Monday, June 16, 2008


The first biz book I reviewed for The Herald was The Cluetrain Manifesto, which I'll have to post here soon. It was a joint effort by several writers, including David Weinberger. I liked this follow-up, too.

Internet chaos brings choices, opportunities
In 'Everything is Miscellaneous,' David Weinberger shows how the old order is giving way to a new system of organizing and disseminating information.

published in The Miami Herald on 6/4/07
Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. David Weinberger. Times Books. 288 pages.

If you go to a store to shop for an item, assuming that you are doing so on purpose and not just to kill time, you have already limited your search to a specific geography and the set of things that are in that building. Once you enter the store, a variety of other factors come into play that affect your choices and decisions.

Though in some cases you can also request things that are not on hand for delivery at a later date, the same limitations apply when you visit other brick-and-mortar places full of stuff, like the library, for instance. The items are organized in a rather linear fashion, to use the space efficiently and for the sake of finding and retrieving things easily.

But author, consultant and Harvard Law School Fellow David Weinberger points out that the Internet requires a redundant type of sorting that would simply be impossible in the physical world. It not only requires it, he says, but by allowing items to be ''tagged'' with a seemingly endless variety of labels — including inexact, inaccurate or misspelled ones — a larger and wider audience can find an endless array of information. This, in turn, allows the spread of knowledge, ideas and opinions (more about that later) and enables commercial opportunities that were previously impossible.

He writes: "We have entire industries and institutions built on the fact that the paper order severely limits how things can be organized. Museums, educational curricula, newspapers, the travel industry, and television schedules are all based on the assumption that in the second-order world, we need experts to go through information, ideas and knowledge and put them neatly away.

"But now we — the customers, the employees, anyone — can route around the second order. We can confront the miscellaneous directly in all its unfulfilled glory. We can do it ourselves and, more significantly, we can do it together, figuring out the arrangements that make sense for us now and the new arrangements that make sense a minute later. Not only can we find what we need faster, but traditional authorities cannot maintain themselves by insisting that we have to go to them. The miscellaneous order is not transforming only business. It is changing how we think the world itself is organized and — perhaps more important — who we think has the authority to tell us so.''

Indeed. In addition to being able to buy almost anything from anywhere, almost anyone can express an opinion or ''report'' news, though it is worth pointing out that many of the sites and blogs that purport to present journalism are actually a collection of links to content created by print and broadcast journalists on other sites. But some critics and pundits are distressed about the democratization of their heretofore-privileged domains by fans and informally trained (if at all) bloggers. In many ways, the conflict is analogous to the battle between established retailers and online merchants — and we know how that's working out.

Weinberger also presents an interesting history of the Dewey Decimal System (really!), its relevance to contemporary culture and commerce, as well as other historical and philosophical asides in this imaginative, provocative and expansive book.

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