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Archive for September, 2010

Are we in for perpetual innovation?

Here’s a hypothesis that emerged when talking with Henry Copeland [twitter:hc] about a panel at Web2.0 he’s leading:

Previous media have generally gone through a period in which their navigational systems were unsettled, but then developed stabled systems that lasted for at least a couple of generations. Libraries certainly did. Television spawned tables of channels, times, and shows that are still in use today. Newspapers developed a semantic lay out and use of fonts that is so standard that for generations all newspapers have looked and worked basically the same.

So, will the Internet’s navigation systems follow the same pattern? Will they settle down so that over the course of several generations, the Net will look and work basically the same? Even within particular functional areas, say, search engines? Or will we be constantly innovating the basic navigational systems of the Net? Or, will some systems become settled — say, search engines with text entry boxes (and their oral equivalent) and lists of results — while there is wild innovation in other areas?

I don’t know, of course. But, if I had to bet, I’d say that we’re in for perpetual innovation, with some inventions lasting longer than others. The Net may be the exception to the pattern because of its scale, its complexity, and the ease with which anyone can innovate.

(This of course assumes we continue to have an open Internet. But that’s a hobby horse for another trail.)

Everything is Warburg

The NY Review of Books gives a substantial taste of an upcoming article by Anthony Grafton and Jeffrey Hamburger about the library of the Warburg Institute. It organizes books on the shelves — it’s an open stacks library — into clusters of related materials, cutting across the usual subject classification. The University of London, which rescued and preserved the library, now is planning on dispersing its contents.

[The next day:] The full article has now been posted. Thanks, NYRB!

Tibetan taggers

This is a couple of years old, but it’s interesting. (Thanks to Norm Jacknis for the tip.)

Tibetans living in Switzerland and non-Tibetan Swiss were asked to provide tags for an exhibit of traditional Tibetan work. Then those tags were analyzed, wondering what cultural differences might show up. Some were fairly obvious:

Taggers disagreed in their perceptions of the esoteric deity Chakrasamvara. Tibetans tagged it frequently with “buddha”, accurately identifying its wisdom aspect; however, Swiss Germans found it böse or “angry-looking” and associated it with death. This exemplifies how tags can help uncover cultural misunderstandings: rather than anger, Chakrasamvara actually embodies the union of bliss and emptiness.

It also revealed (or suggests) some differences in how people approach tagging itself:

When Tibetans were asked which images were easiest to tag and why, their responses were contradictory. One person said artworks she knew were easy to tag because she already has something to say about them. Another found unfamiliar works easier to tag because they seemed “freer” The rating indicates that symbolic and familiar works do elicit less diverse responses from Tibetan taggers. And although some people may find them easier to tag because their meanings are culturally pre-defined, the way in which viewers react to them is likely to be less personal and even “less free.”