Archive for the ‘everything is miscellaneous’ Category

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

We’re ready for Masonic control now, please.

Whenever I talk about LibraryThing among librarians I mention all the libraries that generally fall beneath their radar—churches, historical societies, house museums, birthing centers, Masonic lodges—and how LibraryThing is great for them. In fact, we’ve done smashingly among churches (and a number of synagogues and temples), and well enough with the others, but I don’t think we have a single Masonic lodge!

Something is clearly wrong. Are the Masons against us? Are the Masons supporting Shelfari?

The recent anniversary of the Great Seal of the United States got me thinking. What if we made our sympathies clear? So we’ve redesigned the Great Seal of LibraryThing (formerly the Orca). Social-Networking World domination here were come.

Translations: “He approves our tags.” “A new order of books.”

Labels: everything is miscellaneous, hidden images, masonic control, masons

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

Shirky/Weinberger… the Movie

It’s hard to boil new, complex ideas down into a 5-minute movie. Antropology professor Michael Wesch has a rare skill for it. The movie above, R/Evolution, thumbnails the Shirky/Weinberger argument, about the assumptions built into physical information, and how digitization changes knowledge.

It’s something I’ve touched on many, many times—it’s the intellectual justification for much of what LibraryThing does—but never as neatly as Wensch has done. R/Evolution has this flow to it. It’s compelling stuff.

In this vein, I recommend the video he’s best known for Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us, which won a 2007 Wired Rave award. LibraryThing member benjfrank recently pointed me to another of his videos, A Vision of Students Today.*

I think, however, there’s a danger when you squeeze an argument. It took me a long time to be persuaded that Ontology is Overrated was right. I had to get over Shirky’s somewhat glib style. Reading Shirky my instinct is to ask say “Wait, that’s too simple!” and “But what about?” I like my arguments both tighter and more detailed. I’m a convert now, but I think I think many will have even stronger reactions to this video. I’m guessing that, for many, this will be their only exposure to the idea. That would be too bad. So, my recommendation is, see the movie, but don’t settle for it. Read Shirky’s Ontology is Overrated and Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous.

That said, I want Wesch to do a five-minute on LibraryThing :)


*Also compelling, but the former educator in me thinks that when students start going on about how what they’re learning isn’t “relevant to their life,” some really good teacher should be there to hold up a sign saying: “The point of education is to make your head a more interesting place to live in.” And when someone hold up a sign that says they only complete 40% of the reading, I want to hold up a sign that reads “40%=F!” Maybe I could IM it instead.

Hat-tip Felius (LibraryThing sysadmin John Dalton).

Labels: everything is miscellaneous, mike wesch, shirky, weinberger, youtube

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

What does tagging do to knowledge?

Back when David Weinberger‘s Everything is Miscellaneous was published, LibraryThing ordered a box of copies to give out at conferences and so forth. (Although LibraryThing is mentioned only in passing, the book is, in a way, the intellectual justification for much of what we do.)

We ended up with a dozen or so left over, so I held a contest to get rid of them: Say something about what tagging means, or what it “does” to knowledge, and you might win a copy. I figured that it was time to stop pontificating about what people were doing with tags, and get them to pontificate instead.

The Talk topic eventually accumulated 170 comments, almost all interesting and some quite lengthy and involved. I found it thrilling stuff. We picked ten random winners, and sent out the books.

The whole discussion is newly relevant in light of our new Tag Mirror feature, discussed on the main blog and at in great detail on Talk.

Here are some selections from the full discussion:

I think the most interesting aspects of tagging, in a social networking context, are that: (1) All tagging is personal and (2) All tagging is public (ssd7)

So what does tagging do to knowledge? It classifies it in a fuzzy, family-resemblance kind of way, doing justice to multiple topics and interdisciplinary books in a way that the Dewey Decimal System could only do if it worked in four or five dimensions at once. (MyopicBookworm)

I like fun tags that are so personal or unique that nobody else uses them. A friend of mine, for example, has tags like “Detectives with gimmicks“, “Elaborate crimes“, “Witty people being clever“, and my favorite “Fangirlin’“. I myself want to use a tag for “Farm boys with magical destinies” but it’s apparently too long. (saturnine13)

Tags capture individual perceptions of a work, data, and add that information to our knowledge of the work. That’s a useful enhancement, but the variety offered becomes a disadvantage if they are used to find other works. Tags lack the precoordination necessary for efficient comprehensive searching. For example, the tagmash search for libraries, –fiction includes libraries and bibliotecas, but not bibliothéques, etc. Related works may have been lost. That interferes with one of Ranganathan’s laws—it does not save the time of the reader. (notelinks)

