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Too Big to Know

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Everything Is Miscellaneous

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My 100 Million Dollar Secret

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How Louis C.K. Won the Internet: The comedian Louis C.K. has been trying some innovative, customer-friendly business models. But what they're really about is treating the Net as a chance for a moral do-over.

Louis C.K. now famously sold his latest comedy album over the Internet direct to his audience for $5, with no DRM to get in the way of our ability to play it on any device we want, and even to share it. After making over a million dollars in a few days (and after giving most of his profits to his staff and to charity) Louis went to great pains to schedule his upcoming comedy tour in venues not beholden to their TicketMasters, so that he could sell tickets straight to his audience for a flat $45, free of scalpers. So far he's made over $6 million in ticket sales.

But Louis C.K. also thereby — in the vocabulary of Reddit — won the Internet...

Representing scholarly knowledge: You don't want to get it to narrow. You don't want to get it too broad. You want to get it juuuust right. And very messy.

Neil Jeffries, research and development manager at the Bodleian Libraries, has posted an excellent op-ed at Wikipedia Signpost about how to best represent scholarly knowledge in an imperfect world.

He is admirably realistic, acknowledging that we're not going to start from scratch and design some perfect standards that everyone will perfectly follow...

The Higgs-Bogus Contest: Particles that explain mysterious Internet behaviors.

February 20, 2012

Too Big to Know: I worked on a book for a couple of years, and now it's out. Yay?

So, I wrote this book about how knowledge is taking on the characteristics of its new medium, just as it had taken on the characteristics of its old one.

It came out in the beginning of January, and I find myself feeling awkward about writing about it to you, probably because I can't do so without pitching it.

So, how about if I tell you two ways I think it's different from my other books, other than in its topic?

Culture is an echo chamber: We all hate echo chambers in which a bunch of yahoos convince one another that they're right. But, our fear of echo chambers can blind us to their important social role. Just take a look at Reddit.com...

I have a friend in the media business who is making a good-faith effort to understand how the Internet works. I decided that Reddit would be one good place to start, and that the Woody Harrelson Affair would be a useful example of how to go wrong on the Net and, by inverting it, how perhaps to go right.

What started as a brief message got longer and longer as I tried to unpack the self-references and multiple layers of irony in the Reddit thread...

Report from the DPLA platform.: Surprisingly, I'm interim head of the project building the software platform for the Digital Public Library of America. Here's what's going on.

The Digital Public Library of America is a bit like a book that started with nothing but a really good title. Only as it's being written (so to speak) is it becoming clear exactly what it's about.

The DPLA originated from a meeting of major libraries and other institutions in the fall of 2010, and it's got a whole bunch of things going for it, particularly the interest and support of major libraries and other institutions. Although Robert Darnton — one of the meeting's conveners — has written beautifully and influentially about his vision of it [video], as far as I can tell there is not yet full agreement about some of the basics...

In love with linked data: The Semantic Web requires a lot of engineering. So along comes this scrappy contender that says we ought to just make our data public and see what happens. Brilliant!

My prior book expressed discomfort with a direction the Semantic Web was being taken by some. My new book is all lovey-dovey about Linked Data, which is also part of the Semantic Web. What's the diff? Well, I'll tell you how I "understand" it...

Bogus Contest: #Stories If history were written in hashtags.

August 18, 2009

Cluetrain@10: Recently, the tenth anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto came out, a book I co-authored. Here's some of what we got wrong in the original version.

In the new edition's introduction, I list a bunch of ways the world has become cluetrain-y, many of which we take for granted. The fact is that I think Cluetrain was pretty much right. Of course, at the time we thought we were simply articulating things about the Web that were obvious to users but that many media and business folks needed to hear.

But Cluetrain also got some important things wrong...and I don't mean just Thesis #74: "We are immune to advertising. Just forget it."

Our kids' Internet: 

Part 1: Will our kids appreciate the Internet?: Will the Net become just another medium that we take for granted? 

I love the Internet because even now, fifteen years into the Web, I remember what life used to be like. In fact, give me half a beer and I'll regale you with tales of typing my dissertation on an IBM Model B electric, complete with carbon paper and Wite-Out. Let me finish my beer and I'll explain microfiche to you, you young whippersnappers.

The coming generation, the one that's been brought up on the Internet, aren't going to love it the way that we do...

