Besides the cool diagrams, I like Clay Shirky’s “Ontology is Overrated” because of the list of observations about the future of searching as a broad category (not just for the Dewey Decimal System and The past few days I’ve been looking at my categorization and organization systems, and thinking about the way I find stuff.

Shirky omits discussion of some of the very popular ways this is done (chronology or arbitrary alphabetization) in order to focus on semantic methods of classification: those which are done based on some sort of meaning. This makes the argument less complicated, but I have to wonder what would happen if these methods, often combined with others like tagging, were considered. For example, my bookmarks are, by default, reverse-chronological, and there’s no option for alphabetic sorting. Why not?

One of those observations stands out:

The other essential value of market logic is that individual differences don’t have to be homogenized. […] Market logic allows many distinct points of view to co-exist, because it allows individuals to preserve their point of view, even in the face of general disagreement.

It’s important to remember that “market logic” is not simple at all; what passes for the “free market” in the US and other economies is a very highly regulated system deeply affected by the sheer economic force of WalMart and other massive corporations. Individuals might not be able to preserve their points of view and survive. The free-form market Shirky talks about exists, if at all, in very small pockets which feel the pressure of these economic dreadnoughts. I mention this not only as standard “let’s unpack these terms” reading but because I wonder if the same thing applies on the web, where Google is the 800lb gorilla of search (as WalMart is for retail).

I write this having just added a “480” tag to this weblog, and wondering if it should be a subcategory of “teaching,” and if that means if I should tag this entry with both “teaching” and “480”…

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2 Responses to Metadata

  1. jeff says:

    Vital point. The cliche of “market logic” – users determine – is highly false. Do users determine? To some extent; we’re not helpless either. But a number of forces combine to determine how a given item pass or fails public reception, or how a given gesture or innovation succeeds or fails.

  2. cbd says:

    Right. Which means there are at least two level of mystery here, since much of that work of evaluation isn’t indicative of any sort of intrinsic value, economic or otherwise, at all. For systems like the web, this is even more important, because of the dynamic nature of the discourse, and the speed with which things can propagate. That adds up to a potential for fluctuation in value which is portrayed as consistent with the invisible hand, supply and demand, etc., but is a lot more arbitrary. So the WalMart/Google effect is under pressure, even though it’s still present.

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