The macro of micro

Lately I’ve been thinking about the importance of focusing on the micro rather than the macro: what Johndan talks about in the introduction to Datacloud, or what what Vincent memorably called “little differences” in Pulp Fiction.

The long tail:
I’m probably the 9807234th to write about this, but it’s hard to ignore all the places I’ve been seeing long tail distributions. I’ve been trying to figure out how to integrate this into teaching, as my class works on the redesign of the FYE website. It’s definitely a challenge to think about it when much of tech comm (and rhetorical) theory indicates a conceptualization of audience which favors the top part of the tail.
Weak ties:
Bill Thompson and I drafted Universal cataloging, an article which argues that as cataloging becomes ubiquitous, in no small part because of the popularity of sites which do cataloging (Google, del.icio.us & its ilk, flickr) OPACs needs to follow their lead. What makes those sites great? We came up with several reasons, but the most important is their facilitation of weak ties, Mark Granovetter’s term for bonds which are quickly made and have value precisely because of that lack of permanence. Bill and I are speaking of ties built on information, not just acquaintance, which Granovetter allows in his 1983 revision of the original piece. We see both kinds of ties at the core of del.icio.us: in fact, the infrastructure encourages movement between all sorts of weak ties by making it easy to pivot through links using either URL, tag, or user. We’d love to see similar technologies in OPACs.
Microfinance:
Vikram Akula, following the lead of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, is getting some play here in the Midwest (his PhD is from UC) for his commerical implementation of microfinance. Akula’s company lends small sums to Indians (mostly women) with a collateral model that mobilizes community to discourage default. Some content this “joint liability” distinguishes Yunus’s implementation of microfinance from past efforts and makes it work; some critique it for merely giving banks more forfeiture targets. But that’s less my point here than to note the Chicago Tribune’s recent coverage failed to mention the collaborative aspect of microfinance at all. Instead, they focused on the macro: Akula, his company, etc. That focus discounts all of the “micro” in microfinance except the loan amount–arguably the least important of several micros which, like weak ties, are stronger as a whole than in the sum of their parts.
Accessibility affordances:
the WIU web accessibility committee has met a couple times. Mixed results so far. A lot of folks seem to think that meeting accessibility standards is black and white. That appears in two ways: (1) a hard line against sites who aren’t 100% compliant with the relevant standards; (2) an approach to development which favors One Big Revision which makes a site right forever, as opposed to small incremental changes over time. I need to make more effort to break down these beliefs, both of which undermine our work. One Big Revision, especially, seems silly to me: that assumes static content, audiences, standards, and knowledge, which just ain’t gonna happen. A more flexible methodology is needed, and one very easy way to achieve it is incrementalizing changes and implementation. So over time a hundred micros make the macro monolithic development reaches for in the first place.
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3 Responses to The macro of micro

  1. Chuck says:

    Speaking of things micro: microformats.org and the goodlines of the Tails Firefox extension. remember vCards?

  2. cbd says:

    I haven’t fooled with microformats yet. I take it you like?

  3. Jeff Watkins says:

    Bradley, you might consider the following:

    A Short Introduction to Microformats and Tags, Autolink, and Microformats.

    Microformats have always struck me as a solution in search of a problem. And worse, they add their own problems — like, how do I know there is microformatted data embedded in a page? And why should I scan all the pages at your site to find out what your calendar looks like?

    On the other hand, microfinance seems like just the coolest thing. All the politicians talk about people just needing an opportunity, but microfinance is finally _actually_ giving them opportunities.

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