Everything is Miscellaneous

David Weinberger (you know, of Cluetrain Manifesto fame) is a very funny guy. He used to write for Woody Allen, so perhaps that shouldn’t a surprise. Having just watched the Google Tech Talk of his recent talk to the Googlers, I really want to buy his new book, ‘Everything is Miscellaneous‘.

I took some notes as I was watching the video. Nothing that you’ll read in these bullet points is my original thinking, that might be for another time. This is purely to help me remember (and to allow you to see, if you’re interested) what he covered, and I’m either quoting or paraphrasing what Weinberger himself says. e.g. these are his ideas, not mine. Since almost every sentence out of the mans lips is memorable, there are quite a few notes here…

  • Classification and categorization: In the physical world, everything has to go someplace and it can only go one place. (Quote from later in the talk: “that’s how atoms work” and later still “atoms just suck”.)
  • These limitations are natural for physical stuff, but not natural for thought.
  • Image of butchering an animal. A good butcher knows where the joints are, and doesn’t have to hack at the bone. “We get to choose what the principle of likeness is depending on what we are trying to do”.
  • In the digital world, we are rapidly moving away from the idea that things are perfectly ordered and hierarchical.
  • But.. “We have absorbed into our ideas system the very limitation that’s on the physical.”
  • Example of Dewey Decimal system. Some facts about Dewey I had not realized (including that he spent a while spelling his surname Dui (for simplification purposes) and he liked decimals so much that he would arrange travel so he arrived on a day ending in a 0). The Dewey decimal system is “deeply broken”, and will never be settled. Why? “There is no single way of organizing the world.”
  • We are digitizing everything, which changes the rules.
  • Three orders. First order: organize the things themselves. Preserve the content. Second order: separate the metadata. (Card catalog) Third order: everything is digital; the content and the metadata.
  • Leaf on many branches (which would horrify Aristotle)
  • In a digital store, you can put the same digital camera on more than one ‘shelf’ (or section of the store).
  • “We used to be pretty sure there was a difference between data and metadata. Now, not so much.”. E.g. you search for a book, you may get back the actual content. You can search on the content just as easily as the content. No distinction except: “meta data is what you know, and data is what you’re looking for”.
  • It used to be that the people who owned the stuff owned the organization of it. Now, we do. Faceted classification allows you to browse in a tree-like fashion, except you get to pick the root and branches. The virtue of tress, without the limitation that you have to browse the tree according to someone else’s classification.
  • Sensibly skips over benefits of tagging (since the audience is familiar with it). Some nice points though: tagging is a little bit like a way of “sticking it to the man”.
  • Lovely image: Instead of a beautiful tree, what we’re doing now is pulling down the leaves and including as much as possible. Capture everything. Postpone the moment we organize until the user does it herself. Hence popularity of mashups. Some hilarious examples.
  • Simplicity. The age has an emphasis on keeping it simple. Example of 2400 word Presidential speech on immigration, which within an hour had 2400 blog posts about it. One per word, and each one may have been different, and discussed some set of attributes and details about that speech. We are enjoying being complex again.
  • Eleanor Rosch and prototype theory. We learn through examples.
  • Publicly negotiated knowledge. Bugs get driven out of ideas through discussion. On the downside, this means admitting fallibility (which Wikipedia does well very well).
  • Many have pointed out that we as a species externalize functions of consciousness, and this is how we advance. We are now externalising meaning through tags, taxonomy, blogging, playlists and every hyperlink.

An hour well spent. If any of that is at all interesting to you, take the time to watch the video.

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