Part 2: The shared lessons of the Net: The Net teaches all its users (within a particular culture) some common lessons. And if that makes me a technodeterminist, then so be it.

In my network of friends and colleagues, there's a schism. Some of us like to make generalizations about the Net. Others then mention that actual data shows that the Net is different to different people. Even within the US population, people's experience of it varies widely. So, when middle class, educated, white men of a certain age talk as if what they're excited about on the Net is what everyone is excited about, those white men are falling prey to the oldest fallacy in the book. 

Of course that's right. My experience of the Web is not that of, say, a 14 year old Latina girl who's on MySpace, doesn't ever update Wikipedia articles, isn't on Twitter, considers email to be a tool her parents use, and — gasp — hasn't ever tagged a single page. The difference is real and really important. And yet ...

Part 3: How to tell you're in a culture gap: You'll love or hate this link, which illustrates our non-uniform response to the Net.

The news' old value:  

Part 1: Transparency is the new objectivity: Objectivity and credibility through authority were useful ways to come to reliable belief back when paper constrained ideas. In a linked world, though, transparency carries a lot of that burden.

Part 2: Driving Tom Friedman to the F Bomb: Traditional news media are being challenged at the most basic level by the fact that news has been a rectangular object, not a medium. Let the news be a network!  

Bogus Contest: Net PC-ness: What should we be politically correct about in the Age of the Web?

November 21, 2008

Our strange new home: A talk to the people in the Chinese government designing ways to use the Net to deliver government services.

I want to make two claims in today's presentation. First, the Internet is strange. Unexpected. We sometimes forget that, especially in groups like this one, people who deal with the Internet every day. We can forget just how much the Internet has changed our lives, our communities, and our cultures. The second claim is harder to support. It is that for all its strangeness, the Internet actually reflects who we are as human beings better than the media it's replacing...

Has the Internet been saved?: Obama's appointments to head the FCC transition team fill me with joy.

When Stephen Schultze stopped me in the hallway and told me that Susan Crawford had been appointed head of Obama's FCC transition team, I thought I was being punk'd. It was too good to be true. 

So, Stephen and I went to an open computer and Googled. Yup. But the news was actually even better: Kevin Werbach has been appointed as co-lead.

I was giddy with joy, for two reasons...

October 18, 2008

Exiting info: As we exit the Information Age, we can begin to see how our idea of information has shaped our view of who we are.

When computers were first introduced, we resented them as soulless machines that enforced efficiency over humanity. Yet, now discipline after discipline has reconceived itself as being fundamentally about information. DNA, we think, is information, in the form of a code. Businesses measure success by the informational models they build. Economies run on models, until the bottom of the cliff smashes some sense into them.  The brain processes information. We contrast atoms and bits, as if bits were as fundamental and ubiquitous as atoms.1 Even quanta, the stuff of physics, are  understood by some — see Charles Seife's excellent "Decoding the Universe" — as nothing but information processed by the computer formerly known as the universe.

From cradle to grave, from quirk to quark, we have thoroughly informationalized ourselves. Now, as we are exiting the Age of Information — oh yes we are — is a good time to ask what information had done to our world and our way of thinking about it.

The future from 1978: What a 1978 anthology predicts about the future of the computer tells us a lot the remarkable turn matters have taken.

Almost thirty years ago, some professors at MIT published a book of essays looking back at twenty years of computing history, and looking forward twenty. Called The Computer Age: A Twenty-Year View, edited by Michael Dertouzos and Joel Moses, its essays were written in the late 1970s, back when if you knew how to use a computer you could probably also name every "away team" in the first season of Star Trek.

A software idea: Text from audio: Anyone care to write software that would make it much easier to edit spoken audio?

Bogus Contest: Name that software!

 

May 30, 2008

How much do we have to care about? Even if the mainstream media's coverage of most of the world didn't suck, would we care? Are we capable of caring sufficiently? (Annotated by Ethan Zuckerman!)

The population of Nigeria roughly equals the population of Japan. Yet, the amount of space given to Nigeria by the US news media makes it about the size of Britney Spears' left pinky toe. Why?

Serious researchers have been considering this question for generations. Do American newspaper editors skimp on Nigeria because they're racists? Nah, at least not in the straightforward way. Is it because the readers don't care about Nigeria? Somewhat. But how will we ever care if we never read anything about it? We seem to be stuck in vicious circle, or what's worse,  a circle of not-caring...

