[joho] JOHO - July 23, 3006

  • From: David Weinberger <self@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: joho@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 25 Jul 2006 12:02:56 -0400

Journal of the
Hyperlinked Organization
July 23, 2006
Editor: David Weinberger (self@xxxxxxxxxxx)
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+---------------------------------------------+ | CONTENT | | | | WHY BELIEVE WIKIPEDIA?: Simply by | | appearing in the Britannica, an article | | has credibility. But that's not true for | | Wikipedia because you might hit an article | | a moment after a loon has altered it. Yet, | | Wikipedia has (and deserves) credibility, | | in part because of its willingness to | | acknowledge its fallibility. | | | | THE END OF THE STORY (OR: THE TYRANNY OF | | RECTANGLES: Journalism can't get stories | | right because the world doesn't fit into | | rectangles. | | | | BOOK REPORT (OR: MY OBSESSION): The first | | draft of my book is done. Here's a brief | | report on Chapter 8. | | | | WALKING THE WALK: Raytheon tags. | | | | COOL TOOL: Diigo notes socially. | | | | WHAT I'M PLAYING: Gun is disappointing. | | Indigo Prophecy progresses from cool to | | idiotic. | | | | BOGUS CONTEST: Metadata for traditional | | authorities | +---------------------------------------------+ +---------------------------------------------+ | WHY SO LONG BETWEEN ISSUES | | | | As one of the articles below says, I've | | become mildly obsessed. Every day I wake | | up and think, "I really should be working | | on a new issue." But every day there's | | just a little more of my book I should be | | writing. I have been unable to tear myself | | away. | | | | Now I have a week between drafts. So I'm | | filling my interstice by providing a | | little something for you to fill yours. | | | | Lord bless the interstices! | | | | A month later: I turned in a complete | | first draft a couple of weeks ago and | | yesterday heard from my editor. She likes | | it. In fact, she was enthusiastic. She has | | edits and questions, and some ideas about | | how to make it a bigger seller, but at | | least I did not get the dreaded reaction: | | "It's a great start. You've given us lots | | to work with." | | | | So, in a week I'll get her commented | | version and will spend August sanding and | | polishing, as well as ripping out some | | rotten floorboards. Metaphorically | | speaking. | +---------------------------------------------+


Simply appearing in the Encyclopedia Britannica
confers authority on an article. Simply appearing in
Wikipedia does not, because you might hit the 90
second stretch before some loon's rewriting of
history or science is found and fixed. Yet,
Wikipedia is in some ways as reliable as the
Britannica, and in some ways it is more reliable.
Where does it get its authority?

There are a few reasons we'll accept a Wikipedia
article as credible.

First, we apply the same rules of thumb as we do
when listening to someone for the first time: Does
she sound like she knows what she's talking about?
Does she seem fair? Does she seem to have some
perspective? Does she blatantly contradict herself?

And, we are generally more likely to believe a major
article than one on an obscure topic because it's
more likely to have been worked on by many people.
Plus, we may already know something about the topic.
If the article on the JFK assassination says he was
poisoned by Rasputin, we'll be disputin' that

The article gains credibility if we see it has a
long edit history. It becomes yet more credible if
the discussion pages are long and rich. (As someone
pointed out to me a few months ago - who were you,
dammit? - those pages are going to become remarkable
artifacts as future historians try to understand our
attitudes and beliefs. Imagine we had discussion
pages for the 1950's Wikipedia page on segregation.)

There's one more sign of credibility of a Wikipedia
page: If it contains a warning about the reliability
of the page, we'll trust it more. This is only
superficially contradictory. Wikipedia has a page
that lists the available not ices [1]. Here are some of
the warnings available in the Disputes category. (See
the online version of Joho for the graphics).

            The factual accuracy of this
                article is disputed.

             This article appears to
            contradict another article

               This article appears to
                  contradict itself.

          The factual accuracy of part of
             this article is disputed.

          The truthfulness of this article
              has been questioned.

        The neutrality and factual accuracy
           of this article are disputed.

       The neutrality of this article's title
         and/or subject matter is disputed.

       An editor has expressed a concern that
           the topic of this article may be

        This article is an autobiography, and
       may not conform to Wikipedia's NPOV policy.

      Some of the information in this article or
           section has not been verified...

    The current version of this article or section
             reads like an advertisement.

