Conference: Day 1: Saturday
The first day of the conference was a day of big ideas.
The Keynote Address: What’s Up With Knowledge?
Presenter: Dr. David Weinberger
Dr. David Weinberger—philosopher, raconteur, author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined, and coauthor of The Cluetrain Manifesto—gave an amusing and thought-provoking opening keynote address titled “What’s Up With Knowledge?” Its content derived from his forthcoming book about knowledge, Everything Is Miscellaneous.
The basic premise behind Everything Is Miscellaneous in this: So far, we’ve been organizing ideas using the same principles we use for organizing things, but “the digitizing of information enables us to invent new principles” that affect the “structure and authority” of knowledge. Figure 1 shows David in full flow. A slide from David’s presentation appears in Figure 2.
David made the following observations about knowledge:
- There seems to be a continuum that progresses from data to information to knowledge to wisdom.
- “We strip out content in order to fit information into a database. Information is some type of refinement of data.”
- “That knowledge comes from information is a strange idea.” Through reason, knowledge derives from our impressions and the relationships that we identify between pieces of information like resemblance, contiguity, and cause. But what about facts and experience and wisdom? “How could we think that knowledge arises from information—unless everything is information. That’s the fallacy of informationalization.”
- “Wisdom is what allows us to figure out what knowledge to get.”
- “We don’t usually confuse the map for the landscape, but with information we do.”
- “There’s only one knowledge, and it’s the same for us all, just as reality is. Most things aren’t knowledge. If something is knowledge, it doesn’t matter who says it. It’s bigger than we are—a transgenerational realm to which we can contribute. Knowledge is an orderly system. It is independent of the knower. It outlasts us.”
In speaking about the shift to digitized information, David said, “Our way of representing knowledge has been limited by paper. Now we’re digitizing everything. What can you do easily digitally that the real world makes really hard?” You can:
- “File things in as many categories as you’d like.”
- Overcome messiness, which even becomes a virtue.
- Let “users own the organization of information” and “contribute to the metadata.”
This paradigm shift has a lot of ramifications:
- “Authors aren’t the best judges of what their works are about. Taggers are.”
- “Faceted systems enable users to dynamically construct the trees that suit them.”
- “Rather than filtering on the way in, it’s better … to include everything and filter on the way out.”
Seven Properties of Knowledge
According to David, these are the seven properties of knowledge:
- one and the same
- bigger than we are
- has a knower
The Big Ideas to Take Away
Point #1: Authority
- “Users determine the social order.”
- “The Web is a huge recommendation engine. There is too much to know, so we need shortcuts. Authority is a shortcut.”
- Beyond utility, authority gives social standing, institutional power, control over conversations, personal virtue, and money, and fulfills human destiny.
- “Appearing in Wikipedia confers no authority. Yet, it has authority because of the importance of the topic, multiple editors, discussion, and metadata.” It’s “publicly negotiated knowledge.”
- Will we end up with “separate knowledges, a baseline from which controversy emerges, recalcification, knowledge alliances, fragmentation, or reflection?
Point #2: The new infrastructure
- “The miscellaneous isn’t a disconnected pile.”
- Context enables meaning and intelligibility.
- Meaning is implicit and unspoken. “We can’t make everything explicit. The value is in the implicit. Are we seeing an externalization of meaning? The miscellaneous externalizes meaning.”
- “The problem is that tags decontextualize.”
- “Generally, we just need good enough information. We’re making good enough information even better” through hierarchy, the semantic Web, blogging, and tagging. “We’re focusing on meaning.”
- “The miscellaneous is heavily relational.”
“The inability of folksonomies to handle equivalence, hierarchy, and other semantic relationships causes them to fail miserably at any significant scale.”—Peter Morville