Vint Cerf's curiosity: If we are indeed getting more of a stomach for the complex, what role has our technology played?

Esquire magazine recently ran an interview with him that they busted up into a series of unrelated quotations. I was particularly struck by one little insight:

  "The closer you look at something, the more complex it seems to be."

Because of Esquire's disaggregation of the interview, we have to guess at Cerf's tone of voice. My guess is that he said this with a sense of wonder and delight, not out of frustration. Of course, I may be reading Cerf's mind inaccurately. But the plausibility of that reading is itself significant...

History's wavefrontWhen we can record just about everything, history loses its past. And, no, I don't know what I mean by that.

The Strand Bookstore in NYC has eighteen miles of books, which works out to about 2.5 million volumes. My excellent local library has 409,000. The Strand's shelves press the shoppers together, giving a sense that the place is alive with the love of books. The library is quieter because emptier. Even so, the library has something the Strand does not: history.

We've assumed that knowledge was always there, just waiting to be known...

ROFLcon and Woodstock: Am I so enthusiastic about the ROFLcon conference because it was important or just because I'm out of touch?

I was at Woodstock. For two hours. I was supposed to meet a girl there. Hahaha. Instead, I wandered around, hoping someone would offer me something to smoke to get me through the Melanie performance. So, let me recap: I was at Woodstock, didn't meetup with the girl I was infatuated with, didn't get stoned, and heard Melanie. Also, it was raining. Still, I was at Woodstock, which used to give me street cred, but now just makes me obsolete.

But forget my experience and take Woodstock as a watershed event at which the young realized they were more a potential movement and not just a demographic slice. ROFLcon felt something like that...

Is the Web different? The definitive and final answer.

I taught a course this past semester for the first time in 22 years.  The course was called "The Web Difference," which was apt since it was about whether the Web is actually much different from what came before it, with an emphasis on what that might mean for law and policy. 

During the final class session, I took a survey...

The Turing Tests: Throwback humor, in both senses.

The fool. I won't spend the money yet, but it's only a matter of time before Van Klammer will lose our bet. I don't care about winning the $100, of course. I'll use it to buy something I'll use frequently, to remind me of my moral and intellectual victory. Perhaps a set of mugs inscribed with "Courtesy of Dr. Van Klammer...Loser!"...

Bogus Contest: Surely anagrams can't be random!

 

February 4, 2008

Is the Web different? Is the Web just the next medium in our history of media, or is it a spiritual transformation, the great hope, blah-di-blah-di-blah?

The question "Is the Web different?" is actually not so much a question as a shibboleth in the original sense: The answer determines which tribe you're in.

The Web utopians point to the ways in which the Web has changed some of the basic assumptions about how we live together, removing old obstacles and enabling shiny new possibilities.

The Web dystopians agree that the Web is having a major effect on our lives. They, however, think that effect is detrimental.

The Web realists say the Web hasn't had nearly as much effect as the utopians and dystopians proclaim. The Web carries with it certain possibilities and limitations, but (the realists say) not many more than other major communications medium.

Each of these is a political position...

Fairness and scarcity: In a world of abundance, fairness is so 1990s.

 Time-Warner Cable (TWC) recently acknowledged that it's going to test a billing system that will move Internet access closer to the  cellphone model: Those in the test will subscribe to a tier of service that buys them a certain number of bytes (like buying a package that gives you 500 minutes of cellphone time), and if they go over their allotment, they'll pay per byte.

This certainly seems fair. And it's better than other, threatened ways of limiting the amount of network traffic. But, in my opinion, it's ultimately a bad way to go. Being fair is not enough. In fact, sometimes what's fair is wrong precisely because it's fair.

Oooh! A seeming paradox! One of the top three rhetorical forms for essays!...

The next future of HTML:  The draft of the next version of HTML manages a surprisingly fine balance between the needs of humans and the needs of our computer overlords.

Remember back before HTML, when SGML was battling to be the way software expressed a document and its structure? SGML was precise and kept every hair in place, while HTML was ok with some ambiguity and hadn't showered in a couple of days. With the release of a draft of HTML 5, we see that the battle is not over. Far from it.

SGML lets you specify all the parts of a document and how they go together...

