Miscellaneous presentations

If you’ve got about some time to spare you may want to check out David Weinberger’s talk at Google and his talk at Yahoo! about his new book “Everything is Miscellaneous”.

In these videos he gives a humorous and concise review of this history of taxonomy and how the rise in digital information leads to a questioning of the adherence to the Aristotelian approach of rigid, arbitrary classification and embracing the idea of classifying everything as miscellaneous and doing the sorting based on the attributes that matter to you.

Interesting points from the Google video include:

  • A funny critique of Melvil Dewey (20:00).
  • The tension between the main stream media, encyclopedias, etc. which make a constant effort to appear authoritative and completely subjective while new sources like Wikipedia allow the community to post notices within articles which suggest that they may have bias, use weasel words, etc. (44:30)
  • A review of faceted classification which uses the Endeca catalogue at NCSU as an example. (31:40)

In addition to the rough treatment given Mr. Dewey there are inevitably comments made about every-ones favorite beacons of information organisation, librarians. In the Yahoo! video the interviewer is Bradley Horowitz, their head of technology development. Being the hip, techno guy he is, he takes some sly digs at library types (11:40) referring to them as, “the last bastions of the old guard” and “neatniks”. Weinberger responds to this by saying that he does not see such a clear delineation between these two camps when it comes to how to go about approaching, sorting and classifying information in this new digital age.

Another one of Weinberger’s key points (Yahoo! 16:20) is the idea that with so much information coming in to us it has now become easier to collect everything than to take the time and labor to review/judge/rigidly classify the information that comes in (his example being all the pictures you may take on a digital camera) and figuring out what to delete. Along with this is the idea that you can never know when you or someone else may need the information you think you should delete.

I am struggling a bit with this since I signed up for a Gmail account. I kept looking for where you create the folders so I can nicely sort my emails in to nice defined piles. Now I have to get used to this idea of Labeling Mail and letting all the emails sit together in the All Mail box.

These videos also brought to mind the issue we often have with our library web site. I know we could provide much more details about various aspects of the library but we arbitrarily decide at what point a piece of information would have such a limited audience that we decide that the work needed to create it, keep it current etc. is not a good use of our limited time.

This push and pull between the power held by the traditional information brokers and the rising chorus of the user wanting a bigger say is going to continue to be interesting to be a part of.

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The Times they are a charging (well sort of)

New York Times

As I was researching ideas for another post I came across a seemingly in-congruent approach to providing access to published content.

I wanted to refresh my memory about an article I had read in the New York Times Magazine about a professor who was found guilty of falsifying scientific data for many years. The heart of the article was about this man’s student assistant who bravely went forward with his suspicions about the celebrated researcher, risking his own future employment prospects.

I knew it was published in 2006 which meant it was not in any of the databases our school subscribes to. Also, I could not remember a single name, school or clearly identifying part of the story so I just started tossing words in to Google like “falsified data”, “new york times”, “student assistant”, etc.

After not getting any usefull results, my inner information professional finally kicked in and I realised I should just go to the Times’ magazine site and type in those terms.

When I did, I got a link to the article I wanted. Unfortunately, it was being offered through their TimesSelect pay archive. Being both cheap and too lazy to sign-up for their free preview, I decided to do one last search in Google now that I was able to see the names of the professor and the writer of the article. Maybe the complete article could be found somewhere in cyberspace.

I was not surprised that the first result of my search was to the New York Times site but I was surprised that when I clicked on the link it took my to a page which provided the complete text of the article.

Is it just me, or does it not make sense for the New York Times to provide free access to an article on one part of its web site and to put it behind a paywall on another part?

This reminded me of another instance when I was looking for an article that was not in our databases. I went to the publisher’s site and it stated that back issues of their magazine could only be read by subscribers who logged-in with their user name and password. Out of curiosity I typed in key bibliographic info about the article I wanted in to Google and low and behold I got a link to the article PDF right on the publisher’s web site.

The URL of the article was incredibly basic, something like: http://www.publisher.com/march/funarticle.pdf

I’m a total noobie when it comes to understanding secure server technology but I know from our subscription databases that the URLs that appear in the browser (when you click on one of the articles) are incredibly long, with endless strings of numbers and symbols.

In the case of this article and the New York Times article, could some overzealous attorney claim that Google is surreptitiously providing access to content not intended to be made available for free?

 Update September 2007: NY Times’ Brave Change: Opening Archives