[Online Information 2005] David Weinberger keynote

David Weinberger at Olympia 2005
Here’s a snippet of David Weinberger’s keynote to Online Information. His speech is entitled Everything is Miscellaneous and rattled a mostly taxonomy-loving audience by looking radically at how we can extend the organisation of knowledge by introducing alternatives to tree structures.

Check out the Online Information blog for some more vox pop video clips. If you’re not already subscribed to Joho the Blog, then shame on you.

This is a (very) rough transcript of the content of this clip:

When the data and metadata are both digital what gets made easier? Well, there are four things that change:

1. Leaves can sit on multiple branches – for example a camera has to sit somewhere, probably best under ‘cameras’ but in an electronic store you want to put it in as many places as possible

2. Messiness is terrible in the physical world, organisation is success, whereas in the digital world you want as many links in and out and crossing over as you can find, so many links that no-one could possibly follow them all – that sort of messiness really works – the more contextualised, the more findable you are.

3. In a clothing store, almost everything you see is noise. It’s the stuff that doesn’t fit *you*. Much better to be able to go to the store that says: Sixteen and a half, thirty two inch shirt store – that would be good for you (if you happen to be that size) So in a normal store, if you do the rational thing and make a big pile of everything that fits you so you can go through it in a rational way- you’ll get thrown out, they’ll think you’re crazy – because the owner of the information also owns the organisation of that information. So now we have electronic stores that let you order how you view stuff – close to faceted classification (actually parametric search) but getting closer to you being able to design your own store. It is less and less the case that the owner of the information owns the organisation of the information

4. Users are becoming contributors to the metadata that used to be owned by the information owners. For example, sequential file names from digital cameras give the problem that it’s impossible to remember what the content of the file is. Uploading such a picture becomes functionally equivalent to throwing it away – because you’ll never remember which one is which. So why not upload your pictures and have other people annotate them. For example at an event like this, people can say “that’s me!” and type in annotations, so that onerous job of entering metadata (which humans are supposed to hate so much) when distributed over a large enough group, especially when that group is motivated in part by egotism then magically it gets done. Sometimes that’s the only way to get information.

So the tree metaphor is incredibly useful – compact and efficient and will continue to be valuable. The difference is that in the future the question will no longer be about getting the right tree, there will be many trees. So rather than trees, it’s helpful to think of knowledge as a large pile of leaves.

It used to be that the role of information professionals to keep us from bad knowledge to cut down what people see, but now it’s the opposite, now it’s a complete flip we want as much metadata as possible. Now filters may be filtering out something useful and keeping a user from something they want. This flips the basics of our culture because before with paper, we couldn’t handle an abundance of information, now we’re really good at it.

Information is growing all the time, but we’re not overwhelmed with it, because we did what we’ve always done, we generated more information to be able to deal with it. Just like Callimachus the librarian at the Library of Alexandria who had 400,000 scrolls or so to classify. How did he manage it? He made more scrolls.

But we don’t need to filter things on the way in, we need experts who can help us think about things in all sorts of multiple ways, but filtering on the way in is a dead idea.

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[Online Information 2005] Bob Boiko

In the end, there was only one session that I managed to take notes in as my head got full of cold and my throat needed constant sipping of warm fluids to keep me going. So I listened on Tuesday to Bob Boiko, author of The Content Management Bible and all-round sound as a pound chap on things dear to my heart (in particular urging information professionals to get talking about information again rather than ‘content’).

His presentation was entitled: What every exec should know about information management and my notes follow.

Extremely frustrated when working with clients over the years – most problems aren’t things that practitioners can really do anything about. We have lots of ideas, but there are people who are supposed to be able to tell you what the goals are, but this is the biggest gap in Information Systems. So this is what you should tell them (or somehow influence or convince them of to escalate the concepts up to the people who need to know)

Information management not content management

Putting the IC back into ICT – Information, Communication and Technology – everyone’s trying to communicate, figure out how to talk to each other, who’s got it who needs info. But people hide behind technology, infrastructure or products rather than deal with the real issue – what’s the valuable information, who needs it and how do we get it to the right people in the organisation. Reframe everything you do into that context – it’s all about that aim. It’s not about content – it is about information, so take back the word – get it back from the information technologists who might not actually deal with *information*. Talk about information & communication. What is important? How many meetings do you have that talk about this, rather than choosing products and differences between applications. So challenge executives to behave as if you really were about information and communication supported by the technology rather than the other way round.

Not trying to convert us – just trying to give people here passionate arguments for doing the right thing.

Take the long view – it may be the end of your career and you’re still being asked to talk about the implications of technology. But this is still an interesting field – we’re still working it out, we don’t have it all sorted yet and it will take time.

What does it mean for a piece of information to be valuable. Are we in an information age? No not yet, we’re still wannabe’s: Imagine an info supermarket – you look at the labels on piece 1 and piece2 and you decide you want 1 but it’s too expensive so you keep looking. We can’t actually do this – we have some idea of the value of tangible objects, but it’s still very difficult to put a price – how would you have a dialogue in your corporation about the value of a white paper. Bob thinks we will get there, but only if we all start working on the problem now. So far, we can do something with relative value, but absolute is too hard. Also value isn’t only monetary.

Find allies in other people who are working on communication.

Study information – how do people look for it, what makes it good, who gives and who gets, what’s worth the expense? How much do you actually know about it – did you study at university? have you studied it since? One of the things we focus on is structure and this is something we tend to own – this is good, but there are other areas, that we still don’t really know about. Keep saying that it’s a profession in itself, people need training in it – it’s not a sub-topic of management or technology.

Create a strategy for information – how do you know what it should be? Well whatever it is you need to do it, you need to have one. If Knowledge is Power then why don’t we have a strategic approach to information – how are we going to use it. MOst people would tacitly agree, but they would have no idea how – maybe they could look to you. Basic point is If we deliver the right information to the right people in the right way it will help us meet our goals. There are no villains here, it’s that they really don’t know – it’s not neglect it’s lack of understanding – this is a whole new idea, a new discipline. Either get a strategy, or quit saying Information is Power, because you’re not behaving as if it were. Bring this contradiction up, talk about it, work out whether and how information is valuable to your organisation.

So ye executive types: Lead, Damn it! Lead your team, your peers, your bosses, their bosses. Please give us leadership – tell us why we need an intranet or whatever it is that people say they want you to build. What are we going to get from it – when you tell me then I might tell you that we should do it in a different way than you think.

Bob recommends http://www.cmprofessionals.org/

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