Bogus Contest: Tech clich�s

November 19, 2007

The future of book nostalgia: Anthony Grafton's New Yorker article on why libraries will always be with us shows the power of book nostalgia.

Anthony Grafton's article in the November 5 New Yorker, Future Reading, intends to challenge the "infotopian" hyper-enthusiasm about online libraries. While Grafton acknowledges that "it's hard to exaggerate what is already becoming possible month by month and what will become possible in the next few years," he argues that the future will be continuous with the present as "the narrow path still leads, as it must, to crowded public rooms where the sunlight gleams on varnished tables, and knowledge is embodied in millions of dusty, crumbling, smelly, irreplaceable documents and books." 

Baloney...

What we owe: As parents we need to fight to let the Internet we love be a settled part of our children's lives.

There's been a lively discussion internal to the Harvard Berkman Center (where I've had a fellowship for the past few years) about the terms "digital native" and "digital immigrant," occasioned by a book two members of the community -- John Palfrey and Urs Gasser -- are writing called Born Digital. Since not everyone born since, say, 1985 uses the Web, who exactly counts as a digital native? And the term "immigrant" lumps together people who have been using the Web since the Mosaic browser with people who fell onto the cabbage truck last week. Further, there are some people active in native rights issues who think it inappropriate to appropriate that term. So, the field's terminology is a mess.

But John and Urs' book is likely not to be a mess at all. It aims at introducing us to our kids, the ones who are texting while they're eating and who don't do email unless it goes through Facebook. The Internet our kids are on is quite a bit different than the one I and probably you are on...

Augut 31, 2007

The Privacy Non-Principle: Privacy is too squirrely for principles. We need to keep it difficult.
The Web as perpetual embarrassment: Suppose the norms never settle down?
Are hierarchical organizations hierarchies? Or: Why don't we salute our bosses? Do all organizations have hierarchies? Not by any reasonable definition of the term.
Vowels or Consonants: Some of us are vowelers, some are consonantals. Wanna make something of it?
Tip: Scanning is a pain. Snapping is easy.
Cool Tool: Librarything.com

July 7 , 2007

Delamination Now! To achieve Net Neutrality, we're going to need a policy with such strong teeth that it can rip the industry apart, and finally give us business models that work with, rather than against, the Net's real value.

May 4 , 2007

Can tags be wrong?: You tag it potato. I tag it tomato. Shall we just call the whole thing off?

Tim Spalding, creator of LibraryThing.com, asked me an excellent question: Can tags be wrong? What if everyone in a room is an idiot and tags Moby-Dick as "penguin." I sputtered for a moment and then came up with the perfect response: "Is there a wrong way to underline a book?" Brilliant! It surrounds a tiny germ of truth with a massive coating of tasty misdirection, like rising to a challenge in one's proof of the Turing Incompleteness Theorem by faking a coughing fit. Tim afterwards sent me a thoughtful and thought-provoking message. So blame him for the following...


More of everything: The Internet is swamp of lies. The Internet is a haven of knowledge. Yes to both.

Whatever case you want to make about the Internet, you can make. Want to show that it contains the most wretched ideas and images? There's a whole bunch of sites you can point to. Want to prove that it is the salvation of democracy and rational discourse? Google and ye shall find. Want to show that it's a haven for red-headed sociopaths who raise chihuahuas for their milk? Yup, you can probably find those sites, too.


Twittering away: What looks trivial may turn out to be, up close, not so trivial after all.

Book notes: "Everything Is Miscellaneous" launched a couple of days ago. You thought I wasn't going to mention it?

Bogus Contest: Elevator Pitch: Can you come up with the Everything Is Miscellaneous elevator pitch? Lord knows, I can't.

March 9, 2007

The abundance of meaning: If too much information is noise, what's too much meaning?

Every abundance generates its own pitfall. An abundance of wealth can lead to waste, moral corruption and even revolution if it isn't distributed with a modicum of fairness. An abundance of information becomes noise if we can't navigate it. But what about the abundance of meaning we've developed with the arrival of the Web? If too much information becomes noise, what does too much meaning become?

As Bill Clinton did not say, that all depends on what the meaning of meaning is...


The abundance of worthiness and the new relevancy
: When there's an abundance of worthwhile pages on just about any topic, search engines need to evolve. 

...Yahoo's unexpected success turned it into a gatekeeper. Getting your site selected for inclusion in the Yahoo tree was a big deal. And the selection process was a black box: You could nominate your site, but there was no way to tell why it was selected or rejected.

