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David Lee King

MLA 2008: David Weinberger – Miscellaneous Knowledge



Notes from David Weinberger’s session titled “Miscellaneous Knowledge” (he retitled it “The Smell of Knowledge” – David is a pretty funny guy…)

We’re in an age of abundance – both good and bad stuff (ie., spam)

We’re used to our notion of “it’s hard to find good stuff” – not so hard anymore

We assume this – some knowledge is simple – it’s true for everyone – ex = some apples are red

Other assumptions:
– knowledge and truth is scarce (so institutions grow around this scarce knowledge)
– knowledge is orderly (everything fits neatly into categories, even one category)

This is not the case – ie., “is pluto a planet?” – it’s not orderly

we cluster things depending on what we’re doing at the moment – it’s not orderly – it’s personal and changing

Three orders:
first order – come up with a single way of ordering – stuff goes in a single place
second order – separate metadata from the thing – makes physical object  easier to find
third order – content and metadata becomes digital – no need to put stuff in one place anymore

In the third order:

1. leaf on many branches – ie., a camera can go in multiple categories (computer equipment, photographic equipment, graduation gifts, etc)

2. messiness is a virtue – all this stuff can link to each other, you can link it in many different ways to add value to it

3. metadata and data are merging – ie., you can search subject heading for Moby Dick – you can also search for “call me ishmael” – brings back same thing. You just used data as metadata… “everything is a lever”

Content is connection – Books are built as dead-ends – it’s difficult to make connections from one book to another. Digitally, this gets much simpler through links

4. unowned order – or personally-owned order. I can arrange it however I personallywant to – I don’t have to depend on others anymore

Cataloging – worked great in print. On the web, it simply doesn’t scale

Example – LOC added 3000 photos to flickr with the metadata they had – they allowed users to add tags, and they did. SOme photos ran out of tags – flickr allows 75 tags. So people left their tags in the comments.

LOC doesn’t have the time, staff, or expertise to tag these 3000 photos the way they’re being tagged – they needed user-generated tags

Nice slide – David added Wikipedia’s “the neutrality of this article is disputed” phrase to  a screenshot of the New York TImes… then asked – “why don’t we see this?”

A discussion list is smarter than an individual poster to the list. Knowledge exists through conversation, and is social.

Knowledge is becoming linked.

a blogger that links to other places tells people to “go away.” The hope is that readers will find that valuable enough to come back to you.

A newspaper is more narcissistic than a blogger – they point back to themselves most of the time – the rest are ads. Bloggers point away from themselves.

What happens to librarie? “I don’t know.”

“We all love books, but books really suck.”
– books aren’t convenient – you have to go get it, you can’t comment, you can’t share well.
– books have long-form arguments – it’s overrated. Hard to actually find books for that.
– books have content, but not links
– etc

What’s the “must” of libraries now? We can’t know this until we know what’s happening with knowledge – and we don’t know that yet.

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