PICNIC07: Everything is miscellaneous, David Weinberger

We're good at organising things, coming up with organisational schemes. But there's always a box for things that don't fit elsewhere: Miscellaneous.

Digitally, allowing this box to grow and take over the organisation is the right thing to do. The web could only scale because it didn't ask us for permission to post - it was easy to chuck stuff in. The real worlds main purpose seems to be to keep things apart and in one place - you cannot put two things in the same place. But this is exactly the wrong principle for the digital world; the rules we apply to the physical just aren't appropriate.

Human editorial experts, for instance, make decisions about importance - but in the digital world they don't have to organise things into discrete boxes. Since Greek culture, we've assumed ideas are organised the way the real world is. "The wise person carves nature at its joints" - Plato - implies ideas have physical structures (joints).

"To think that there is a single order to the universe is to consider the universe a shoe store"

There are 3 orders of organisation:

  1. The things themselves - e.g. a physical photographic archive;
  2. Physically separate the metadata - e.g. a card index gives you maybe 3 ways of organising (author, subject, title). Relies on shrinking information down to card-side;
  3. Digitise contents and metadata;

4 principles of change:

  1. Filing things in multiple places at once;
  2. This causes messy in the real world, but digitally messiness is good - every link adds value and information. Data mess can be analysed and sorted
  3. No difference between data and metadata online where there is in the real world;
  4. Unowned order; in the real world, owners of items also organise those items; in the digital world ordering can be divorced from what's being ordered: users control and own the organisation of data

We're not letting experts prune the world for us; nowadays we're letting everyone bring this order, in a messy way. We can't predict what other people will be interested in - but now we don't have to decide that for others.

It's also better for businesses to share information than lock it up. e.g. the airline industry sharing fares allows sites like Travelocity to add value, Farecast to analyse the data... all of which sends business back to the airlines.

Explicit vs implicit: Facebook gathers explicit information (how you know someone) and surrounds it with messy fauna of implicit information.

Wikipedia: quote from Jimmy Wales about realising an independent viewpoint by having people edit an article until the arguments stop. "The expert who is unwilling to engage in conversation is losing relevancy". Knowledge has always been social; in a good conversation, we drive the bugs out of knowledge.

Britannica can be trusted; Wikipedia can't necessarily, but it has a great deal of credibility. Britannica gets its credibility from the credentials of its authors; Wikipedia reminds us that facts aren't as black and white as we tend to think.

We've succeeded as a species because we've externalised functions of knowledge: writing externalises memory, calculators externalise maths, etc. We're now externalising meaning. The great step forward we're taking is to