Nevertheless, that solution worked well  when there were a million pages on the Web and search engines were wimpy. There weren't that many worthwhile pages on, say, bird watching, so you could trust Yahoo to have found a handful of good ones and to have spared you the dozens of crap ones. Sure, Yahoo faced problems as the Web got larger. The pile of pages to be sifted got bigger, and it required more and more employees to clamber through the existing tree to make sure none of its fruit had become withered with age or had gone wormy with spam. (Yeah, work that metaphor, loverboy!)

But the growth of the Web during the late '90s tipped the scale, changing the equation and our expectations....


Book stuff: (1) Why finishing a book sucks, (2) the new book's site, and (3) the book's word cloud

I decided to go the traditional publishing route with Everything Is Miscellaneous because when it comes to lifetime ambitions, I'm a traditionalist. Rail as I might about the mainstream media, I would still kill a minor celebrity (please let it be Paris Hilton!) to get published in The New Yorker. Also, and not incidentally, us Volvo-driving, Birkenstock-wearing East Coast liberals have to put the tofu and kelp on the table, you know.

So, given that my book will be repurposing trees, here's why it sucks to finish one...


A (commercial) model of miscellaneousness: BioMed Central embodies many of the current trends.

BioMed Central is a commercial publisher of peer-reviewed scientific research that permits open (= free) access to all of its content. In so doing, it happens to exemplify a whole bunch of trends, many of which are associated with "Web 2.0." It is not a voice from the future, describing visions we cannot yet imagine. It's in some ways more valuable than that, for it's an existing business, dealing with the future in practical ways. In it we can see not just where the Web may go, but where it is right now...


Why do movies suck?: We don't make that many movies, we invest heavily in them, and yet most of the comedies aren't funny, the suspensers aren't suspenseful, the action ones are incoherently edited. Why is that?
Cool Tool: The O'Reilly Hacks series
What I'm playing: Dreamfall and Devastation Troopers
Bogus Contest: Suggest a Daily Open-Ended Puzzle

August 21 , 2006

Anonymity as the default: As digital identity management systems come one line, the norm is switching from being anonymous to being identified, with unintended consequences we may not at all like.

"Anonymity should be the default" doesn't say what I mean. Sorry to have put it badly. "Defaults" come to us from the software world where shipping software with the right options turned on can make or break a product. It may be that anonymity is the right default option for digital ID management software, but that's not what I meant. And if it is the right default, it will be due to anonymity's social, political and personal roles. Those roles are what interest me...


One Web Day: Earth Day for the Web. Come celebrate!

Susan Crawford — law professor, Berkman fellow, ICANN board member, blogger — has been working for the past year to make her idea real. Just as Earth Day is a time to celebrate our planet, One Web Day is a day to celebrate the Web. Just as on Earth Day it's up to each locality to decide how to celebrate, on OWD it's up to each locality — physical or virtual — to come up with an appropriate activity, although OWD encourages doing something that increases the Web's value and brings it to more people...


My Hundred Million Dollar Secret: I've self-published a kid's novel. You can buy it or read it for free. (My promise: Harry Potter does not die in it.)

I just published my novel for halflings (or "young adults" if you prefer), called My 100 Million Dollar Secret. It's about a boy who wins $100,000,000 in the lottery, but (for reasons explained) can't let his parents know and refuses to lie to them. In another sense, it's about the boy's growing sense of the moral obligations that come with having so much dang money. It's also supposed to be a little funny.


Cool Tool: RoboForm is great...except for one thing.
Bogus Contest: A contest no one really enters

July 23 , 2006

Why believe Wikipedia?: Wikipedia is credible. Not always. Not in every detail. But nothing passes that bar except perhaps for some stuff scratched into stone tablets. What is the source of Wikipedia's credibility? Oddly, it has something to do with its willingness to admit fallibility.

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...

The end of the story (Or: The tyranny of rectangles: Journalism can't get stories right because the world doesn't fit into 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 the story, 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"...


Book report (Or: My obsession): The first draft of my book is done. Here's a brief report on Chapter 8.

...One odd manifestation of my obsession is that I never get to a point where I'm ready to talk about the book...


