I’ve been wanting to write about David Weinberger‘s Everything is Miscellaneous vis-a-vis Front Porch Forum since I had the pleasure of meeting him at a Berkman Center-Sunlight Foundation conference at Harvard earlier this year… so today’s the day.
The reason for my delay in writing is that I’ve been hoping to actually read the book(!), but it hasn’t happened yet. However I have digested enough reviews to be in receipt of the gist. From Amazon.com…
Human beings are information omnivores: we are constantly collecting, labeling, and organizing data. But today, the shift from the physical to the digital is mixing, burning, and ripping our lives apart. In the past, everything had its one place–the physical world demanded it–but now everything has its places: multiple categories, multiple shelves. Simply put, everything is suddenly miscellaneous.
In Everything Is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger charts the new principles of digital order that are remaking business, education, politics, science, and culture. In his rollicking tour of the rise of the miscellaneous, he examines why the Dewey decimal system is stretched to the breaking point, how Rand McNally decides what information not to include in a physical map (and why Google Earth is winning that battle), how Staples stores emulate online shopping to increase sales, why your children’s teachers will stop having them memorize facts, and how the shift to digital music stands as the model for the future in virtually every industry. Finally, he shows how by “going miscellaneous,” anyone can reap rewards from the deluge of information in modern work and life.
My take on David’s thesis is that trying to make one order out of “everything” is hopeless and not even especially useful. Better to tag everything and search anew every time you want to get at something. (Brings to mind huge filing projects in the pre-web days… I remember filling out cross-reference cards and placing them throughout the file cabinets… arghhhhh.)
So I’ve seen with Front Porch Forum. In our pilot city, more than 20% subscribe, each person belonging to their neighborhood’s forum. People post messages for their neighbors about babysitters, lost cats, restaurant reviews, plumber referrals, school tax debate, car break-in, moose sightings, school fundraiser, car for sale and on and on.
A few members have expressed frustration that all these messages aren’t neatly ordered into threads. Or that we don’t offer one part of the site focused on contractor reviews, another area on classified ads, another part for political debate.
Instead, each neighborhood forum publishes a single issue every few days with whatever postings the neighborhood has generated. Each message is clearly labeled. Current and past issues, a mishmash of subjects, may be browsed or searched by keyword, author, street, etc.
I don’t think caging this information into various compartments will serve anyone well. It’s all about the conversation… not order. FPF’s aim is to help neighbors connect and foster community within the neighborhood… not create a Dewey Decimal System at the neighborhood level.
Which brings me to much of web 2.0. Whether it’s real estate, reviews, classifieds, directions, discussion… whatever, many FPF members have reported that they would rather just search their neighborhood’s archive for what they need (and come across other interesting tidbits) or post a brief note to a couple hundred nearby households… rather that then go to one of the burgeoning number of these specialty sites.
Put another way, David argues that many web 2.0 sites free information and make it accessible in many ways. But these examples are still in verticals, such as real estate. So the information is constrained, although it’s accessible to everyone.
Front Porch Forum removes all subject constraint and instead limits who can participate… only residents of a given neighborhood.
For what it’s worth.