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Archive for June, 2007

Dave has a rich piece on the problem with closed social networks. He concludes:

Eventually, soon I think, we’ll see an explosive unbundling of the services that make up social networks. What was centralized in the form of Facebook, Linked-in, even YouTube, is going to blow up and reconstitute itself.

In my terms, he’s talking about social information going miscellaneous: Lots of it, detached from any particular app, a seedbed of emergence. There have been attempts to make this happen before — FOAF springs to mind — but they attempted to get us to write things down about ourselves independent of any application. FaceBook et al. make writing things down worth our while. So, the data is there. We just have to (a) get it everywhere, (b) provide strong user control over it. (A is likely to happen before B does. But you never know. At least I never know.)

Dave also wants more-better metadata, especially with regards to the types of relationships these sites capture. Jeez, do I agree. For most of my friends at Facebook, the available categories are inadequate. A folksonomic approach would turn up far more interesting relationships. As it stands, FaceBook requires us to reduce this richest of social information. [Tags: ]

Nature magazine has set up a site — Precedings — where scientists can post their papers before those papers are reviewed and accepted. This a big deal. As Nature’s Timo Hannay puts it in a broadcast email:

The traditional way for scientists to share their research results is through journals. These have the benefit of being peer-reviewed, citable and archival, but as a communication channel they are also relatively slow and expensive. As a complement to this, scientists also use more immediate and informal approaches, such as preprints (i.e., unpublished manuscripts), conference papers and presentations. The trouble is, these usually aren’teasy to share in a truly globally way (most repositories are institution- or funder-specific), and you can’t formally cite them (which is important because citation underlies the scientific credit system).

Nature Precedings is trying to overcome those limitations by giving researchers a place to post documents such as preprints and presentations in a way that makes them globally visible and citable. Submissions are filtered by a team of curators to weed out obviously inappropriate material, but there’s no peer-review so accepted contributions appear online very quickly — usually within a couple of hours. The content is all released under a Creative Commons Attribution License, and each item is made citable using a DOI or Handle (the same systems used for peer-reviewed scholarly papers).

Timo goes on to acknowledge that arXiv has done this for physics and other disciplines.

This is very cool. From CC to DOI, it hits all the right notes. Even the name is good. And because Nature is one of the most important research journals around, this is a big deal. [Tags: ]

EconTalk podcast is up

Russell Roberts, professor of economics at George Mason, has posted an interview with me about Everything is Miscellaneous. (Fortunately, he doesn’t ask me anything that requires my knowing anything about economics.)

Three reviews/discussions

Bill Sodeman, a professor at Hawaii Pacific University (tough gig, Bill!), says it’s “a mind-bending book about the modern Web, with serious implications for competitive strategy.”

Kes Sampanthar of Beyond Brainstorming writes: “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.” He provides an extensive summary of the book, with reflections.

Christopher Maier writes, “when you come across a book that makes you look at everything a little longer and a little differently, you’ve found a rare and good thing.” He then applies the notion of the miscellaneous to the Human Genome Project.

How long is a river?

The Amazon is now being declared the world’s longest river, besting the Nile by a mere 125km. It all comes down to defining what constitutes a river’s beginning and end, and then identifying the beginnings and ends of the particular rivers.

Facts are sometimes a little more miscellaneous than we’d like. (Thanks to Henok Mehari for the link.)

Tom Wilson of Information Research doesn’t much like it. He thinks it jumps around and doesn’t have much to say that’s either new or worth saying. In a sober and long-ish review, he finds lots of faults in the argument and presentation. (I respond a bit on the Reviews page.)

Lucy at Over the Backyward eFence likes it a whole lot more than Tom, and says so in a paragraph.

Later: Andrew Whitis at library+instruction+technology is really, really annoyed that I use card catalogs as my main example of second order organization, as if libraries still use card catalogs. He’s not the only librarian who’s had that criticism. True enough, and I do know that. But card catalogs are still one of the most familiar of second order examples around.

Later that same day: Jim Kalbach rounds out a set of posts (June 13, 2007, June 2, 2007, and May 28, 2007) about the book with one that evaluates it overall. His summary: “This is perhaps one of the most interesting books about information and its order that I’ve read. Though I disagree with Weinberger on many points, the book got me thinking, and I found it quite engaging overall.”

RU Sirius, the interview

10ZenMonkeys has posted a transcript of the interview RU Sirius did with me, as well as a link to the audio.

The latest in the Harvard Berkman-Wired Miscellaneous Podcasts series of interviews is up. I talk with my old friend Paul English, founder of (a travel site that kicks butt) about making a business out of other companies’ information. But Paul is also deeply involved in health care issues in developing nations where aggregating information can have benefits even more important than saving you $20 on your flight.

Writers Read asked “Erin McKean, aka ‘America’s Lexicographical Sweetheart’ and ‘the queen and rock star among lexicographers,’ is the Editor in Chief of Oxford’s American Dictionaries, what she’s reading.  She replied:

I’m right in the middle of David Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous, which is terrifically smart and eerily prescient about where information is going (and how we’ll find it once we’ve caught up to it). As a lexicographer, I especially enjoyed his take on the evolution of alphabetical order … finally, someone gets it!


Three more reviews

AcademHack thinks it’s an ok book — good for an aiplane ride, but not scholarly enough.

Hans-Christoph Hobohm considers it at length (in German), finds it to be too American and hype-y, but also thinks it’s a “beautifully written, intelligent essay” that is “absolutely worth reading.”

Seamus McCauley looks at the book as an economist, focusing on what it has to say about the disintermediation of business (what I call “meta-business”). He thinks the book is “excellent.”

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