    The current version of this article or section
                reads like a sermon.

       The neutrality of this article or section
           may be compromised by "weasel words".

    Concern has been expressed that a "self-published"
           source being cited in this article is
     not legitimately citable as a secondary source...

     This article is a frequent source of heated debate.
        Please try to keep a cool head when responding
                to comments on this talk page.

The fact that Wikipedia encourages us to use these notices give us confidence that Wikipedia is putting our interests over its own.

So, why is it that you don't see such frank notices
in traditional sources such as newspapers and
encyclopedias? Is it because their articles don't
ever suffer from any of these human weaknesses? Oh,
sure, newspapers issue corrections after the fact,
and "This is non-neutral opinion" is implicit on the
Op-Ed page. But why isn't there any finer grain
framing of the reliability and nature of what's
presented to us in their pages? Can we come to any
conclusion except that traditional authorities are
more interested in maintaining authority than in
helping us reach the truth?

Which in the long run will be devastating to their


danah boyd has a terrific post [2] on her problems
getting the entry about her at Wikipedia corrected,
pointing out the extent to which Wikipedia relies on
the media. As other Wikipedians have pointed out,
the person danah was dealing with there does not
speak for all Wikipedians. In fact, no one speaks
for all Wikipedians. But do check the discussion
page at Wikipedia.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Template_messages
[2] http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2006/04/15/on_being_notabl.html

|          THE SCAREDY CAT ENCYCLOPEDIA                |
|                                                      |
| The Encyclopedia Britannica has refused my request   |
| to interview an editor for 15 minutes about the      |
| process by which it chooses authors. I explained     |
| that this is for a book. But, the head of the        |
| Britannica's communications group decided - based on |
| what? - that they don't want to support people who   |
| are "cheerleading for the downfall of businesses     |
| that they deem to be part of an old regime."         |
|                                                      |
| All part of the command-and-control mentality at     |
| some of our great institutions of knowledge.         |
|                                                      |
| Go team! Sis boom bah!                               |

------------------------------------------- THE END OF THE STORY (OR: THE TYRANNY OF RECTANGLES)

If you've ever been part of a story covered by a
newspaper, it's a near certainty that you didn't
think the story got it exactly right.* Even if there
were no outright mistakes, you read it thinking that
the emphasis was wrong, that it didn't quite capture
all sides, that there was more to it than that, that
a turn of phrase was prejudicial. You would have
written it slightly differently. At least.

This is not because reporters aren't good at their
job. By and large they are, and it is hard job
requiring skill, experience and persistence. It also
generally doesn't pay that well. The problem is not
with the reporters. Lord bless them and multiply
them. The problem is with the notion of "the story."
And the real problem with "the story" isn't the
story, it's the "the." There are better and worse
ways of recounting what went on, but there is no one
right way. But, the physics and economics of paper
just about require that the story be told in one and
only one way. Paper fixes ideas the way flypaper
fixes flies.

Newspapers are beginning to recognize that the Web
gives them a way to get past The Story. Sort of.
Opening up a comment thread next to an article, or
pointing to blog posts that discuss it are starts,
but that still presents The Story as the object at
the center of peripheral discussions. The page in
which The Story is embedded can - and well may -
become the primary artifact, and it will contain
multiple stories, from multiple people, about
multiple topics.

Imagine what a page about, say, the Iraqi elections
or a new stem cell discovery could contain. Stories
have to repel alternative versions. Stories are
defensive. But topics are warm and welcoming. Topics
accrete stories the way corral reefs (reeves?)
accrete diverse life forms.

So, maybe this is a way newspapers can hold onto
their value. Stories become commoditized. The New
York Times could be the place that, yes, writes
stories but that, more importantly, assembles topic
pages that contain the stories, pictures, archival
information, maps, video, and links to what the rest
of the world is saying. In fact, that's pretty much
exactly what the NY Times is doing [1]. But, The
Times seems to be looking at topic pages as an
additional service, one that they hope will let them
rise in Google rankings so that when you search for,
say, "stem cells," their page will show up ahead of
Wikipedia's. The Times is being slow to create these
pages. And they're still charging for access to
their archival material. The Stravinsky topic page
[2] lists an article from 1987 about a judge
blocking a Stravinsky biography, but the link takes
you to a $3.95 tollbooth. This will prevent the
pages from being broadly useful and ranked high by
Google. It's also annoying.

