[joho] JOHO Jan. 28, 2005

  • From: David Weinberger <self@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: joho@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005 13:26:24 -0500

Journal of the
Hyperlinked Organization
January 28, 2005
by David Weinberger (self@xxxxxxxxxxx)
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| |
| TREES VS. LEAVES: Tagging may be shaking |
| the leaves off of taxonomic trees, |
| affecting not only how we organize ideas |
| and information but how we think about |
| organization itself. |
| |
| BRIDGE BLOGGING: A new effort tries to |
| break through the national boundaries |
| implicit in the blogosphere. |
| |
| LINKS: Some funnish stuff. |
| |
| BOGUS CONTEST: Wikipedia topics. |
| |
| Sorry it took me so long to do publish an |
| issue. My blog is sapping my 'zine. |
| |
| I gave the after-dinner speech at a |
| conference on Blogs, Journalism and |
| Credibility put on by the Berkman Center, |
| the Shorenstein Center and the American |
| Library Association. You can download the |
| mp3 [1] or listen to the Real Audio |
| stream [2]. You can read about why some |
| people hated the conference [3]; it |
| stirred up a boatload of hostility before |
| it happened because it struck some people |
| as elitist and/or too homogeneous. |
| |
| Also, I gave a talk to the Library of |
| Congress that was broadcast by C-SPAN. |
| It's on taxonomies and stuff. There's an |
| MP3 of the speech [4] and of the speech |
| and Q&A [5]. There's video on the C-SPAN |
| site [6]. |
|[1] http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/ml/output.pl/37691/download/davidw.mp3
|[2] http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/dyn/ml/output.pl/37691/ram/temp.ram

|[3] http://allied.blogspot.com/2005/01/how-homogeneous-can-one-room-be.html
|[4] http://www.hyperorg.com/misc/library_of_congress_weinberger_speech.mp3
|[5] http://www.hyperorg.com/misc/library_of_congress_weinberger.mp3
|[6] http://www.c-span.org/congress/digitalfuture.asp

[Note: I'm writing this as I'm also working on the
February issue of Esther Dyson's Release 1.0, which
will be on taxonomies and tags [1]. Some of the
ideas in this will make their way into that issue.
In fact, you can take this issue of JOHO as me
thinking out loud about what to say in that article.
The Release 1.0 article, which will be around 12,000
words, focuses on interviews with vendors and
                       * * *

There's a new way of classifying the things in our
world and it matters beyond the efficiencies it will
bring when we're trying to find stuff.


Del.icio.us [2] kicked "tagging" into gear by giving
us a reason to tag stuff. It's a bookmarking site:
If you come across a page on the Web that you
want to remember, you post
the URL to your personal page at del.icio.us. On the
way, you tag it with a word or two that will help
you find it among the mass of bookmarks you
accumulate on your del.icio.us page. The kicker is
that everyone else can see not only what you've
bookmarked but all the bookmarks that share a
particular tag. You can even subscribe to a tag as
an RSS feed. For example, I subscribe to the tag
"taxonomy," so every time I go into my blog
aggregator, I see a list of new pages to which
people have applied that tag. You can also see
tagging at work at Flickr [3], a photo post-and-
share site that lets you tag your photos or (with
their permission) your friends' photos. I subscribe
to the "Iraq" tag and see some amazing pictures.

How do you know what tags to use? You don't. You
make them up. Popular tags gain momentum: If you
want your photo of the beach to be found, and if
90,000 people tag beach photos as "beach" but only
100 type"shore," you will probably go with the
popular one. The resulting tag sets have been called
"folksonomies" (a play on "taxonomies") because they
are bottom-up and self-organizing...which has its
strengths and weaknesses.

Technorati [4], a site that indexes 6.3 million
blogs, has pushed the tagging insurgency one step
further by starting to index tags from del.icio.us
and flickr, as well as counting blog categories as
tags. If you search on a tag at Technorati, you get
a page that displays the appropriate Flickr photos,
del.icio.us URLs, and blog posts.

