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Thoughts on Everything is Miscellaneous, Part 2



A few days ago, I shared some thoughts about David Weinberger’s book Everything is Miscellaneous (and Weinberger actually left a great comment, too – how cool is that?). This post is the second part of that series. It covers three random thoughts that didn’t really fit into the first post (and weren’t big enough for their own posts, either… except maybe on Twitter… :-)

Thought #1: Weinberger makes some very valid points about current search systems and how newer ideas, like tagging, provide better findability. His discussion of this was fascinating – but I would have liked to see him resolve the dissonance that went off in my head when he explained how tagging and better search capabilities allow multiple subject headings and tags without having one be a dominant tag or subject heading. That certainly works great in the digital world… but how does that work in, say a library with physical bookshelves? The book can only be put on one shelf at a time, which means you need a dominant subject (unless there’s a better way for us to store and track material). How do allow for both randomness and back-end order at the same time?

My guess? We’re in transition, folks. Transition from a purely physical information world to a purely digital information world, and this type of problem appears when mixing physical items with useful digital search capabilities.

Thought #2: Weinberger says, “Put each leaf on as many branches as possible… In the real world, a leaf can hang from only one branch” (pg 103). And “Hanging a leaf on multiple branches makes it more findable by customers” (pg. 104). This really relates to my Thought #1 above. Weinberger is pointing out that in our new digital world, we don’t have to be chained to the same old organizational systems we relied on in the physical world (ie., subject headings and ILS systems, for example). We can see what del.icio.us and flickr are doing with tagging and searchable customer descriptions, and figure out how to incorporate those newer ideas into our search systems. What a great idea!

Thought #3: On page 105, Weinberger writes: “Give up control.” Ouch! Librarians don’t like to do that! He continues: “That’s why it’s so powerful to let users mix it up for themselves… [online], on the other hand, we just naturally expect to organize information our way, through tags, bookmarks, playlists, and weblogs.”

Are you hearing that? Our customers want to tag, bookmark, set up playlists, and participate via blogs, comments, etc… are you allowing them to do that?

Weinberger says: “Users are now in charge of the organization of the information they browse. Of course, the owners of that information may still want to offer a prebuilt categorization, but that is no longer the only – or best – one available. Put simply, the owners of information no longer own the organization of that information.” (pages 105-106). That is HUGE. We – librarians, libraries, information professionals… are NO LONGER IN CONTROL OF ORGANIZING INFORMATION. Our customers do that now.

So why are we here again? We can still do some great things. We can, as Stephen Abram says, “improve the question.” Customers don’t know how to ask the correct questions to find the most appropriate material. This doesn’t change in the digital world. Right now, there’s still a learning curve on advanced search functionality. That might certainly change, but our expertise doesn’t change.

To put it another way – sure, I can replace the brake pads on my car… if I have a weekend to kill, money to buy tools I’ll never use again, and a copy of the instructions handy. Or I can take my car to an auto mechanic who (hopefully) has changed hundreds of brakes, has the expertise in place, and knows what to do when something strange pops up (like, say, what he’d see if I brought my car in after attempting to change the brake pads… :-).

We are the information experts – that never changes.

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  • http://lisnews.org/ Blake

    “We are the information experts – that never changes.”

    But people don’t care, people don’t need expert, they just need “good enough,” people want what’s fastest, cheapest and easiest, they don’t want what’s best. We’re the really expensive retailers in a Walmart world.

    I think that, more than anything else is our greatest enemy.

  • http://lisnews.org Blake

    “We are the information experts – that never changes.”

    But people don’t care, people don’t need expert, they just need “good enough,” people want what’s fastest, cheapest and easiest, they don’t want what’s best. We’re the really expensive retailers in a Walmart world.

    I think that, more than anything else is our greatest enemy.

  • http://zbdigitaal.blogspot.com/ Edwin

    I agree with Blake on this one.

    I am about to finish Everything is Miscellaneous as well. It’s thought-provoking indeed!

  • http://zbdigitaal.blogspot.com Edwin

    I agree with Blake on this one.

    I am about to finish Everything is Miscellaneous as well. It’s thought-provoking indeed!

  • http://johnmiedema.wordpress.com/ John Miedema

    Hi David,

    You said “That certainly works great in the digital world… but how does that work in, say a library with physical bookshelves? The book can only be put on one shelf at a time, which means you need a dominant subject (unless there’s a better way for us to store and track material). How do allow for both randomness and back-end order at the same time?”

    Wouldn’t a simple mapping do? From multiple tags to the single physical object and single physical location?

