DEPARTMENT OF COMPUTER SCIENCE
DOCTORAL DISSERTATION DEFENSE


Candidate: Peter Piatko
Advisor: Dennis Shasha

Thinksheet: A Tool for Information Navigation

4:00 p.m., Thursday, August 27, 1998
12th floor conference room, 719 Broadway




Abstract

Imagine that you are a ``knowledge worker'' in the coming millenium. You must synthesize information and make decisions such as ``Which benefits plan to use?'' ``What do the regulations say about this course of action?'' ``How does my job fit into the corporate business plan?'' or even ``How does this program work?'' If the dream of digital libraries is to bring you all material relevant to your task, you may find yourself drowning before long. Reading is harder than talking to people who know the relevant documents and can tell you what you're interested in. That is what many current knowledge workers do, giving rise to professions such as insurance consultant, lawyer, benefits specialist, and so on.

Imagine by contrast that the documents you retrieve could be tailored precisely to your needs. That is, imagine that the document might ask you questions and produce a document filtered and organized according to those you have answered.

We have been developing software that allows writers to tailor documents to the specific needs of large groups of readers. Thinksheet combines the technologies of expert systems, spreadsheets, and database query processing to provide tailoring capabilities for complex documents. The authoring model is only slighly more complex than a spreadsheet.

This thesis discusses the conceptual model and the implementation of Thinksheet, and applications for complex documents and metadata.