Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Keynote Address: David Weinberger

I have to say that at conferences I'm not always a big fan of the Keynote Address. Today's keynote: The New Shape of Knowledge, or Miscellaneous Knowledge or The Smell of Knowledge as David Weinberger decided to change the name to last night was interesting, and not even that difficult to follow!

David Weinberger, author of Everything is Miscellaneous (available here on Amazon) is an intelligent, humorous man who has quite a bio to back himself up. Click here to read an interview.

David talked a lot about Knowledge, how we organize it and why we organize it the way we do. He discussed the fact that it's human nature to put things into places, to organize ideas and the tangibles that ideas become into categories.

Things we assume (in the west, since ancient Greece) about knowledge:
  • One knowledge, no plural, same for everyone – everything that is true is true for everyone.
  • Simple- knowledge is simple – beneath apparent complexity of the world, knowledge must be simpler
  • Knowledge is scarce

“Opinions are a dime a dozen, what's really difficult is finding the truth”

More assumptions:
  • Knowledge is orderly – what lets us figure out what goes into one category instead of another. Categories, why they go together, how they work.
  • Is there a single way of “carving” things? Of breaking things down?
  • More likely, we cluster things, we don't break them down. How would the world be clustered and organized if we weren't interested in anything- does it matter? Can we even ask that question?
  • We're able to cluster because the universe is made up of things that share attributes.

Then David showed a picture of clean laundry (hence the humorous part)– we organize, break down, clump to figure out where everything goes.

Why do we subject our ideas to the same thing we subject our laundry to? Why do we assume these is only one way to organize ideas? Though we can't have two physical objects in one place at the same time, but you can have more than one ideas in the same place at the same time.

In the past we have had to separate out metadata (a set of data that describes and gives information about other data) from out data- now it's different. Now that we digitize our information, we have made all data into metadata. The old way of organizing doesn't make sense anymore- why organize it that way when we don't do it that way anymore. We assume there is a connection between data and metadata – use to need to know some of the metadata to find what you're looking for, not you might just need some of the data (the first line of the text, i.e.) and you can find the data as well as the metadata. We use metadata as a way to pry up data, but if everything is metadata- we've gotten way smarter.

We used to think that movement from the idea that there is too much information and we should hire experts to decide what we need and how it all fits together. Now, rather than thinking that the way to manage is exclude stuff, we can include everything – storage is cheap. It's easier to include than come up with a reason to exclude. We don't know what people are going to be interested in and now we don't have to make decisions, we can keep everything.

Different kinds of classification- tagging, dewey online, let people search the way they want to search.

Library of Congress put all those photos on Flickr from 40's. Put up metadata they have, allowed users to tag whatever they want, to develop new metadata. Also allow you to annotate, argue, comment, etc.

How does Wikipedia get it's credibility? Wikipedia puts all sorts of info up saying what the articles read like, if their contradictory, if it is a neutral piece, to admit that they're not perfect. The fact that they'll admit that not everything is wonderful shows us that it is an alright site to use. The fact that they're saying they things might not be perfect allows Wikipedia a level of credibility. If notices of imperfection gives credit to Wkipedia, why wouldn't it credit to the NYT or Britannica the same way? David says it's because they're embarrassed. We live in a world where it's thought to be embarrassing to be seen as human.

So how do we put information together?
  • Conversation makes us smarter, we tell people to go explore other things, other information (blog rolls). Point things out to each other and be selfless.
  • Blogging and the web in general are based on links and links are little acts of generosity. The web is a little bit selfless.
  • It's hard to tell how much information or how much knowledge is available in one place on the web because so many links and other places offered for us to go.

So, what happens to libraries?

“We all love books, but books also suck”
  • Libraries are convenient for reading, but bad for commenting, not for access, sharing.
  • Books and libraries give us bibliography and resources, but they are physically separate from, rather than on the internet where everything is right there.
  • We have a notion that knowledge is a trans-generational sphere that everyone can add to.
  • Libraries give us the sense of the work, time, culture represented by the community, don't get that on the web.

We don't know whats happening to libraries because we don't yet know what's happening to knowledge. It's taken 2500 years to give us our sense of knowledge- it will take at least a generation to figure out what to do now.

No comments: