Geek Reads 2008.2: Everything is Miscellaneous

This article was originally posted on March 18, 2008.

In probably my favorite work-related book of the past two years, David Weinberger has written a classic of the Information Age in “ Everything is Miscellaneous.” Different from many other books of this type, it feels not at all like a Wired magazine or Harvard Business Review article stretched by another 100 pages to make the author some money — this book is at once dense and broad, bursting with information and context for information workers. I feel as if I need to read it again to do it any sort of justice in blogging about it.

In chronicling how humans have sought to make sense of the physical world, and how this can be translated to the digital world, Weinberger travels far and wide from UPC codes to Wittgenstein to Dewey to Flickr to Aristotle to to Darwin to Wikipedia to Britannica to McCallum’s railroad organization chart to Amazon to Linnaeus to the semantic web.

In very general terms, here are some of the themes he explores:

  • the death of rigid information taxonomies in the digital world because data can be in more than one place at one time
  • the fallacy of a neutral point of view because in practice this merely means the consensus of the community at a particular point in time
  • information is evolving away from being represented like atoms in physical space (first “order of order”, like a bookstore) or even metadata used for splitting and lumping items into categories (second “order of order,” like a card catalog), and into piles, tagged with data by everyone, effortlessly resorted/re-organized to fit the user and the context (third “order of order,” like Flickr or
  • implicit relationships between ideas are far more important and less limited than explicit ones in describing complex, meaningful phenomena.

As search capabilities and collaboration technologies mature, and as “web 2.0” has provided users with a read/write experience on the web, this third order of order has taken root. The ramifications of this are incredibly broad, from the specifics of users not storing e-mail in folders (store in a pile, sort by author or search to quickly find the relevant messages) to how organizations architect their enterprise collaboration environments (finding the best way to leverage traditional navigation + metadata + rich search to fit user needs).

This has already been a hugely influential book to me, and I expect to continue to explore the themes herein for many years to come. I encourage you to read it yourself and learn, and think about these themes as you consider your own, or your organization’s information architecture.

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Project management, financial management, and knowledge management. Microsoft 365 aficionado, proud Sympraxian. Opinions and Philly attytood are my own.