Imagine if the Times conceived of itself as a
type of agile think tank, with the topic pages as
their main artifact. It would have to open up its
archive - a boon for an informed democracy - and
could make money on ads. The Times' value wouldn't
be its ability to generate stories. The Times would be
about understanding what's going on. And for that we
need lots more than stories. If the Times doesn't do
it, then someone else will, aggregating stories from
multiple newspapers, and assimilating them to
powerful, rich topic pages.

Stories just want to be contextualized. Context is
king. Or queen. Or at least The Dauphin.

But, topics suffer from the same limitation as
stories: They have to be fit within rectangles. We
all understand that there is no one story about the
current Mideast conflict. But if we go up a level to
build a page about the topic that can embrace
multiple stories, how do we decide what the topic
is? Is it the Mideast conflict? Rise of Islam?
History of Israel? War on terrorism? Western
colonialism and its aftermath? Through hyperlinks we
can bust out of the boxes, but we nevertheless have
to build the boxes in the first place, just as
physical books need to be put on a particular shelf.

We are on the verge of a serious change, though.
Tags allow readers to categorize items the way the
readers think about them, so that one person's
"Israeli aggression" is another person's "Israel's
war on terror." By using tags, readers can
collectively decide on the rectangles, their
contents, and their links. Chains of links can
eventually lead across rectangles to shared
materials, although the great danger is that we will
box ourselves in...but that's a topic for another

As it stands, human editors build better boxes than
machines do. The Times' topic pages that its editors
have worked on are noticeably better than ones auto-
assembled on the basis of metadata. It may always be
thus, although I expect that the best rectangles
will come from individual amateurs and collections
of readers engaged in perpetual discussion.

Why have rectangles at all? Attention has
become synonymous with focus. But attention seems in
fact to be a dialectic between focus and openness to
distraction. And that makes the paper rectangles by
which we've been expressing ideas for millennia
unnatural when compared to the rectangles-with-links
we're building for one another on line.

*For example, an article in the Harvard Crimson [3]
got my position on the reliability of Wikipedia
backwards. Argh. And the entry on me in Wikipedia
links to it as a reliable account of what I said.
Double argh.

[1] http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/
[2] http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/igor_stravinsky/index.html
[3] http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=512172


Jay Rosen, chair of the journalism department at
NYU, today announced [1] on his weblog a new site,
www.NewAssignment.net, intended to bring together
professionals and the wide world of citizen
journalists. It's an interesting experiment that may
help validate that what Jeff Jarvis calls "networked
journalism" [2] can produce high-quality results.
But, because it's being done in public on a Web
site, I suspect that the site where each story is
developed is going to be more interesting, useful
and revelatory than the story itself.

[1] http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2006/07/25/nadn_qa.html
[2] http://www.buzzmachine.com/index.php/2006/07/05/networked-journalism/


I don't have Attention Deficit Disorder. I'm not
autistic or have Aspbergers (by the way, here's a
sure-fire laugh-getter for your eleven-year old: Do
they have Aspbergers on Uranus?). I do have 50+ Fat
Guy Type 2 Diabetes, but other than that I don't
have any of the trendy diseases, with one exception:
A few years ago I realized that I have a touch of
obsessiveness. Generally it's nothing too
disruptive. But for the past twelve months, it's
surfaced as an inability to think about anything
except the book I'm writing. So it could be worse,
unless you live with me and don't agree that the 9th
grade performance of The Music Man is really all
about the tyranny of taxonomy. But answer me this:
Why do all 76 trombones have to be clustered in the
front? Is it natural or even useful for every one of
the 110 cornets to be near the trombones? Why carry
the tyranny of rows and columns all the way into
musical performances? That's just sick.

Anyway, one odd manifestation of my obsession is
that I never get to a point where I'm ready to talk
about the book. There's always just one more day's
writing to do. And, by the way, that is exactly why
JOHOs have been so far apart.

So, now I've turned the whole rough draft in and my
editor likes it. As I mentioned in a box at the head
of this issue, I have a summer's worth of revising
to do, but right now I'm waiting to get the marked-
up manuscript from my editor. Ah, the sweet
interstice of summer!

