Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Thoughts from the book Everything is Miscellaneous

The following are some key concepts and or thoughts from the book "Everything is Miscellaneous", by David Weinberger.

The book
The book is an interesting history of human quest to order everything. The history in itself was fascinating if you think about it. Can you imagine at one time there was no particular order for the english alphabet? Imagine not having that today. Another good example is the Dewey Decimal System, something we all had to learn in school. I tried explaining the Dewey Decimal System to my son after a trip to the public library where we used the computer to find the book that I was looking for. He didn't get it and he doesn't really have to.

I wouldn't say this is a web 2.0 book but as it relates to finding stuff and hooking stuff together it does touch on some of the concepts and gives some more foundational things to think about.

How does this relate to WEB 2.0?

We all know that the web is changing from an ordered approach (ala version 1 of's categorized navigation) to a search based world that uses tagging and rating. With the introduction of tagging, taxonomies, and folksonomies, etc., we have tools that make all the classic efforts to organize things irrelevant. When we search for books in the library the Dewey Decimal System is just a index to the right shelf where the book lives in the stacks. We can use faceted search to search on every aspect within our interest area and then some.

An excellent example of classic ordering was my attempt to categorize and order my photo content on Fotki (, Chris's Dewey Decimal system on the fly). This is the classic example of implementing some sort of classification to things that slowly erodes over time. It helps get you close but after the collection reaches into the hundreds (1000s in my case) it is impossible to find the picture that I want.

The corollary to the classic way is to use tags. Tagging is what Flickr is known for (, and it allows me to create an infinite number of logical collections using tags as well as help me find that one photo I took years ago. I can create a stream of pictures of my children (say special moments) for grandma and she will see any new items added. The real power is when I want to find a picture of my son having to do with flying, it's easy to find pictures of Juan but what about when he is flying or better yet, that picture of both of my kids in the airplane (try it by doing a query "juan marilu flying"). This is so powerful I am willing to spend the effort to move my entire digital collection of photos (over 7,000) to The next step is the semantic web where we start to tie in all this information into a fabric of related and connected information. The application of tagging to photos is probably the most compelling example of tagging in the digital world today since image recognition is relegated to the NSA research labs.

As we think about how to make digital things findable in a sea of miscellaneous stuff, we need to go beyond the Dewey Decimal system of ordering to make it possible.

Other Thoughts sparked

Body Language.
The concept of "body language" on a web is an interesting one. Body language on the web is non-verbal communication, a non-direct communication. It's that feeling that the site gives you without actually saying so or doing so in a very subtle way. One example David gave in the book is when Wikipedia posts a notice that an article may not be neutral or accurate, they telling their users that Wikipedia is dedicated above all to educating the user. Another example is Google. By not filling up the white space on their home page with ads, offers and messages they are saying "There's nothing at Google that isn't about what helps the user." This is an interesting and powerful concept. What is your company's body language on your web and or what do you want your body language to say and how do you make that come through?

Wikis reduce e-mail and meetings.
The CIO of the investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, J. P. Rangaswami, found that wikis reduced emails about by 75 percent and halved meeting times. Although I've seen no other studies published on this, if true it may be one more item in our ROI bag.

Evolving knowledge. Suzanne Stein of Nokia Insight & Foresight says "group knowledge evolves" on wikis. I think this may be true when you can attain wide spread adoption of wikis, group editing and lowering of some of the social as well as muscle memory barriers to collaboration, contribution and work habits.

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