Those are just the beginnings.


Folksonomies are different in important ways from
top-down, hierarchical taxonomies -- the shape we've
assumed knowledge itself takes.

The old way gets some experts together who create a
nested tree of concepts into which everything in a
particular domain can be slotted. Think of the Dewey
Decimal System. Think of the Tree of Life. The new
way invites users of information to add a word or
three to the objects they want to find again.

The old way provides the vocabulary we are to use.
The new way lets us use our own words.

The old way puts the control of the classification
system in that hands of the owners of information
classifying it. The new way gives control to the
users of information.

The old way creates a tree. The new rakes leaves

The old way knows if you search for "trucks" that
trucks hang from the "vehicles" branch, so it can
also show you SUVs. And, if you search for
"vehicles," it knows to show you trucks, SUVs, and
tanks. The new way does not initially know that
trucks and SUVs are related, but it can link trucks
to categories -- such as "monster truck rallies" --
on branches way on the other side of the tree.

This is not an either-or. The old way -- trees --
make sense in controlled environments where
ambiguity is dangerous and where thoroughness
counts. Trees make less sense in the uncontrolled,
connected world that cherishes ambiguity.


We are so at the beginning of the insurgency of
leaves that we can't tell which problems will be
real and how we will solve them or skirt around

The most obvious problems have to do with the fact
that what works at the beginning of the adoption
curve may not work as the curve's pitch increases.
For example, del.icio.us has about 45,000 users now.
As the numbers increase, both sides of the dialectic
are going to become problematic: We'll have too many
items clustered under the word "ocean" to be able to
browse through, but we also won't have enough items
clustered under "ocean" because some people will tag
it as "sea," "beach," or "la mer." We'll whine about
the "ocean" cluster being too big and not big
enough. Damn people.

There are technological fixes that are promising,
including doing statistical analyses of how
individuals and social groups cluster tags and of
the multiple tags attached to any single item. Maybe
we'll be able to figure out not only that "sea" and
"ocean" are functional synonyms but perhaps that
oceans are types of bodies of water. We may be on
our way to creating a trans-application thesaurus
that each application helps sharpen.

Such a thesaurus would raise another dialectical
problem. On the one hand, we want to be able to
share tags with everyone. On the other, we want our
tags to reflect the way we think, and we think
differently about the same things. Will a thesaurus
be a probabilistic, multi-lingual babelfish that
enables us to "Tag local but find global"? Or will
it turn into an instrument of metadata colonialism?
Will it be owned? And, of course, how will it be
gamed by porno-spammers?

Whatever happens, the development of this type of
thesaurus is just one more step up the metadata
ladder. Tag sets are going to become objects that
social groups work on and share. The relationships
among tags won't remain flat and dumb; we'll start
recording hierarchical relationships, synonyms,
opposites, place names, see-also's, was-is-will-
be's; There's value in those constellations of tag
sets. Many will be shared. Some will be offered for

Noticing how social groups tag stuff will help
disambiguate collections of tagged items because
members of social groups tend to think and talk
about things more alike an do members of other
groups. At least sometimes. But social groups will
also form around tags: If I discover that you tag
the same things the same way as I do, then we have
lots in common. These social groups will begin first
as a way to share stuff. They'll get to conversation
when what gets tagged is either spectacular or
pushes against the limits of the group's self-
understanding: "Dude, it's an amazing picture of
rotting fruit, but why did you label it 'love'?"


You label a jar of preserves "Strawberry - Aug.
2005" so you can tell what's in it and whether the
green stuff on top is supposed to be there. At
Flickr, you tag a digital photo of your jar of
preserves "strawberry jam" so other people can find
it. The label has a context: the thing that it's
attached to. The tag's context is invisible and
detached: It's how you think other people are going
to search for it. (As Joshua Schachter, creator of
del.icio.us, says, tagging is the inverse of

So, we're creating this context-free realm of free-
floating metadata, like word magnets on a
refrigerator door, that we will paw through and
assemble, and, most important, do things we haven't
yet thought of.

