And a school day outing another one in turn.

[xx] just to complicate the issue, you'll notice that I make no mention for example of golf courses. Now at sone level of meaning, it might be that golf and walk are closely related. It is difficult to imagine a meaning map drawn by a marsian in which they are not closely related. However I regard the activity as anathema, and golf courses as a destruction of the environment, to be avoided at all costs. So if anything, the information I would require would be negative.

[xxi] Shall we just mention Egon Ronay, Michelin, Good Pub Guide. Which's Good food Guide...

[xxii] Just roughly, and to speed thgings up, we have the AA and the RAC which produce handbooks for their members, the Camping and Caravan Club, which produces a monumental book every year of campsites, and a very useful map of the whole of the British Isles with every listed site marked, the OS maps outlined, and the green signpost towns highlighted. Given that caravanning seems to have overwon the camping bit of their constituency, railways are not even marked on the map.

There are the comprehensive four volumes of the Where to stay series, published by the English Tourism Authority - Hotels and Guesthouses farmhouses and B&B, Camping and caravanning and Self catering

The Ramblers Association produces a Yearbook and Accommodation guide, annually! This includes map references (but only to the 4 figure level).

The Youth Hostel Association produces a guidebook and there are a range of commercially available guides to accomodation ranking from Jacobsens at the high market end to bed and breakfasts.

From the information perspective all entries share in common a place name at two levels of granularity, an address, telephone number, opening times, grid references, telephone. facilities, and some sort of pricing structure, membership requirements (or something similar)

[xxiii] The old Shell Guide series is now out of print, unfortunately, but will be available in libraries.

[xxiv] Even so we are still at the level of very heavy volumes - carrying any more than one of these around will add to the backpack. See the footnote on photocopiers however.

[xxv] Given I haven't alluded elsewhere to this techniques possibly now a digression? As the local shop increasingly provides a photocopier with a very cheap price - say 4p a sheet of A4, one solution to what you carry on a walk is to make photocopies of what you need from your collection. Illegal?

[xxvi] The CC took on board the responsibility for making the public aware of the value of the countryside as a recreation resource and supports the funding of information services.

[xxvii] another semantic digression -"walks" need to be distinguished from walking. These are walks - where a group of people gather at one place at one time and then do something which might loosely involve walking.

[xxviii] Lindsay, John *get citation - Prague thing

[xxix] The boundary of Kingston (a London Borough) and Surrey (a County Council) is a most striking example of this, as the headquarters of SCC are actually in Kingston!

[xxx] I don't want to extend this note into the bye-ways of government by mentioning too many of the bodies involved in some way or other, though from the more general point of information systems design, many will prove important. Rights of way markers are an obvious one.

[xxxi] So a department of Kent County Council wants a cheque for 1.95, the Borough of Merton wants me to go to their Town Hall, whereas London Wildlife Trust is happy to put the leaflets in the post.

[xxxii] Though there is now a map of Britain indicating the hereabouts of every tic, selling at 99p!

[xxxiii] Interestingly Network South East of British Rail is doing a promotion with some tourist attractions which advertise in a leaflet price reductions for arrival with an Network card, but there is no mention of this anywhere near Hastings Railway Station, yet several of the attractions are here. Also for purposes of brevity I'm leaving out the possibility I might want to do something lese other than just visit Fairlight Glen, or that the weather might change and make the journey fruitless.

[xxxiv] Bear in mind though that any combination is discrete only in areas of 100Km square. Thereafter the two letter prefix is required. And the area I am considering here is larger. In any event whatever proposed here would need to fit into a larger scheme of things so this simple description will not be sufficient. However I do not want to go into GIS details here. Also note that although the grid referencing is consistent, the map numbering systems are not and the Landranger and Pathfiner series have also gone through a renumbering scheme which is incomplete in the published versions adding complexity.

[xxxv] The level of automation now available to British Rail and London Regional Transport indicates that much more could be done in this area than has been so far. For example LRT has the OS co-ordinates of all bus stops and the OSCAR co-ordinates for all roads down which busses travel. To build a might more effective transport interchange system which then allowed for the whats I have discussed to be added ought not to be beyond the possible.

[xxxvi] Clearly each organisation is predominantly interested in marketing itself. But this is to fail to recognise the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Not a single leaflet mentioning the Bluebell Railway seems to mention Sheffield Park, but together they are worth more than either.

Last update: 07 July 2005 | Impressum—Imprint