  • http://johnmiedema.wordpress.com John Miedema

    Hi David,

    You said “That certainly works great in the digital world… but how does that work in, say a library with physical bookshelves? The book can only be put on one shelf at a time, which means you need a dominant subject (unless there’s a better way for us to store and track material). How do allow for both randomness and back-end order at the same time?”

    Wouldn’t a simple mapping do? From multiple tags to the single physical object and single physical location?

  • http://johnmiedema.wordpress.com/ John Miedema

    I disagree with Blake. Fast cheap and easy is often a good thing, not the enemy. I think the information world is big enough to have fast and cheap as well as slow and good. It’s just a bigger world of info, that’s all.

  • http://johnmiedema.wordpress.com John Miedema

    I disagree with Blake. Fast cheap and easy is often a good thing, not the enemy. I think the information world is big enough to have fast and cheap as well as slow and good. It’s just a bigger world of info, that’s all.

  • http://lisnews.org/ Blake

    John-Good point, and I hope you’re right. I’m a glass half empty guy on this though, I think the world is shrinking and we’re getting pushed out.

  • http://lisnews.org Blake

    John-Good point, and I hope you’re right. I’m a glass half empty guy on this though, I think the world is shrinking and we’re getting pushed out.

  • http://johnmiedema.wordpress.com/ John Miedema

    Hi Blake, sometimes I like fast food, sometimes regular fare, sometimes gourmet. Then again, maybe I like the fast food too often … Still, people haven’t stopped cooking at home or at fancy restaurants, even if they do it less often. Cheers.

  • http://johnmiedema.wordpress.com John Miedema

    Hi Blake, sometimes I like fast food, sometimes regular fare, sometimes gourmet. Then again, maybe I like the fast food too often … Still, people haven’t stopped cooking at home or at fancy restaurants, even if they do it less often. Cheers.

  • davidleeking

    John – not sure a simple mapping would do it. It would work if you needed a pure “where’s the book” placement and nothing else. But libraries (and bookstores) tend to have people browsing the shelves – and that’s where placement should make some kind of sense.

    And that’s where the simple gets a bit more difficult…

  • davidleeking

    John – not sure a simple mapping would do it. It would work if you needed a pure “where’s the book” placement and nothing else. But libraries (and bookstores) tend to have people browsing the shelves – and that’s where placement should make some kind of sense.

    And that’s where the simple gets a bit more difficult…

  • http://walt.lishost.org/ walt crawford

    “Transition from a purely physical information world to a purely digital information world”

    You believe that? When do you expect to see physical information disappear? I’d lay serious bets on it not being within my lifetime, at least if “information” includes books in general…and probably not within my nieces’ lifetimes either.

    That’s why I avoid “transition” and use “mixed”–because I don’t see that transition ever being complete.

  • http://walt.lishost.org walt crawford

    “Transition from a purely physical information world to a purely digital information world”

    You believe that? When do you expect to see physical information disappear? I’d lay serious bets on it not being within my lifetime, at least if “information” includes books in general…and probably not within my nieces’ lifetimes either.

    That’s why I avoid “transition” and use “mixed”–because I don’t see that transition ever being complete.

  • davidleeking

    Walt – yes, I do believe that. I’m not putting a timeline on it, but most definitely, I think we’re at the beginnings of a transformation from print to digital formats.

  • davidleeking

    Walt – yes, I do believe that. I’m not putting a timeline on it, but most definitely, I think we’re at the beginnings of a transformation from print to digital formats.

  • http://www.everythingismiscellaneous.com/ David Weinberger

    Count me in the mixed or hybrid camp as well. I do think that physical books are going to become to reading what legitimate theater is to TV (yeah, I now the analogy is imperfect), and that it will happen fairly rapidly once schools start switching to paper-quality book readers. But even then, the point about the miscellaneous is that we can have multiple, multiple sortings of it. Sometimes we’re going to want credentialed experts to provide a curation, sometimes we’ll just want quick and dirty, sometimes we’ll want the most popular, sometimes the first, sometimes the rarest, sometimes the wrongest, and sometimes we’ll want to browse an Aristotelian tree or Dewey-dappled shelves. So, giving up control over the organization does not mean that one becomes irrelevant. You can be a valued and even mighty contributor and curator without having to be in sole charge of the collection.

  • http://www.everythingismiscellaneous.com David Weinberger

    Count me in the mixed or hybrid camp as well. I do think that physical books are going to become to reading what legitimate theater is to TV (yeah, I now the analogy is imperfect), and that it will happen fairly rapidly once schools start switching to paper-quality book readers. But even then, the point about the miscellaneous is that we can have multiple, multiple sortings of it. Sometimes we’re going to want credentialed experts to provide a curation, sometimes we’ll just want quick and dirty, sometimes we’ll want the most popular, sometimes the first, sometimes the rarest, sometimes the wrongest, and sometimes we’ll want to browse an Aristotelian tree or Dewey-dappled shelves. So, giving up control over the organization does not mean that one becomes irrelevant. You can be a valued and even mighty contributor and curator without having to be in sole charge of the collection.