The fact that we are inventing this way of
classifying is important. It announces that we are
skeptical at a whole new level: Not just about the
content of knowledge but about how it's divvied up
in the first place.

This explicitly pries yet another layer off the real
and pulls it into the human, for in a tagged world,
it's hard to maintain that topics exist independent
of us. Or disciplines. Instead, we cluster our world
around our interests. New interest? Shuffle and deal

The project of knowledge goes from filling up
containers with information to making everything
public by tagging it and throwing it into the leaf
pile. We're doing that together, without waiting for
a plan or permission. Then we're rolling around in
the leaves.

This is a knowledge economy of wild excess. It would
make no sense if we were still scratching for
information under rocks.

We are meaning our world together. We can't do it if
we have to do it perfectly or even well. It's better
just to do it.

We can sort it out later.

[1] http://www.edventure.com/
[2] http://del.icio.us
[3] http://www.Flickr.com
[4] http://www.Technorati.com (Note: I'm an advisor to the company)


Shelley "BurningBird" Powers has just posted an
excellent round-up and analysis of recent bloggery
about tags [1]. She is less enthusiastic than I am,
which is always a good thing. I blogged a response [2].

[1] http://tinyurl.com/4ouqh
[2] http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/mtarchive/003625.html


My friends Ethan Zuckerman [1] and Rebecca Mackinnon
[2], both at the Berkman Center [3], have, with
others, started an initiative called GlobalVoices
that aims at helping the blogosphere break through
its natural tendency to cluster into groups that are
too easily alike. GlobalVoices asks: What can we do
to get the rest of the world's voices heard?

That question spawned an international track at a
recent Berkman conference [4] that brought together
a few dozen bloggers from around the world. These
are "bridge bloggers" -- bloggers who build bridges
to other cultures.

There is, course a blog [5], and a wiki page [6].
Heck, there's even a manifesto [7]. Feel free to
jump in.

[1] http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethan/
[2] http://rconversation.blogs.com/rconversation/
[3] http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/home/
[4] http://cyber.law.harvard.edu:8080/globalvoices/index.php?p=3
[5] http://cyber.law.harvard.edu:8080/globalvoices/
[6] http://cyber.law.harvard.edu:8080/globalvoices/wiki/index.php/BridgeBlog
[7] http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/globalvoices/wiki/index.php/Global_Voices_Draft_Manifesto


(These are all from my weblog...)

Here's a delightful page at the


And here's an animation from John Udell showing how
it developed:


The Poynter Institute has put together a good paper
on why transparency is a good thing:


Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small
Planet -- a book that influenced my wife and me
waaaay back when -- has published an essay
[1] that out-Lakoffs Lakoff [2].

[1] http://www.guerrillanews.com/articles/article.php?id=1010
[2] http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org/people/lakoff

This chess game shows you what the computer is
contemplating. Very cool:


And from Germany comes this nicely-done game that
pits you against the computer or another human, as
you each try to take over the world by doing Google
queries that turn up documents localized in various
parts of the world:


Modern Drunkard claims to be mainly serious with the
goal of returning "drinking to the glorious Rat
Pack/Jackie Gleason Era":


Terry Heaton interviews Ed Cone [1] about the
newspaper-sponsored local blogging community [2].

[1] http://donatacom.com/papers/10Q4.htm
[2] http://greensboro101.com/

The international version of OhMyNews has a terrific
interview with Dan Gillmor about his plans and the
future of news:


And Rebecca Mackinnon, ex-bureau chief in China for
CNN (and BridgeBlogger), has written an excellent
article on what's wrong with CNN:


My daughter and I have made a short movie
(under a minute) called RingTone:


This video will tell you how to fold a
shirt. Yeah, I know. But you'll like it.


At the beginning of the Links section above, I
linked to the Heavy Metal Umlaut page:


What are some other great pages in Wikipedia that
would never have made it into the Encyclopedia


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  • » [joho] JOHO Jan. 28, 2005