From broadcast to the miscellaneous


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Photo credit: Lotta Viitaniemi; David Weinberger and Teemu Arina having a conversation

I was at Helsinki Media Conference 2007 to check out David Weinberger’s presentation “From Broadcast to the Miscellaneous”. David has been very influential to my own thinking, first with Cluetrain Manifesto that predicted the hyperlink organization. It still serves as a great guide on implementing social technologies within organizations. Small Pieces Loosely Joined aimed to describe a unified theory of the web. It fit very well with the vision of online learning I have today on a decentralized learning network. David is going to release a new book called “Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder“. I can’t hardly wait.

Tuija Aalto has a short video and another of David’s presentation I believe is on the same topic I saw. Here are some of my notes of his presentation at HMC 2007:

Changes in communication

We are moving from a world culturally dominated by broadcast (one to many) to a world of P2P: direct person to person communication, where everything will be digital. We are seeing new forms of being together from blogging, collaborative editing, photo sharing to news sites which we form together (e.g. Digg). New things include microblogs like Twitter and Jaiku.

For the first time in human history we can escape the physical limitations of communication. Knowledge does not have to be organized like physical things, like piles of clothing or bookshelves full of books. For some reason we have taken the limitation of physical entities and applied that to ideas. We do that and we are not very clever.

Peer recommendation

We are moving from recommendation provided from the top down to recommendation provided by our peers. We utilize mailing lists, blogs, discussion boards, Digg, Reddit and other services to discover and recommend interesting articles with others. As an example, everyone gets to vote articles up and down on the front page of Digg. USA Today jumped in the bandwagon and added Digg like features. Unfortunately this will not work until they add a thumbs down button in addition to the current thumbs up button.

Third order

Some people think blogs, wikis and other participatory media is providing fragmentation, but David thinks this rather provides a new type of unity that binds people together. We can’t seriously believe the new means of communication provide fragmentation unless we believe we are right now perfectly unified. We no longer need to build perfect hierarchies like physical llibraries to organize information.

In the third order of things both content and metadata are all digital. Messiness is becoming a virtue. The same leaf can rest on many branches. In the digital world messiness works because we can sort through messiness with computers. Search keywords become metadata to get into the real data. We use metadata as a lever to bring up new knowledge.

Unowned order

Another shift is the unowned order of things. People who own the stuff no longer own the organization of the stuff. In the physical world a clothing store owns the organization of the clothes in the store. In the digital world, the organization is now owned by everybody. Tagging in del.icio.us is a great example. We are taking leaves off the trees and then connecting them together again in different ways.

In the end tagging is not just about decentralized organization of stuff, it also connects people through their interests. No schema or formal taxonomy will be able to capture everyone’s interests. Give people good tools to sort through the mess.

From simplicity to complexity

Some people enjoy the serendipity of newspapers, when one discovers new things just by browsing the newspaper. Realistically, the internet is much better in serendipity. David never thought he would be interested in an article describing the Heavy Metal Umlaut.

Some people describe participatory media as narcissistic. The truth is, news papers are full of content and advertisements feeding the narcissism of people by portraying life-styles people would like to have. Politics is broadcast. What bloggers do, they take even the smallest and simplest things and make them complex (a Bush speech is given as an example). We are complexifying the world again through social technologies for the benefit of the people, bringing the different nuances to life again.

On authority

Authority in traditional encyclopedias is different than authority in digital encyclopedias. If an article is in Wikipedia, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s credible. Wikipedia sure has credibility, but where does it come from? There are various clues to find out if an article is credible or not, e.g:

  • Lots of edits means it’s often more credible
  • More comments on the discussion page tells you what the article is based upon
  • Wikipedia quality standards provide notices to readers on articles that the editors find incomplete, disputed, etc.

Wikipedia is on your side by telling that an article is not credible. Does any of the major newspapers do this by acknowledging that some of their articles might not be accurate? Unwillingness to admit incredibility makes sources unreliable.

Future of media is externalization of meaning

What is the future of traditional media? To draw an analogy, what does it mean to be a hammer? The concept of hammer is understood by understanding the context and connections in the environment which a hammer operates. The same thing applies to people. To be happier means to know the relationships around you. You become more you by connecting to others. The world is way richer than we thought. What part of the world is to be taken care by newspapers to mandate their existence?

Unfortunately traditional roles of a newspaper are becoming commodities better available through other means. Take for example facts and truths. Both are becoming commodities which are better available elsewhere. Facts and truths are no longer the value provided by newspapers. Facts and truths are better addressed in decentralized networks consisting of millions of people, rather than centralized entities consisting of a few self-promoted experts.

We are externalizing meaning. We are building a rich set of meaning by connecting things together. We are building a rich infrastructure of meaning by tagging, organizing content in new ways, using playlists, utilizing collaborative editing, blogging and hyperlinking (which is the fundamental piece) and even utilizing the traditional means of organization. We are able to adhere to different points of view and that helps people to sort through the mess.

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