  • http://johnmiedema.wordpress.com/ John Miedema

    David LK, you said: “But libraries (and bookstores) tend to have people browsing the shelves – ”

    To me, *searching* for information will give way to digital technology. Perhaps we will have virtual shelves like LibraryThing. (This does mean a potential end to shelf browsing, at least in complex information environments).

    But *reading* is always better in print. Maybe I will read snippets online, but for pleasure or sustained reading, print is always the superior technology. Here’s where physical formats will persist. Here’s where the mapping to simple physical items will occur.

  • http://johnmiedema.wordpress.com John Miedema

    David LK, you said: “But libraries (and bookstores) tend to have people browsing the shelves – ”

    To me, *searching* for information will give way to digital technology. Perhaps we will have virtual shelves like LibraryThing. (This does mean a potential end to shelf browsing, at least in complex information environments).

    But *reading* is always better in print. Maybe I will read snippets online, but for pleasure or sustained reading, print is always the superior technology. Here’s where physical formats will persist. Here’s where the mapping to simple physical items will occur.

  • davidleeking

    Why is reading always better in print? Because screens aren’t that good, and because of portability and comfort issues perhaps? Because of expense? What else?

    I think those types of things will change – prices will come down, innovations will happen (and are already). No – current e-readers won’t cut it. But future devices probably will. But then, that’s just me… :-)

  • davidleeking

    Why is reading always better in print? Because screens aren’t that good, and because of portability and comfort issues perhaps? Because of expense? What else?

    I think those types of things will change – prices will come down, innovations will happen (and are already). No – current e-readers won’t cut it. But future devices probably will. But then, that’s just me… :-)

  • http://johnmiedema.wordpress.com/ John Miedema

    The list of advantages of print is really quite long. The ones you mention are very important. Many of the advantages have to do with our need for a particular physical relationship with knowledge that is best represented by print and the book, e.g., the flow of text, and alternation of pages for comparison. Paper output is greater than ever in the digital age. Why? More information means a *greater* need to read, hence more paper.

    I would like to recommend: Sellen and Harper (2002): The myth of the paperless office. They examine the affordances offered by paper and recommend the design of better digital devices that complement the ongoing use of paper.

    I can’t say there won’t be a better eBook in the future. There are very interesting trends to make computers more like books rather than books more like computers, e.g., digital paper. If they can make an eBook as good as a print book, I’ll be the first one in line!

  • http://johnmiedema.wordpress.com John Miedema

    The list of advantages of print is really quite long. The ones you mention are very important. Many of the advantages have to do with our need for a particular physical relationship with knowledge that is best represented by print and the book, e.g., the flow of text, and alternation of pages for comparison. Paper output is greater than ever in the digital age. Why? More information means a *greater* need to read, hence more paper.

    I would like to recommend: Sellen and Harper (2002): The myth of the paperless office. They examine the affordances offered by paper and recommend the design of better digital devices that complement the ongoing use of paper.

    I can’t say there won’t be a better eBook in the future. There are very interesting trends to make computers more like books rather than books more like computers, e.g., digital paper. If they can make an eBook as good as a print book, I’ll be the first one in line!

  • http://www.informationatrix.wordpress.com/ Kate Crowe

    Print books also have another advantage: unlike digital books, they’re not encoded in a format that requires compatible media in order to access them…media that will likely become obsolete and necessary to upgrade in the near future.

    Until this becomes less of an issue, I’ll keep saying, “When in doubt, print it out.” :)

  • http://www.informationatrix.wordpress.com Kate Crowe

    Print books also have another advantage: unlike digital books, they’re not encoded in a format that requires compatible media in order to access them…media that will likely become obsolete and necessary to upgrade in the near future.

    Until this becomes less of an issue, I’ll keep saying, “When in doubt, print it out.” :)

  • davidleeking

    The encoded/format/media thing can be taken care of by XML, so that’s not so much of an issue anymore. I agree that right now, print works best – I just don’t think it always will.

  • davidleeking

    The encoded/format/media thing can be taken care of by XML, so that’s not so much of an issue anymore. I agree that right now, print works best – I just don’t think it always will.

  • Servant of the Most High

    Hi,

    Link:

    http://www.holyoneofisrael-reconciliation.blogspot.com

    Please read through the messages in this Blog.
    All glory and honor, power and praise, be unto our God for providing us with HIS Word through this blog.
    Send it across and share it with the multitudes who are hungry for the word of God.

    Freely we received, freely shall we give.

    God bless you.