Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Miscellaneous Knowledge

David Weinberger gave a great and thought provoking talk about Miscellaneous Knowledge, digitization, and the challenges presented by ever-expanding digital streams of information as well as the the social life of information. We are truly as he said living in an age of abundance..."an abundance of crap" and "an abundance of good" which the abundance of good is ironically harder to handle ~ there is just so much good stuff out there today~ what do we do with it all!

This 'problem' of an over-abundance of good is forcing us to consider the notion of knowledge and the media we use to access knowledge.

Is there a certain body of knowledge with which everyone should be familiar? What about individual voice and perspective...can they be retained or will they continue to be stripped away?
Is there a scarcity of knowledge and truth?

Is knowledge is orderly? We have the strong belief and tradition of thinking in categories, what goes with what...this goes with that...and there is a certain way things should go together...and we have endless arguments about the a seemingly move toward a single order to the universe...But does this order exist in a digital world? Or is it simply thinking we are trying to carry forward from the physical world with the limitations it places on physical objects ...rather than change our thinking?

Weinberger suggested that there is no reason to continue this practice...except that in the past we have embodied our ideas in physical objects. Power and authority came from the limitations of paper.

He went on to talk about Order.
First Order...a single way of ordering physical objects
Second Order...metadata about the thing is separated...basically a couple ways of sorting
Third Order....Digitizing Everything...first resort is the digital world, last resort is the physical world

He spoke of society rapidly inventing new organization principles:

1. Leaf on many many categories as possible...with as many sorting layers as possible
2. Messiness is a virtue ~ people can explore easily in any different direction...richer and richer with meaning

And led us to question the real difference between meta data and data in today's world ...a world in which you can type in anything and get back everything...pointing out we just got incredibly smarter!

Pointing out that all content now becomes connection ~ what's stuck between the pages of a book is now a dead end.

He led us to consider what he termed "Unowned Order" using the following example...

You get to organize your site...but users can also organize they way they want...we can decide how to organize...all categorization is politics...what are the values...? How do you handle the scaling problem? It just does not work on the scale of the web.

With the following suggestion:
Include everything. Don't make decisions for people about what they should or should not be interested in. Postpone the moment of classification...offer tagging, multi-faceted calssifications...Reminding us that we are an insanely conversational do we put knowledge together?... conversation is where knowledge the real exists between us...knowledge is social...knowledge is becoming linked...go and come back, we are generous in sharing our world...look over there i think you might find this interesting...

Weinberger also had some interesting thoughts on authority and credibility in today's world, comparing how Britannica and Wikipedia built each.

Wikipedia...passionate and civil discourse...and people literally get on the same page...notes and discussion forums...neutrality of articles can be disputed...falibility increases its's on our side...understand our world better...traditional media clings to maintaining the notion of authority, control...they are embarassed about being human...knowledge stuck in the world of atoms is a fiction

we are past the time...where we have to put all in one box...

so what happens to libraries when expertise is distributed and widely available?

it depends on what happens to knowledge...answer that and you will have an answer to what will happen to libraries...

bonnie p.

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