One of the things I find most fascinating about tagging is what it reveals about the cognitive processes of the taggers. What makes one person tag Walden with “simplicity” and another person with “hermits“? It’s not a novel observation that we all experience books (for example) personally or subjectively. Tagging is a very simple way to turn that individual experience into universal information. (johnascott)

I’m always amazed at the different ways of viewing something when I see how differently others tagged something to which I have already assigned the most ‘correct’ or ‘appropriate’ tags. (bobngail)

Believe it or not, tags are actually more formal or structured than some similar systems. Consider the general WikiWiki idea of turning any word into a link if it’s in FunnyCaps. The effect is very similar, but the links appear anywhere in text. Tags isolate the linking to specific fields. The extreme free-form nature of Wikis drives some people off, just as the extreme formalisms of MARC, etc. do. So tags seem to be a widely accepted compromise. (JasonRiedy)

Tagging doesn’t so much affect knowledge as reveal it in unexpected places and from unexpected sources. We are all bent, but we’re bent in different directions, and so the sum of our deviances converges on reality quickly – and tagging taps into that. (xaglen)

I think the main point to remember is that tagging is NOT JUST an unstructured form of subject headings; it is a completely different way of viewing the world. Taxonomies and standardised subject heading vocab divide knowledge hierarchically according to set rules. Folksonomies allow knowledge to emerge through collaborative involvement. Tagging allows people to look at books in new ways, to share that knowledge, and to create tag clouds so that no one tag gets missed. (mrsradcliffe)

Tagging helps to both aggregate and splinter knowledge. By this I mean, tagging helps to navigate relationships among disparate “knowledge objects” while at the same time, splits the categorization of similar objects into much finer and/or more random collections. (stoberg)

Everything is Miscellaneous is one of 37 books I currently have tagged “included in the present classification” (there are none that look like flies from a great distance). (sabreuse)

First, tags really only seem to work for organizing stuff you have some sort of conceptual “ownership” of things that in some way you have an incentive to keep order within. People don’t seem to want to tag in enough quantity / detail to be useful when they don’t have a personal stake in sorting through the resultant mess. (cubeshelves)

I much rather spend my time reading a book! (bcobb)

From a library standpoint, my favorite thing about tags is that it allows natural language into the catalog. .. [A]nd what tagging does to knowledge? It gives you more access points. (e1da)

Tagging is getting awfully close, it seems, to the way our brains naturally work anyway – it “associates” and “retrieves” based on miscellaneous tags it has (subconsciously) attached to the idea or concept. (nicknich3)

The variety of tagging systems is amazing. You can tell a lot about a user’s interests by the complexity of tags relating to a specific concept. I am always a bit disappointed when I encounter a catalog without tags. Of course you can look at the books in that catalog, but you don’t get much indication of the user’s relationship to their books. (oregonobsessionz)

[SilentInAWay wrote an exceptional piece on the Deathly Hallows tag cloud and it's common and uncommon tags, from fantasy (783) to Kleenex (1): — Ed]

[W]here there is a clear consensus on a tag, it is probably based on fairly broad considerations (and therefore constitutes relatively superficial knowledge). Conversely, the most intriguing tags (autistic-like character, Kleenex, the end of Pottermania) are almost inevitably used by only a single member. (SilentInAWay)

I remember being flabbergasted when I found out how long it took for the Library of Congress to change the subject heading “Vietnam Conflict” to “Vietnam War.” Now it doesn’t seem so ludicrous to me.

Even recognizing that LC Subject Headings and tagging achieve two different goals doesn’t ease my mind about this. I cannot stand the thought of how muddy and increasingly useless much of Library Thing’s tagging database will end up being in a very short time. (lmccoll)

Tagging permits me to see books as others see them. (kencf)

Labels: contests, everything is miscellaneous, tag mirror, tagging, weinberger

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

“Weinberger, I did my research.”

“Now you gotta cough up!”

Die-hard David Weinberger fans should not miss his interview with “DishyMix.” DishyMix is a sort of cross between a podcast like IT Conversations—sober, intellectual conversations with IT visionaries—and the TV show E!.

The effect is uncomfortable and often hysterical. Although he preserves his dignity pretty well, Weinberger is very much out of his element being asked, for example, to free associate. And, strange as the exchange gets, lifting Weinberger out of his book groove does produce some interesting tidbits.

Labels: everything is miscellaneous, podcasts