Today has been a surreal graduate student experience about metadata, classification and cataloging… basically how we find information or enable information to be found so we can use it. (Isn’t that just another way to define communication?)
It all started with a Melissa Gross-style imposed query by one of my favorite professors, Dr. Brown, who literally “set us up” to use databases like ProQuest’s ABI/INFORM, OCLC FirstSearch’s ArticleFirst, and EBSCO Host’s Academic Search Elite to find an obscure article from an unnamed source with little “real” information to go on. Of course, the exercise was engineered for us to learn ways to use search terms and limiters and stop words and the like to assist in a search for information. (Did you pick up on those stop words?)
Well, a half hour and a lot of frustration later, I employed my competitive intelligence skills and did a little googling to find the answer. I think many of the legitimate searchers in our class are still searching, and in order to successfully finish my assignment, I’m using the answer to go back and recreate a “legitimate” search.
Is this the way it’s supposed to be?
Does information have to be so properly indexed and classified? Why is “googling” at the academic level a bad thing? Is it the means or the end?
Too many unanswered questions! So I turned to Doc Martens’ focus on “established classification” for a break from the imposed query experience, only to read Cory Doctorow’s article on “Metacrap” and listen to his interview with David Weinberger at WIRED about “explicit” and “implicit” metadata. To paraphrase, Cory postulates that metadata just isn’t the answer to organizing our information. But perhaps the way Google makes links “could” be. In the interview, Cory explained that google only works well when using implicit metadata, and as soon as you get “explicit,” the searching for information starts to break down.
I keep thinking about my open source blog post as it relates to the common good and Cory’s explanation that Google’s type of classification is based on a mass who naively makes links and discovers accidentalness… and all at a very low search cost. He went on to discuss how tagging moves us to convergence, and that the resulting technical and social incentive creates mass collaboration.
He used examples like the “decay” tag at Flickr and the value of using misspelled (is that mispelled?) words on e-bay to get a deal. All of this seems to enforce the absurdity of having to get everything right in a formal database search in order to find your “answer.” Herbert Simon’s satisficing theory suggests that what one finds to satisfy an inquiry may be as simple as finding something that’s “good enough.” (The ACRL might disagree. ) Who has time to thoroughly review every possible answer?
I find it interesting that after I write this post, I’m going to tag it the wordpress way, so hopefully someone else can pull my thoughts out of cyberspace. Again, Cory Doctorow, co-author of the Boing Boing blog, postulates that collectively we can achieve our goal: the “communication of information,” as I like to call it. In its simplest form, isn’t commuication all about getting information from the sender to the receiver without a bunch of noise? (Thank you Shannon and Weaver, 1949.) As information professionals, it should be our charge to make that communication connection without letting information get lost in classification metacrap. Whether a web designer or reference librarian, if the goal is to “Just Communicate!” then we need to find ways to reduce the crap, I mean noise.