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I just wrote the following to a mailing list where someone had a thoughtful post about the way in which Google both provides for miscellaneous ordering but also structures the miscellany:

I don’t focus on Google or searching only because it’s too
familiar to my intended readers, but it’s certainly a central
mechanism for dealing with the “miscellaneous.” And I agree that
Google’s decisions (corporate-political and the decisions embodied in
its algorithms) structure the user’s ability to find what she needs
and put pieces together in meaningful ways. That is inevitable, though
(I think), and it’s why we need many, many different ways of
organizing on the way out. The ability of a user to find and organize
pieces inevitably (?) depends on what metadata is available in the
pile of stuff. That metadata may come from many different sources —
in the case of Google: the author’s decision about which words to
include in her text, the SEO’s decision about which words to put
towards the front or to use repeatedly, the rest of the Web’s
“decision” about whether and how to link to the page, Google’s
decisions about which elements to weigh and which sites to crawl – but
the user’s ability to find and organize on the way out is constrained
by the ever-increasing metadata present in the pile.

That is indeed one of the weaknesses of the “miscellaneous” metaphor.
A truly miscellaneous pile consists of things with no significant
likenesses (outside of their all belong within a particular domain —
your kitchen miscellaneous drawers contains items that belong in a
kitchen and that fit in a drawer). The miscellaneous as I use the term
consists of a pile ever richer with relationships. That disanalogy
between the usual use of the term and mine (along with the inclusion
of the word “disorder” in the subtitle) have understandably led some
to think that the book advocates chaos. Actually, I’m enthusiastic
about exactly the opposite: The development of an infrastructure
super-saturated with meaning.

3 Responses to “Miscellaneous isn’t disorder (despite my book’s semi-catchy subtitle)”

  1. on 01 Aug 2007 at 5:06 pmJeremy Price

    I very much appreciate the distinctions you make in this post. As an educator, these are important distinctions to consider; allowing learners and teachers to develop “…an infrastructure super-saturated with meaning” is an exciting — and seems like an intuitively effective — concept to think about.

  2. on 06 Aug 2007 at 7:52 amJohn Sharp

    Do you think that Google Coop fits into the model of organizing content based on your own content preferences and the recommended content of others? For instance, in the Google Coop health content, a search will product categories, such as, treatment, tests, risk factors, symptoms based on the content your have subscribed to.

  3. on 06 Aug 2007 at 9:37 amDavid Weinberger

    Sure, John, I think gCoop is one of the gazillion ways we’re inventing for ourselves to make sense of our world together.

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