Alex Wright on the wikipedia / autonomy!=authority thing:

“What irks me about some of the dialogue to date is an assumption (usually implied) that networked systems are somehow inherently more “fair” than top-down systems. Democracy, like unregulated free markets, are no guarantee of fairness. And while networked systems surely give users more opportunity for input, they also abide by power laws which, though perhaps ineluctable, are neither equal nor fair (especially insofar as they favor early adopters). Top-down systems, while seemingly authoritarian, may paradoxically do a better job of defending the interests of the individual. Just as mob rule is no way to run a country, so purely democratic classifications could lead lead to groupthink, favoring conformity and marginalizing dissent.

But again, I don’t believe that top-down and bottom-up systems necessarily have to stand in opposition; the two models may ultimately prove consilient.”


“Fast [to iterate] at the bottom, slow [to consolidate] at the top” to paraphrase Alex quoting Kevin Kelly.

This, however, does seems to be the überpattern of wikipedia afforded by its structure, as demonstrated by Historyflow, with some catastrophy and punctuated equillbrium thrown in.

“(Medium-)Fast at the bottom, slow at the top” was the principle behind iCan‘s information architecture, enabling campaigners to say exactly what it was they were campaigning for, and letting casual browsers have a way in which had some stability, and common currency of meaning at the top levels.

Neologism alert – after all this talk of ‘folksonomies’ can I say information arcology yet?


The semiotic efficency of systems.

Tim Oren [my emboldening]:

“Having spent some years working with unstructured text and hypertext databases, I’m willing to suggest that the core notion of semiotics is in fact a useful engineering maxim, a True Theory of how humans behave in the context of symbolic systems.

Like the laws of thermodynamics in energy systems, semiotics proposes a hard limit to the efficiency of any situation involving externalized representations of human thought.

You can process character strings or other computational representations as long as you want, but just as the map is not the territory, the symbol is not the thought of its author, nor the thought elicited in an eventual reader. Even if all the ambiguity inherent in messy languages like English were eliminated, this would remain.

I like the idea of saying to a client: “you’re looking at the blueprints of a graphical machine with estimated 98.8% semiotic efficiency, and the only exhaust products are a small stream of delighted sighs, quite harmless to the information environment”

» Tim Oren/Due Diligence: Metadata, Semiotics, and the Tower of Babel

See also, “Semiotics: a primer for designers” on Umberto raps: “Don’t be idiotic! Study semiotics!”

Computers considered “eager but clueless”

A lovely post by Tom Coates following on from Kottke’s “metadazzle overfizzle” [which IMHO is much nicer shorthand for all this “what are the human experiences of the semantic web” gubbins than “metacrap”]:

“Because in fact it’s not that there’s too much metadata in the world, it’s that we have incredibly primitive and vestigial mechanisms to help us transcribe it from world to idiot-savant computer companion. We’re stuck in a middle-period between the emergence of useful computer processing power and the computer’s upcoming ability to self-annotate, transcribe and create metadata simply, elegantly (and in vast amount) in the background all the time. In the meantime our transcription processes are tedious and long, our computers eager but clueless – and the amounts of metadata available for any given thing trivial compared to the richness of information and association you could get from a genuinely interested and knowledgeable person. This will all change in time of course, but in the meantime (and in fact regardless, given the information we generate without even noticing it on a routine basis) we’re stuck writing love letters in Excel whether we want to or not.”

Very nice.

Coming back to Jason Kottke’s illustration – it’s so refreshing that it is an illustration. Makes the user-experience challenges so clear and marked. Marc Canter talked the about talkers and do-oers in the semantic-web in terms of negative and positive contribution.

Perhaps Marc forgets what Jason has done so well here: that there’s room for scribblers too… An honest and knowledgable interaction designer making some of the user-experiences concrete, if only in pixel form; can make a lot of difference to the debate.

But then I would say that, wouldn’t I.

» a frament of a world full of metadata

The Procrustean Bed

Via Antenna, the mytheme of The Procrustean Bed, found on a site devoted to E-Prime. Intertwingularity, eh.

“Myth says that the ancient Procrustes would make visitors fit into his bed by stretching their bodies, or cutting off their legs.

From this story we get the metaphor about forcing things into a Procrustean Bed.

Instead of trying to force reality into the Procrustean Bed of fixed definitions…

…what would happen if you made renewable descriptions?

As time goes by, you adjust your definitions to take into account the new things you have learned.”

» E-Primer: The Procrustean Bed

FOAFing about.

DJ Adams posts a nice little statrer-kit of FOAF links. FOAF stands for ‘Friend Of A Friend’ and amongst other things, enables the encoding of social relationships on the web:

“Good grief. Anyway, this exploration is certainly opening more doors than it’s closing. Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s showing me new doors that I choose to go through. This one had FOAF written on it in shiny brass letters.”

» DJ’s Weblog: “From REST to URIs, the Semantic Web, RDF, and FOAF”