metacrap, plam pilots, implicit and explicit miscellany

Posted on May 8, 2007


My god you can make a blog post look good if you just bung in some random words into the title…

I just stumbled across a great interview between Cory Doctorow of boingboing fame and David Weinberger whose book “Everything is Miscellaneous” is due out in May.

Cory says some fascinating things – as usual – about what metadata means for us nowadays, and also gives some hints on how us purveryors of fine taxonomies might go about approaching the apparent challenge of the folksonomy.

His original article on metacrap is based around a bunch of realities which will seem remarkably familiar to anyone who has ever spent any time with a museum collections management system. People, he argues, are lazy, tend to lie, are stupid, don’t have a neutral schema, etc etc. The net result is, essentially, that explicit metadata needs to be taken with at least as big a pinch of salt as implicit metadata.

The really interesting point he makes about tags is summed up as follows:

“But as you point out, the most important thing that tags do–the most important, effective tags–is the implicit effect. It’s the effect of noticing that these people treat this kind of information in same way, and then deriving some conclusions from it in the same way that Google has this implicit ability to understand the Web by looking at links that are made.”

Essentially, Google starts to break down when its implicit nature is challenged, either by google bombing, link spamming, etc. It works hard to maintain the fact that they don’t want users to think that when they add a link to another site that they’re essentially voting for it.

The big bit of non-news here – but something that isn’t stressed often enough in museums – is that you really should do both – tagging and taxonomy have a place for different audiences and purposes. Both stand up well next to each other.

The final part of the interview covers ground about IP. Cory talks about folk copyright – the set of rules which govern how we use other people’s materials – without needing to resort to lawyers, contracts or rules. As he puts it:

“the single most important thing that we can do to insure our on-going use of material and the on-going cultural production of material is to bifurcate the rules again, so that we have a set of rules for commerce and a set of rules for culture”

update: I just discovered how to do this: