The Importance of Place – an anecdote

John Hagel recently blogged about the increasing value of place in shaping talent development and how the density of similar types of companies “increases opportunities for serendipitous encounters and sustained and rich collaboration.” He refers to Steve Lohr’s article in the December 20, 2007 issue of the New York Times, Silicon Valley Shaped by Technology and Traffic, showing how Silicon Valley consists of multiple “microclusters” grouped by type of tech company.

I particularly enjoyed the article’s interactive map. (You can see our previous location: we were in the same building as LinkedIn, the black internet dot to the right of the Internet leader circle representing Google below the Palo Alto label.)

We have a good example of the importance of location and the opportunity it offers for “serendipitous encounters”. I recall I spent most of my time during the International Conference on Chinese Computing in San Francisco in 1985 arguing with Joe Becker and Lee Collins (at the time both at Xerox, before Lee moved to Apple) that we needed just one unified Han character set to cover Chinese, Japanese, and Korean scripts. RLG had created just such a unified set for our implementation of CJK scripts in RLIN in 1983. RLG gave Lee/Apple a copy of the RLIN CJK Thesaurus with the character set mappings we had used that Lee incorporated into his analysis to demonstrate the value of Han unification and to create the first Unicode encodings.

Our contribution is acknowledged in the Unicode History by Mark Davis, the first Unicode Consortium president:

Concerning unification, when we looked at the unification of CJK ideographs, we had the successful example of the Research Libraries Group’s East Asian Character (EACC) bibliographic code to show the way.

RLG hosted some of the first meetings of what became the Unicode Consortium, of which RLG was one of the founding members. The first meeting was in the RLG annex in Palo Alto. We represented the library community, and eventually ISO TC46/SC4 (the International Standards Organization Subcommittee for technical standards to facilitate interoperability of “information services” including libraries) agreed that it no longer had to maintain a separate set of character set encodings for bibliographic data processing.

Unicode is now widely employed in library local systems as well as almost everywhere else. I can’t imagine that the merging of library requirements within Unicode would have happened if RLG had been located anywhere else…