I transferred the Psyber-L mailing list to Yahoo the other day and had to put it in a category. There never is one for what I want. Soul does not fit under Health, or Computers, or Hobbies or Religion for that matter. Psychology might be ok, except that it has been corrupted – that means it would be filed in among advertising, PR, HR and CBT and so on, not always good company for the soul. This article from First Monday by Marcia J. Bates explores the problem: After the Dot-Bomb: Getting Web Information Retrieval Right This Time
Succumbing to the “ontology” fallacy
The hot new term in information organization is “ontology.” Everybody’s inventing, and writing about, ontologies, which are classifications, lists of indexing terms, or concept term clusters (Communications of the ACM, 2002). But here’s the problem: “Ontology” is a term taken from philosophy; it refers to the philosophical issues surrounding the nature of being. If you name a classification or vocabulary an “ontology” then that says to the world that you believe that you are describing the world as it truly is, in its essence, that you have found the universe’s one true nature and organization. But, in fact, we do not actually know how things “really” are. Put ten classificationists (people who devise classifications) in a room together and you will have ten views on how the world is organized.
Nice rant about categorization. Talking about the universe and washing machines, you nail a problem I’ve had writing on the web about my life. For example, I’m in love with a woman and I want to write about her on my site. Where do I file her in my hierarchical life-cum-directory structure? Under San Francisco, where we met? Or Oakland, more precisely, which was somehow created as a subdirectory of San Francisco? Or maybe Japan/Tokyo where we had the first date of the rest of our lives. Maybe I’ll marry this woman and so maybe she should be her own subdirectory! Or a subdomain off Justin.org. I link to her site in the meantime; but wouldn’t it be nice to say a few tender words as I pass a web surfer from my site to hers?
Update:I have read Marcia J. Bates’ article with interest. It has some great ideas and information, SDI = ”push” technology which has a long history. faceted classification would be worth studying up, the Bradford Distribution is a concept that made immediate sense. HOWEVER, the overall thesis, that some sort of rationality of classification could prevail and actually be useful I have doubts about. I remain positive about the idea of groping through a tangle of information. Not information, relationships, conversations. No where in the article does she really mention *self organising information* emails stored on my computer are self organising. I can search them by title, or test date, author etc. And no where does she mention the word chaordic, or collaborative filtering.
My hunch is that there is great value in the work Marcia does in specific niche areas. BUT. Just as she says linguists are not much good at thinking systemically about information retrieval, I am now thinking that information researchers do not grasp the nature of… surfing the noosphere. God, there is hardly a way to speak about the soup we are in, but I bet that someone right in there well netted-in could find anything on the net, by hunches, by surfing through the links on likely pages, by blogging, by Googling through usenet and asking the odd guru. That way we’d not only find the information, but learn that we did not actually need it, or that there was a new paradigm, or what to do with it once we had it, or that it was not actually cataloged anywhere, but in my grand mothers drawer.
I’ll sprinkle hyperlinks through all of the above in good time as I think on this one I am with Justin – it is a rhizome like beast. I also want to follow up on Cory’s piece about cataloging.