Now available: Design for Impact by Erin Weigel

The Rosenfeld Media Review Podcast: Ren Pope on Ontology in the Digital Age

Ren Pope has a passion for all things data, information, and knowledge, and he strives to make them more accessible, organized, and enduring. You may be surprised that this conversation about information architecture takes us back to classic Greek philosophy, specifically ontology, which is concerned with the nature of being—that is, what is real and not real.

What is inside a computer cannot be seen, yet it is real in the sense that it has value and can impact reality. And as a modern ontologist, Ren wants to make information accessible and useful. That often starts with assigning names to things—nouns and verbs to label the functions of an organization so that things can be indexed, searched, retrieved, crosslinked, and so that relationships can be defined through metadata.

It’s a complicated process for small businesses and consultants, and the challenges rise exponentially for enterprises with multiple departments and silos.

With 60 years of shared experience, Ren and Lou remember when companies were dependent on Excel Spreadsheets and PowerPoint to manage the complexities of a living and evolving organization (many still are!). Today there are multiple options for organizing both structured and unstructured data, and thanks to ontologists like Ren, the tools are getting better.

Lou and Ren’s discussion spans from the philosophical to the practical. Ren shares some concrete ways to use ontological thinking in your everyday work:

  • Find all the nouns and verbs your organization uses to describe its functions.
  • Define what you are trying to accomplish.
  • Focus your scope. The narrower the domain, or the more specific the task, the easier your task will be. If you don’t have a narrow, well-defined scope, you will probably over-collect data.
  • Find how the nouns and verbs interact.
  • Have a method for maintaining your data.

Ren will be presenting at the upcoming 2023 Enterprise UX Conference June 6-7

What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • About classic ontology and how it relates to the digital age
  • How information architecture has evolved over the last 30 years
  • What is ontological thinking and how to incorporate it into your work
  • The relationship between information architects, engineers, and the end user
  • About the upcoming Enterprise UX Conference in June

Quick Reference Guide
[0:00:58] Introduction of Ren Pope
[0:02:17] Ontologist vs information architect vs interactive designer vs knowledge manager
[0:06:00] Ontology within organizations and particular challenges for enterprises
[0:09:50] Metadata for structured and unstructured data
[0:14:01] LLM summaries, single metadata terms, abstracts, summaries – they all have their place and all can work together
[0:18:50] How normal people can benefit from ontology or better IA at an enterprise level
[0:23:28] Data needs to be captured, managed, and represented
[0:27:41] A glimpse of the back-in-the-day solutions, like Excel Spreadsheets and PowerPoint, and how far we’ve come
[0:29:40] The scale of volume and complexity of the enterprise environment keeps growing. Is technology keeping up?
[0:35:08] Ren’s gift to the audience – Mettle Health