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"The solution to the information overload problem is to create more metadata!"
on January 28, 2012
Having his background in philosophy, perhaps no one had expected David Weinberger to write a book on a topic that is at the heart and soul of librarians, i.e. cataloguing and classification. In the modern notion of the term this is called metadata. When Everything is Miscellaneous was published in May 2007, at first it was as if some war was waged against Melville Dewey's classification system, especially the class 200 for Religion. Some protagonists in the field such as Peter Morville responded with an apt blog entry arguing that "Not Everything is Miscellaneous". In his book, even more in his several book talks, Weinberger mocked not only Melville Dewey and Michael Gorman but also Aristotle, albeit with a great caution. In many ways though, the book has slowly been well received and cited widely in the library and information science literature. The book would be considered as disruptive in its argument against some of the conceptual foundations of library and information science, mainly classification and categorisation systems. In Everything is Miscellaneous, Weinberger called for a total rethink of not only the notion of classification systems but also the very definition of metadata. For him, "metadata is what you already know and data is what you're trying to find out" (Weinberger, 2007, p.104).
Now his new book is out as of early January 2012. Too Big To Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room. In this book, Weinberger offers yet his staunchest critique on well established conceptual and theoretical foundations of knowledge including the DIKW (Data- Information-Knowledge) pyramid that most computer science and library science have incorporated in their curriculum in their foundations course.Another concept he took aim is information overload. A typical Google search on the phrase information overload returns more than 6 million results (doubled even since Weinberger records this statistics). Popularised by the technology futurist Alvin Toffler, the phrase resonates in the minds of librarians who for so long have hinged their value proposition on solving the problem of having too-much-information. As Weinberger notes, information overload, also called info glut, data smog, or information tsunami, is a problem so serious that it has become a topic for a whole body of work. Not only that, the problem also warranted inclusion into the scientific and psychiatric dictionary with its nomenclature such as information anxiety or information fatigue syndrome. In Too Big To know, in what seems a disruptive argument, Weinberger tells that too much information is actually a good thing. To support his argument, he cites Clay Shirky, who argues that "it is not information overload. It is filter failure".
By providing several examples and writing rather beautifully, Weinberger contrasts the long-form argument of the Age of Books with the loosely connected webs of the Age of Networks in which he argues, the long form argument is a constraint inherited from the medium of print. Our thought process, nonetheless, works not in a simplistic, linear and long form ways but in an intricate web of links and associations which is better reflected in the Age of Networks. Scientists work in private in the Age of Books, after-the-fact peer-review is the norm, but in the Age of Networks, he argues, the filtering process is immediate, open and on the cloud. In short, he argues the abundance of crap and good that is generated through the network gets filtered by the network itself.
Reading this book, one can surmise that Weinberger is for Open Access. He is for Open Internet. He is for Open Data. He is for Linked Data. Such an open ecology, Weinberger argues, provides a fertile ground for innovation and creativity. Overall, influenced by less baggage from the disciplines of either computer science or library science, Weinberger seems to suggest that the influence of the Age of Books is fading and the time has come for the Age of Networks. Hence, he argues, knowledge is now residing in the network, not on any one or even genius skull.
In many respects, Weinberger's Too Big To Know, is in agreement with arguments put forward by James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds and Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody. Perhaps a slight oversight in the book may be the notion of `information overload as good and inevitable' was first discussed by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done (2002). We will await reflections from other authors such as Andrew Keen who may argue against some if not most of the views espoused by Weinberger.