I'd give you an overview of the chapters I've
written since last we talked, but I'm avoiding re-
reading them. Suffice it to say that Chapter 5 is
about how we're going to identify the pieces and
parts that constitute The World Wide Mess. (I
actually don't remember exactly what 5 is about, but
I assure you that it will be absolutely fascinating
and has already been optioned by George Clooney.)
Chapter 6 is on the socializing of knowledge -
social filters, Wikipedia, etc. - and especially on
the effect that's having on the news media. Chapter
7 is on the importance of the implicit and the
difficulty computers have in dealing with it.
Chapter 8 is about the virtue of messiness. Chapter
9 draws conclusions about the nature and role of
knowledge, and also includes a delightful recipe for
sugar-free tiramisu. You can't go wrong with

I don't want to talk about 9. So, here's what
chapter 8 talks about.

As discussed in previous issues of Joho, the book
pretends there are three orders of order. In the
first, we organize the objects themselves. In the
second, we separate the metadata from the data and
organize the metadata (e.g., a card catalog). In the
third order, the data and metadata are both digital,
so we can come with new ways of organizing them free
of the constraints of the physical. Chapter 8 begins
by saying that messes in the first two orders are
inefficient and make life worse, but in the third
order, a messy pile with lots of implicit and
potential relationships within it actually reverses
entropy. The pile itself can stay messy as different
people organize the metadata as they want. For
example, if our family photos are in a messy pile,
we can't find anything easily. If my wife wants to
organize them by year and I want to organize them by
person, one of us has to lose. But, we can each
organize our digital pile of digital photos the way
we want without actually rearranging the digital
photos at all. The more metadata attached to the
photos and the more relationships discerned among
them, the more potential for fruitful ways of
organizing it.

The chapter then looks at the history of business
org charts and why they have so much white space.
Nowadays, companies are realizing the value of
mapping the messy social networks that the org chart
hides. But messiness isn't simply a part of our
social order. The work of Eleanor Rosch showed in
the 1970s that we order our concepts in sort-of
kind-of relationships around clear exemplars
(prototypes), thus punching Aristotelian
essentialism right in its well-defined nose.

Then I look at the Semantic Web as an attempt to
clean up the messy Web. I trace it back to Tim
Berners-Lee's previous project, Enquire, a way of
modeling systems by using sets of links that had
meanings such as "x is part of y" and "x depends on
y." The Web succeeded in part because the links are
simpler than that. The Semantic Web would like to
restore the rich meaning of links. Sounds good, but
as a result, some versions of the Semantic Web hark
back to the attempts to build universal,
comprehensive taxonomies that I made cruel fun of in
previous chapters. Other versions take a messier and
more incremental approach. Certainly there are areas
where the messy and the clean variations of the
Semantic Web make sense, but there's also lots of
sense in loose, unrestricted tagging and clustering,
which leads to the loose order that Rosch talks

Conclusion: We're learning how to know in sort-of
kind-of ways, in addition to our traditional ways.

Here's a snippet from Chapter 8:

  ...Rosch was in New Guinea to study how one of the
  local tribes, the Dani, categorized color. Color
  categorization was an interesting field for
  anthropologists and linguists because the 7.5
  million colors humans can perceive form a
  continuum with seemingly no natural divisions.
  Yet, pioneering work by Berlin and Kay in the late
  1960s showed that across 98 different languages,
  there seem to be only eleven basic color
  categories. Russian has no single word for blue,
  the French have no single word for brown, and the
  Dani, remarkably, have only two basic colors, but
  every culture's basic colors seem to come only
  from within that group of eleven.

  Rosch showed the Dani color swatches and thirty
  seconds later asked them to pick the color from an
  array of samples. She found that they identified
  the basic colors more accurately than non-basic
  colors. This was precisely the same as with
  Americans and subjects from twenty-three different
  language backgrounds. It seems that although we
  disagree about how many basic colors there are and
  even what they are, when we lump and split we
  identify some swatches as a prototypical example
  of colors and others as sort-of, kind-of, to-some-
  degree examples.

  This flies in the face of the Aristotelian idea.
  For Aristotle, a thing is a member of a category
  if it satisfies the category's definition. Thus,
  anything in a category is an equally good example
  of it. After all, it shares the essence of the
  category. But, when it comes to color, it seems
  that we don't work that way. Tomato-red is a great
  example of red, the sort of red you could point to
  if someone didn't know what "red meant, but a
  setting sun may be reddish, an orangey-red, or a
  light red - it's red, but not a good example of

  Rosch quickly realized that this might be true not
  only of how we deal with colors but how we
  generally think about our world...