Walking the Walk: Raytheon tags. And taxonomizes.
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

December 29, 2005

Why the media can't get Wikipedia right: In the wake of the Seigenthaler Affair, Wikipedia made some changes. Why did the media get the story so wrong?

When the mainstream media addressed the John Seigenthaler Sr. affair — he's the respected journalist who wrote an op-ed in USAToday complaining that slanderously wrong information about him was in Wikipedia for four months — the subtext couldn't be clearer: The media were implicitly contrasting Wikipedia's credibility to their own. Ironically, the media got the story fundamentally wrong.

Most media reports presented the narrative line of the story roughly as follows: A person of indisputable honor was smeared in Wikipedia. Faced with incontrovertible evidence of its failings, the mainstream media shamed Wikipedia into reluctantly becoming more like them. See, Wikipedia was unreliable all along, just like we said! We're the grownups, and now we're making Wikipedia grow up...

Are leaves mulch?: Peter Morville's criticism of folksonomies, et al.

I'm very fond of Peter Morville's Ambient Findability, a highly readable exploration of what's going on in the field of information architecture, i.e., how we find stuff, written by a practitioner and thought-leader.

Larry Irons wrote to me recently, however, asking about Peter's jibe about the idea that I've been pushing, that we're moving from trees of knowledge to big piles of leaves...

Cool Tool : Power scanning!
What I'm playing: Murderous rivolity rules.

December 5, 2005

The year of unique IDs: We're about to get very interested in assigning meaningless numbers to lots of things. Very interested.

Last year, it was Web 2.0 and tagging. This year, it's going to be unique IDs (UIDs), and for the same reason that Web 2.0 and tagging matter: The Web is going miscellaneous. (The fact that I'm writing a book about the invigoration of the miscellaneous could not possibly have colored my perception. Nope. All of this is based on highly scientifical research done by people with clipboards who were teased as children.)...

Living on an Internet houseboat: Save the Net for aging hippies? Probably not going to happen.

As we survey the damage being done to the Internet by (sometimes) well-meaning regulators trying to save the Net from itself, I find myself asking: Are we living on the same Internet planet?

The answer pretty clearly is No. And it's not just regulators whose vision of the Net is so at odds with mine. There are plenty of academics, librarians, and even some of the Net's creators who view it as an occasional resource, a place to go to do research, and a swamp of filth.

To me, the Internet is a social world...

My book: Progress report: Here's what chapter 3 looks like.

Although readers of my blog might not know it, working on Everything is Miscellaneous is my full-time job. Here's what chapter 3 is currently about, although it may undergo drastic revision...

September 20 , 2005

Relativism and the Net: Moral and cultural relativism used to be a lot easier.

The communications revolution of the past century has thrown into our face the fact that people have very different ways of understanding the world and different sets of values. We know this because magazines show us pictures of them, and on TV they're busy either behaving in their quaint ways or yelling at us. This new awareness of the diversity of our world has helped exacerbate our culture's depressing relativism.

There's something wrong with relativism...

Liking PoMo: Try as I might, I can't get past the high BS quotient of so many Postmodern essays.

Last week — or was it two weeks ago? — I went to Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria, an eclectic festival of electronic arts with an url that, unfortunately, I keep mentally parsing as www.ArseLectronica.com. Quite a fascinating set of people, and much more artsy than the usual set of literal-minded bitheads I spend time with.

But, about half of the presentations set me onto a psychological merry-go-round ride during which most of me screams, "This is total bullcrap!" while a little voice tries to calm me down, insisting that these are very, very smart people so there has to be a brass ring here somewhere...


My book: Progress report (Or: How I spent my summer "vacation"): I'm working away on Everything is Miscellaneous. Here's what I'm up to.

I've been working all summer on Everything Is Miscellaneous. It's due into the publisher in July '06, making next summer seem like right around the corner. My how time flies when you have a deadline.

I did a heck of a lot of research these past few months, some of it entailing entering a physical library. Yes, there are still some around, and yes, the good parts still smell of dried leaves and mold. I also did a whole bunch of writing and just slightly less un-writing. (Some refer to this as "rewriting," but it feels more Penelope-esque to me than that.)

Here's where the book stands at the moment, and please remember that any and all of it is likely to be unwritten tomorrow...

[Now includes excerpts!]

