The Return of Everything is Miscellaneous

Last week I wrote about my impressions of David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous. Well, this morning (around 2am) I finished the book and am so impressed! I love books that make me think – and Weinberger really left my head reeling.

In my role as Metadata Librarian I not only have to work with metadata, but think about ways in which we can manipulate it to provide a better product for our patrons and that’s just what the third order of order is all about – well, not exactly, the third order of order allows the patrons to add value and I hope down the road to be able to open up our metadata to allow for user input.

But, back to the book. David mentions something I’ve heard in several presentations lately. The simple fact that the more “mess” you have the more valuable the data becomes. Basically if you have a tool like Flickr that keeps data from every picture we upload, results can be clustered in ways that are impossible in the first order world (the physical world). This is why LibraryThing is so amazing and the fact that they’re sharing their data with libraries is so great. By using data from LibraryThing, libraries have access to a much wider mess than they would ever be able to compile with their own patron base.

Throughout the book, Weinberger uses Wikipedia as an amazing example of how the third order of order has been successful. On page 208 he makes a great point:

The Britannica includes references at the end of articles to remind us that topics are related to other topics, literally afterthoughts. Wikipedia, on the other hand, is besotted with links…These links are not even bread crumbs, for with two clicks we well may be going down a path no one has trod before and that no one anticipated…In the miscellaneous order, a topic is anything someone somewhere is interested in. Anyone an pull a topic together by contributing to Wikipedia, writing a blog post, creating a playlist, or starting a discussion thread.

While librarians and researchers question the accuracy of Wikipedia (and rightly so) it cannot be dismissed as a powerful research tool. I like looking at Wikipedia and following the links to find additional information. As a librarian, I then go and research the topic further using additional tools to confirm accuracy – but if I hadn’t used Wikipedia in the first place I may not have ended up down the path I did.

Along similar lines, the value of tools like Wikipedia and the blogosphere is that it shares information in the words of the users – these sites include language that matches how the average person thinks and speaks. Weinberger used the example of the blogosphere’s reaction to Bush’s speech on immigration on May 15, 2006. After the talk the blogosphere exploded in comments and interpretations. Weinberger explains the speech as “Simple arguments, simple ideas, simple language.” and goes on to say, “That’s how politicians talk. But it’s not how we, their constituents talk.” (p.209).

Next, as I mentioned yesterday, Weinberger touches on the future of the ebook. He talked about how we could collect data from how people read books, the passages they highlight, where people read books and so much more using wireless enabled ebook readers (p.222) – and while it sounds like science fiction – we’re almost there. Kindle has the power of wireless technology – meaning that in theory, Amazon could connect to our readers and collect data. While this sounds scary and like a huge invasion of privacy – imagine the power that this data could provide. Some examples Weinberger has is that you could create a list of books that people most often read at the beach or a list of books people stopped reading 1/2 way through – how cool would that be?

So, like I said at the beginning – my head is reeling with information and I’ll probably have to read this book again to get a real hold on some of the theory involved, but I loved the book! I think it’s a great read for all librarians – but if I have to specific – Metadata Librarians in particular.

PS. In this article I linked you out to 9 other resources on the topics I was covering – what print product can do that??

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6 comments

  1. Hey, I read your blog all the time. I’m a librarian in Iowa. I started reading Weinberger’s book when you recommended it, and I loved it too! Thanks for the recommendation and keep up the great work with the blog. I follow your delicious links all the time too.

  2. Hey, I read your blog all the time. I’m a librarian in Iowa. I started reading Weinberger’s book when you recommended it, and I loved it too! Thanks for the recommendation and keep up the great work with the blog. I follow your delicious links all the time too.

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