Metacrap happens

Today has been a surreal experience about metadata, classification and cataloging... basically how we find information or enable information to be found so we can use it. (Isn't that just another way to define communication?)

It all started with a Melissa Gross-style imposed query by one of my favorite professors, Dr. Brown, who literally "set us up" to use databases like ProQuest's ABI/INFORM, OCLC FirstSearch's ArticleFirst, and EBSCO Host's Academic Search Elite to find an obscure article from an unnamed source with little "real" information to go on. Of course, the exercise was engineered for us to learn ways to use search terms and limiters and stop words and the like to assist in a search for information. (Did you pick up on those stop words?) Well, a half hour and a lot of frustration later, I employed my competitive intelligence skills and did a little googling to find the answer. I think many of the legitimate searchers in our class are still searching, and in order to successfully finish my assignment, I'm using the answer to go back and recreate a "legitimate" search.

Is this the way it's supposed to be?

Does information have to be so properly indexed and classified?

Why is "googling" at the academic level a bad thing?

Is it the means or the end?

Too many unanswered questions!

So I turned to University of Oklahoma professor Doc Martens' focus on "established classification" for a break from the imposed query experience, only to read Cory Doctorow's article on "Metacrap" and listen to his interview with David Weinberger at WIRED about "explicit" and "implicit" metadata.

To paraphrase, Cory postulates that metadata just isn't the answer to organizing our information. But perhaps the way Google makes links "could" be. In the interview, Cory explained that google only works well when using implicit metadata, and as soon as you get "explicit," the searching for information starts to break down. I keep thinking about my open source blog post as it relates to the common good and Cory's explanation that Google's type of classification is based on a mass who naively makes links and discovers accidentalness... and all at a very low search cost.

He went on to discuss how tagging moves us to convergence, and that the resulting technical and social incentive creates mass collaboration. He used examples like the "decay" tag at Flickr and the value of using misspelled (is that mispelled?) words on e-bay to get a deal. All of this seems to enforce the absurdity of having to get everything right in a formal database search in order to find your "answer."

Herbert Simon's satisficing theory suggests that what one finds to satisfy an inquiry may be as simple as finding something that's "good enough." (The ACRL might disagree. ) Who has time to thoroughly review every possible answer?

The concept of folksonomy makes everyone an amateur taxonomist. Does this cooperative classification take the mystery out of finding information and put the fun back into it? I find it interesting that after I write this post, I'm going to tag it the wordpress way, so hopefully someone else can pull my thoughts out of cyberspace. Again, Cory Doctorow, co-author of the Boing Boing blog, postulates that collectively we can achieve our goal: the "communication of information," as I like to call it. In its simplest form, isn't commuication all about getting information from the sender to the receiver without a bunch of noise? (Thank you Shannon and Weaver, 1949.)

As information professionals, it should be our charge to make that communication connection without letting information get lost in classification metacrap. Whether a web designer or reference librarian, if the goal is to "Just Communicate!" then we need to find ways to reduce the crap, I mean noise.


very interesting, but I don't

very interesting, but I don't agree with you

Have a look at information

Have a look at information revolution:

WL Wong

Very interesting post. For

Very interesting post. For what it's worth, ACRL wouldn't disagree, though it would amusing to see the association try to have a referendum on the issue. The bloggers at ACRLog are just members who blog about their own ideas and obsessions. We don't always agree with each other, much less speak for the membership.

If you can get an answer faster through Google than through a database - and the answer is as good - then obviously the database failed to do what it was intended for. Ding ding ding! you lose.

I had a someone different experience once. I got frustrated with a Google search on a controversial topic because I got pages of crazy (but apparently popular) rants, went to a database and found an article that looked good, then went back to Google because the article, which wasn't full text in the database, might be online for free - and it was. (Well, I had to register, and now I get e-mails about the publication, but ...) It just hadn't shown up near the top of results for my original search. And, of course, the subscription database didn't point me toward the non-subscription site.

I think "just communicate!" is ideal, but I'm surprised at how often I have to patch together different systems to get what I want.

[...] found this via a very

[...] found this via a very interesting blog post at Just Communicate by a knowledge management grad student who, in the course of discussing the wisdom of Cory [...]