+---------------------+-----------------------+ | WALKING THE WALK | COOL TOOL | | | FOR THE HYPERLINKED | | Raytheon is | ORGANIZATION | | supplementing its | | | intranet's | I like Diigo in | | internally-develope | theory. It's a | | d taxonomy with a | social bookmarking | | folksonomy. | site like Delicious, | | Librarians pay | but it also lets you | | attention to the | highlight text and | | tags users create, | leave sticky notes | | creating synonyms | that other Diigo | | where appropriate. | users can find. | | It's a good hybrid | (This is pretty much | | case. | exactly what Third | | | Voice did about six | | | years ago.) All this | | | is swell. I just | | | don't know if I'll | | | be using it | | | regularly, in part | | | because there are so | | | many places I can | | | put social bookmarks | | | that I'll soon need a | | | meta-social- | | | bookmarker to keep | | | track of them | | | www.diigo.com | +---------------------+-----------------------+ | WHAT I'M PLAYING | | | | I finished Gun, enjoying the fact that it | | dares to be set in something other than | | space-grunge corridors of an | | interstellar vehicle beset by grues. It's | | good to get a breath of fresh air now and | | then. But, the narrative is pretty dopey | | and the game play is too easy. Like Grand | | Theft Auto, there are plenty of side | | missions, but they're also too easy. Plus, | | every time I start it, it puts me back in | | an out-of-the-way corner of the landscape | | from which I have to ride, annoying me | | unreasonably. | | | | I'm about a third of the way through The | | Indigo Prophecy, which is more interesting | | as genre than as an instance of the genre. | | It blends an adventure game with an | | interactive movie. Plus there are | | something like action sequences that | | require you to press buttons in sequence. | | The story so far is a too-easy mish-mash | | of haunted possession and a serial killer, | | but it's fairly interesting, if you can | | avoid the Angelina-Jolie-ish hot female | | detective and her embarrassingly | | stereotyped black-hip partner who is | | accompanied by a soul soundtrack. That | | aside, it's not bad. Really. | | | | Later: I finished The Indigo Prophecy. | | Actually it gets bad. Very bad. The last | | third introduces ridiculous and | | uninteresting elements, leading to an | | anti-climactic and quite stupid | | conclusion. Avoid it. | +---------------------+-----------------------+

------------------------------------------- BOGUS CONTEST: METADATA FOR TRADITIONAL AUTHORITIES

You know how Wikipedia encourages editors to stick
in warnings of various sorts? What, did you skip the
first article in this issue? You better go back and
read it because it will be on the test.

So, your challenge is to come up with appropriate
warning stickers for traditional knowledge
authorities. For example:

| New York Times      | THIS COLUMN IS        |
|                     | PREDICTABLE. This     |
|                     | column is redundant   |
|                     | with the previous n   |
|                     | columns by this       |
|                     | author.               |
|                     |                       |
|                     | INSUFFICIENT          |
|                     | CHAGRIN. This         |
|                     | article refers to     |
|                     | Iraq without          |
|                     | acknowledging that    |
|                     | our poor editing      |
|                     | practices led to a    |
|                     | year of inaccurate    |
|                     | reporting that        |
|                     | helped get us into    |
|                     | the war.              |
| Google Map          | RIGHT IN THEORY.      |
|                     | This map of downtown  |
|                     | Boston is correct     |
|                     | according to the      |
|                     | final plans for the   |
|                     | Big Dig, and thus is  |
|                     | wrong.                |
| Corporate           | QUESTIONABLE          |
| quarterly earnings  | SELF-KNOWLEDGE. The   |
| press release       | self-description at   |
|                     | the end of this       |
|                     | release has been      |
|                     | carefully             |
|                     | constructed not to    |
|                     | reflect the           |
|                     | company's actual      |
|                     | business but to       |
|                     | enable us to claim    |
|                     | that we are the       |
|                     | "global leader" in    |
|                     | something.            |
| Answer by Bush      | How about Those Red   |
| administration      | Sox? This answer is   |
| press person        | intended to change    |
|                     | the topic to          |
|                     | something more        |
|                     | pleasant.             |

So, go forth and make risible. But please don't make
fun of the Britannica. It's too important for that.


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