David Weinberger’s new book is a hard book to categorize, which is also the irony, since it’s central premise is about categorizing information. I place this book in the company of other books about the internet and information; Ambient Findability – Peter Morville, Wikinomics – Don Tapscott, Wealth of Networks - Yochai Benkler. To me it’s about the changes wrought by current trends on the internet. Weinberger is deeply familiar with internet and all it’s implications, since he is one of the original authors of Cluetrain Manifesto which was probably the first book to outline the game changing nature of the internet. Here he tackles how to cope with the seeming chaos of digital information that we are deluged with.
This is a thought provoking book and will make you look at organizing information in a different way. It will help you understand some of the current trends on the internet and put it into historical context.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in internet trends especially as it relates to organizing information. If you are at all interested in the history of information and how we as humans have struggled to come to terms with the world, then this book is one of the best I have come across. It is well written and a pleasure to read.
David Weinberger, internet visionary, has again synthesized an intellectual romp through another important topic – Information. We, humans, are obsessed with defining, categorizing and organizing information as our way of bringing some order to the chaotic world we live in.
Weinberger explores our obsession with information from Plato and Aristotle to our modern-day digital explosion of information.
He frames this exploration by defining 3 orders of organizing information:
- 1st Order organization is of the physical world, manipulating physical objects and organizing them,
- 2nd Order of organization is the use of metadata to organize and categorize physical objects i.e. library card catalogs. This is still limited by physical constraints.
- 3rd Order of organization is the world we live in today, as we move from the physical to the digital, organizing information becomes freed from physical constraints allows us to simultaneously define, categorize and organize information into a million different taxonomies.
The 1st and 2nd orders of organization are covered as Weinberger explores the history of our obsession with categorizing information; from Plato’s ‘Joints of Nature’, to Aristotle’s ‘Trees of Knowledge’. We have been lumping and splitting information for thousands of years. Until recently we have been constrained by the laws of physics, it is hard for objects to be in two places. It is also hard to categorize the real world into orderly taxonomies i.e. what category does a duck-billed-platypus fit into?
The 3rd order organization is what Weinberger is referring to in his title, ‘Everything is Miscellaneous’. In a world where we can organize information any way we want, nothing needs to be categorized per-se and everything can live in a state of limbo in the miscellaneous category until we need it and then, and only then, does it need to be grouped, filtered, sorted for our immediate consumption.
The 3rd order world has freed information and people to categorize information anyway they want. It is no longer an academic exercise to come up with taxonomies. With tools like Digg, del.icio.us, Flickr etc. we slice and dice the world of information to our personal needs. Understanding this digital disorder we live in and how we cope is the ultimate point of this book. True to form, Weinberger has given us a wealth of information to ultimately understand where we are today and how to build the tools to cope in the future.
You will come away from this book understanding the following:
- Our historical struggle to organize information from the physical to the digital
- That we live in a new reality where information is freed from its physical constraints.
- The world of information is now available to all of us and can now be organized any way we want.
If you enjoyed any of Weinberger’s previous books (Cluetrain Manifesto, Small Pieces Loosely Joined) you will not be disappointed. This is a pleasure to read and will make you think – my two most important attributes when it comes to books. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in information and the current trends on the internet. Weinberger has been right on the money with his observations of the internet and this book is no different; organizing information in the age of the internet is an important subject. Read why there is more to information than search alone.