Attribution and Assimilation

Spending some time recently re-reading the Moleskine in which I’ve been keeping notes since December, I noticed how much I’ve stolen absorbed from other people. F’rinstance, I spotted the following three examples after re-reading my notes from various conferences.

When I say (of corporate collaboration) “A company is full of people, not just staff”, It turns out I’m quoting Suw. I first heard her speak, sans slides, at a conference on Social Tools for Business Use, and I wrote this sentence down. I also have “small talk glues a company together” and “adoption is not a goal” on that page. Whether those are direct quotes or my paraphrasing is uncertain, but I’d bet they’re something she’d say. [Photo by Cory Doctorow. Click for big, obviously]

When I say (of the web or, re-using it for my own ends, virtual worlds) “Imagine trying to describe TV to someone who has never seen it”, I’m consciously quoting Russell, whether I remember to say so or not. I was so struck by the first time I saw him present that I created quite a long post about the experience, which I’m pleased to see includes that sentence in its many bullet points. Had I not been away, I would have paid good money (the enormous amount the organisers were asking, even) to see him use the Ze Frank brain crack clip he always uses when he presented at Wildfire alongside Ze. [Photo by, um, me]

When I say (of investing time in blogging and social networking) “If you have to make decisions, the more information you have and the more timely and accurate it is, the better”, it’s Euan‘s smiling face you should be thinking of. I also have “trojan mice” written on that same page. The concept of small, well focused changes which creep in under the radar is not Euan’s idea, but it was him who first introduced me to it. He also encouraged me to take the plunge and start using Twitter. [Photo by Doc Searle]

Perhaps attributing where you heard of something (as I’m long-windedly setting out here, and tend to do in using via: tags (though not yet via:via:)) is sometimes more interesting and useful than the original source. That way we get to see the branches that caused an idea or link to appear in a particular context.

In any case, now that I’m aware of the source of the three quotes above I’ll certainly be more careful to attribute appropriately. Mainly for fear that someone might actually mistake them for my original thoughts. David Weinberger (who was one of the people to independently coin the phrase “famous for fifteen people”) has written interestingly on the idea of attribution vs assimilation. He says “it’s good to attribute quotations when possible, but it’s even better to let ideas be assimilated into the cultural body” and even goes on to claim that “nothing has ever been said just once“.

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