Walking the Walk: The Beebster is doing some good stuff with knowledge management
What I'm playing: Brothers in Arms is overhyped. Painkiller is underhyped.
Bogus Contest: Net MadLibs

June 20 , 2005

All I have to do now is write the mofo. Times Books is publishing Everything is Miscellaneous. Here's what a book auction is like...

Times Books has agreed to publish my book Everything is Miscellaneous. I have one year to write it. Assuming that the writing goes all right — and I am contractually obligated to make sure it does — it will be published in winter/early spring of 2007.

Seems like forever, doesn't it? I can promise that it won't feel that way to me as I watch the deadline rushing toward me like an angry bull.

No, I'm not keeping up with your blog. It's time to drop the expectation that I've read yours and you've read mine.

I would like to. I really would. I like it and I like you.

But we're now well past the point where we can keep up with all the blogs worth reading from the people worth keeping up with.

I just can't do it any more.

I've been faking it for a while.

May 3 , 2005

Why I'm a pessoptimist —The Right to Connect: Let's not be too quick to compromise.

I'm confused. On the one hand, I'm a raving Tony Robbins optimist. On the other hand, I'm a Lessigian pessimist. The other day I figured out how I can contain such a contradiction. It's very simple.

Everything Bad is very very good: Steve Johnson's new book finds the value in pop culture

I just finished Steve Johnson's new book, Everything Bad is Good for You. It's going to be a best-seller if there's any justice in the world. [Hint: There isn't.]

I've been reading Steve's stuff for some time now and I think I've discovered what makes his writing style so good: He thinks well. He turns corners and pulls you with him. It's the kind of unexpected unfolding that makes narratives work, but Steve does it purely in the realm of ideas. He writes so well because he's so damn smart. (Also, he just writes so damn well.)

Walking the Walk: The Beeb rulz
Cool Tool: At last, multi-page faxing in Windows! Woohoo!
What I'm playing: Half Life 2 is the greatest game ever.

March 3 , 2005

Trees and tags - An introduction: What are taxonomies, tags, faceted classification, folksonomies...? And do they matter?

The narrative that tells of the first man and woman encountering the tree of knowledge focuses on its tempting fruit. But after we took the bite, we apparently looked up and got the idea that knowledge is shaped like the tree's branching structure: Big concepts contain smaller ones that contain smaller ones yet.

Now autumn has come to the forest of knowledge...

My life as a Berkperson: I've been at the Harvard Berkman Center since last summer and I think I'm beginning to understand what it's about.

Before I applied for a Berkman fellowship, I had to ask John Palfrey and Ethan Zuckerman, neither of whom I knew, a whole bunch of damn fool questions. I had no living sense of what it meant to be a Berkman fellow. Do you drink sherry at 4? Just how witty is the banter? Would I get a discount on ascots?

I've been a fellow since July. Here's what it's like...

Larry Summers and the Web as world: The blogosphere practically demands that Harvard-related bloggers say something — something! — about their President's comments...and that's evidence that the Web is a world, not just a medium

What's most interesting to me is the fact that as a blogger and a member of the Harvard community (fellows are not faculty members) I felt that I should say something about it. The blogosphere is becoming a moral space...

January 28, 2005

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.

Del.icio.us kicked "tagging" into gear by giving us a reason to tag stuff. It's a bookmarking site: If you come across a page you 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. The kicker is that everyone else can see not only what you've bookmarked but all the bookmarks that share a particular tag...

Bridge Blogging: A new effort tries to break through the national boundaries implicit in the blogosphere.

My friends Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca Mackinnon, 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?..

Links: Some funnish stuff.
Bogus Contest: Wikipedia topics.

October 15, 2004

The future of facts (and the rise of fact servers): Are facts going to become as cheap and uninteresting as styrofoam peanuts?

The Wikipedia had to freeze the George W. Bush entry a few weeks ago because people were altering it to suit their political viewpoints at an alarming rate. So, the editors pared the page down to the non-controversial "core" of facts. There was still a lot of information there — much more than merely "He was born, he drank, he became president" — and occasional acknowledgements of controversies, such as whether Bush satisfactorily completed his National Guard service.

But, most interesting to me, towards the top, on the right, the Wikipedia ran one of the staples of its biographical entries: A fact box.

I find this two-tiered view of facts, quite common in reference works, fascinating. And in the context of a bottom-up work such as the Wikipedia, in the midst of a dust-up over what constitutes a factual account of the life of W, you have to ask: What's happening to facts?...

The end of data: In the new world of classification and categorization, data and metadata are indistinguishable.

There used to be a real difference between data and metadata. Data was the suitcase and metadata was the name tag on it. Data was the folder and metadata was its label. Data was the contents of the book and metadata was the Dewey Decimal number on its spine. But, in the Third Age of Order everything is becoming metadata...

Walking the walk: O'Reilly's foo camp is brilliant marketing in which the product is never mentioned
Cool tool: Open source Audacity sounds good
What I'm playing: Far Cry
Email: How much of an anti-Semitic misogynist was Melvil Dewey?
Bogus contest: Name the metadata bundles discussed in "The end of data" article


Browse back issues...


Note to self and others
WARNING

It's been a looong time since I pruned and updated anything beyond this point.

I'll get too it sooner or later.
Definitely later.


The Cluetrain Manifesto
by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and me

First it was a web site (www.cluetrain.com), then it was a book (from Perseus). We wrote it because it seemed to us that most businesses and the media were missing the obvious point about the Web: we're not there for a new shopping experience but to connect with one another. The Web is a conversation. We're drawn to it because at long last we get to talk in our own voice. And stuff like that. (You can read the book online for free here.)

 


Special Collections

Hyperlinked KM Journal

We cover Knowledge Management too damn much in JOHO. If you don't believe us, check this list of articles we've run.

 


Scourge Award
The RageBoy Chronicles

Chris RageBoy!" Locke is the official Scourge of JOHO (as well as being the editor of Entropy Gradient Reversals). You can catch up on the latest skirmishes and learn the strange history of the Web's most esoteric 'zine-based water balloon fight.


The Best of JOHO

Our staff picks its favorite episodes

Special Offers

Just paste these special, glow-in-the-dark chiclets onto your home page and reap the transcendent rewards of being so cool that you spell it "kewl"!

But, be warned: Don't break the chain! The last person to do so ended up as a senior executive at Lycos.

Special Issues! Publisher's Overstock!

Now and then we run high-value Collectors Quality special issues on topics we think will try the patience of even the most saturnine reader. Here are some of the more recent ones.

The Longing

Why is our culture on fire about the Web when we can't even say what it's for? A desire so fervent must express a deep longing, a spiritual longing.

In fact, we embrace the Web with such enthusiasm because we hope it will enable us to end the contract we've implicitly signed that says we'll give up our human, individual voice in exchange for the illusion of living in a managed world. The Web returns our human voice.

That's what we long for.

Down with Reality!

The person staffing the ticket desk asks me: "Do you have an electronic ticket or a real ticket?" Two thousand years of philosophy, and this is what it comes down to.

"Reality" is a value judgment...

Business and Time

We're seeing an important shift in the nature— not just the pace— of business time. We're moving from a type of heroic chunkiness in which projects are private until published, to a collaborative rhythm in which much more is exposed to public view, for longer, and deadlines are not as important as readiness.

The Hyperlinked Metaphysics of the Web

Our culture has had a container-based metaphysics: space and time are containers within which events occur, and things are only truly real if they're self-contained. The Web, on the other hand, presents us with a hyperlinked metaphysics that is transcendent and fundamentally spiritual.

 

NPR Commentaries

For a list of my commentaries for National Public Radio's All Things Considered, click here

 

Some Sites I Like

GreaterDemocracy.org: Some leftish thinking to which I sometimes contribute.
NetParadox: Telcommunications imperatives from the Net's point of view.
EGR (Entropy Gradient Reversals): Chris "RageBoy" Locke rants, rages, and abuses his readers - and knows more about more than anyone I know.
Doc Searls' weblog: A Cluetrain co-author's delightful, insightful bits.
Chris Locke's weblog. Your Daily Rageboy.
LockerGnome: Daily email newsletter chockablock with Windows goodies, tips and
Chris Pirillo's enthusiasm
The Wohl Report: Amy Wohl's weekly insights into the industry she's advised for, well, decades.
KM World: The hang-out for the Knowledge Management "industry"
Intranet Design Mag Tons of useful information
The Tweney Report A gutsy 'zine from Dylan Tweney
The Gilbane Report News briefs from the "e-content" industry
Rise of the Stupid Network David Isenberg explains why the telcos ought to wise up.

 

Contact Info

David Weinberger
self@evident.com
617.738.8323
 


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