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 searching.)
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 again.
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. [Technorati tag: taxonomy]
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