metacrap, plam pilots, implicit and explicit miscellany

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:


3 thoughts on “metacrap, plam pilots, implicit and explicit miscellany”

  1. Tagging and taxonomy have a place for different audiences and purposes.

    Hmm, I don’t think you’ve justified the latter at all. Which isn’t to say it can’t be done, but what are your thoughts?

  2. I’m of the opinion that you tweak the appearance and use of both taxonomies and folksonomies depending on a particular application and audience, but that you should retain the ability to store and harvest both types of metadata. For a curatorially-specific application you may push the taxonomy to the fore and maybe even not display the tags; for something more public facing the formal taxonomy may only be in evidence during searches and it’s the tagging which is the obvious form of metadata on the page.

    Some sites manage to do both quite successfully, but usually – as in Flickr – it is one form of metadata which is obviously dominant, in this case, folksonomy.

    Where it gets interesting is when you start to look at the cross-overs between the two. A virtuous circle would obviously be a scenario where user-centred folksonomy begins to help inform formal taxonomy – not with the aim of ever replacing it, but as a means of helping curatorial staff appreciate what users understand by a particular object or context. Cory’s point about how collections of tags themselves begin to say interesting things about the data being tagged is also vitally important. Flickr have the concept of a “cluster” (“other types of polo: mint/car”) but I see this going much, much further. Imagine, for example, that tag data itself was available via a harvesting mechanism or machine search across a range of sites – you’d then be able to draw these inferences across a much wider spectrum of content. Not forgetting, of course, when you put formal things in place around tags that they lose their immediacy…

    Folktaxonomy anyone?


Leave a comment