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Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder Paperback – April 29, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Human beings are information omnivores: we are constantly collecting, labeling, and organizing data. But today, the shift from the physical to the digital is mixing, burning, and ripping our lives apart. In the past, everything had its one place--the physical world demanded it--but now everything has its places: multiple categories, multiple shelves. Simply put, everything is suddenly miscellaneous.

In Everything Is Miscellaneous, David Weinberger charts the new principles of digital order that are remaking business, education, politics, science, and culture. In his rollicking tour of the rise of the miscellaneous, he examines why the Dewey decimal system is stretched to the breaking point, how Rand McNally decides what information not to include in a physical map (and why Google Earth is winning that battle), how Staples stores emulate online shopping to increase sales, why your children’s teachers will stop having them memorize facts, and how the shift to digital music stands as the model for the future in virtually every industry. Finally, he shows how by "going miscellaneous," anyone can reap rewards from the deluge of information in modern work and life.

From A to Z, Everything Is Miscellaneous will completely reshape the way you think--and what you know--about the world.

The Flocking of Information: An Amazon.com Exclusive Essay by David Weinberger
As businesses go miscellaneous, information gets chopped into smaller and smaller pieces. But it also escapes its leash--adding to a pile that can be sorted and arranged by anyone with a Web browser and a Net connection. In fact, information exhibits bird-like "flocking behavior," joining with other information that adds value to it, creating swarms that help customers and, ultimately, the businesses from which the information initially escaped.

For example, Wize.com is a customer review site founded in 2005 by entrepreneur Doug Baker. The site provides reviews for everything from computers and MP3 players to coffee makers and baby strollers. But why do we need another place for reviews? If you’re using the Web to research what digital camera to buy for your father-in-law, you probably feel there are far too many sites out there already. By the time you have scrolled through one store’s customer reviews for each candidate camera and then cross-referenced the positive and the negative with the expert reviews at each of your bookmarked consumer magazines, you have to start the process again just to remember what people said. Wize in fact aims at exactly that problem. It pulls together reviews from many outside sources and aggregates them into three piles: user reviews, expert reviews (with links to the online publications), and the general "buzz." (For shoppers looking for a quick read on a product, Wize assigns an overall ranking.) When Wize reports that 97 percent of users love the Nikon D200 camera, it includes links to the online stores where the user reviews are posted, so customers are driven back to the businesses to spend their money.

Zillow.com does something similar for real estate. The people behind Expedia.com, Rich Barton and Lloyd Frink, were looking for a new business idea--and were in the market for new homes. After hunting for information, they found that most of it was locked into the multiple listings sites of the National Association of Realtors. Now Zillow takes those listings and mashes them up with additional information that can help a potential purchaser find exactly what she wants. The most dramatic mashup right now is the "heat map" that uses swaths of color to let you tell at a glance what are the most expensive and most affordable areas. At some point, though, Zillow or one of its emerging competitors will mash up listing information with school ratings, crime maps, and aircraft flight patterns.

Wize and Zillow make money by selling advertising, but their value is in the way their sites aggregate the miscellaneous--letting lots of independent sources flock together, all in one place.

We’re seeing the same trend in industry after industry, including music, travel, and the news media. Information gets released into the wild (sometimes against a company’s will), where it joins up with other information, and the act of aggregating adds value. Companies lose some control, but they gain market presence and smarter customers. The companies that are succeeding in the new digital skies are the ones that allow their customers to add their own information and the aggregators to mix it up, because whether or not information wants to be free, it sure wants to flock.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In a high-minded twist on the Internet-has-changed-everything book, Weinberger (Small Pieces Loosely Joined) joins the ranks of social thinkers striving to construct new theories around the success of Google and Wikipedia. Organization or, rather, lack of it, is the key: the author insists that "we have to get rid of the idea that there's a best way of organizing the world." Building on his earlier works' discussions of the Internet-driven shift in power to users and consumers, Weinberger notes that "our homespun ways of maintaining order are going to break—they're already breaking—in the digital world." Today's avalanche of fresh information, Weinberger writes, requires relinquishing control of how we organize pretty much everything; he envisions an ever-changing array of "useful, powerful and beautiful ways to make sense of our world." Perhaps carried away by his thesis, the author gets into extended riffs on topics like the history of classification and the Dewey Decimal System. At the point where readers may want to turn his musings into strategies for living or doing business, he serves up intriguing but not exactly helpful epigrams about "the third order of order" and "useful miscellaneousness." But the book's call to embrace complexity will influence thinking about "the newly miscellanized world." (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 277 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805088113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805088113
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #187,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ethan Zuckerman on May 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
One of the central ironies of David Weinberger's new book, "Everything is Miscellaneous", is that a book about classification is bound to suffer from classification problems. Reviewers and bookstore owners are inclined to think of David as a business writer because his previous books - The Cluetrain Manifesto and Small Pieces Loosely Joined - were profoundly useful in helping businesspeople understand what this World Wide Web thing was really all about. But it's a mistake to consider David's new book solely as a business book.

Which isn't to say that reading Everything is Miscellaneous won't help you make a buck in world of Web 2.0. It probably will, as the issues Weinberger explores are core to any business that deals with information and knowledge... which is to say, virtually every industry you can think of. But "Everything is Miscellaneous" is also a philosophy book. It's about the shape of knowledge, and how moving information from paper to the web changes how we organize and how we think. And this means that Weinberger's book crosses from territory like Wikipedia and Flickr into Aristotle and Wittgenstein.

This would be a dangerous path for a lesser author to take, but David grounds his explorations in examples and interviews that are, as Cory Doctorow puts it, wonderfully miscellaneous. We bounce between the lives and ideas of taxonomers past - Linneaus, S.R. Ranganathan, and the wonderfully strange Melvil Dewi - and the librarians and software developers who are making sense of today's digital disorder.

At its heart, the book is about what happens when we liberate knowledge from the world of atoms. In the physical world, we can only organize books on a shelf in one way or another - books can't be in multiple places at once.
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With a background in enterprise search, I'm inclined to think of David's book as required reading for those who doubt how vital meta-data and community tagging is to quality corporate search. In reality, it's about meta-data.

As other reviewers have mentioned, the book is about moving organization and retrieval of content - physical and virtual - from atoms to electrons. Office supply stores, libraries, and daily life are all limited by atoms: how much space there is in a store; what products should be displayed near other products; and what single specific shelf should a new book occupy given the Dewey Decimal system categorization.

In our increasingly virtual world, based on electrons, little of this matters - fax/copying/printer/scanners can be 'stored' under all of those categories, or a new book can be tagged with every possible related term, regardless of what category the librarian suggests. Web 2.0, Flickr, Wikipedia, Enterprise Search 2.0, all of our virtual worlds, will allow us to tag everything in any way that will help us find it again. And we can make it even better by opening the tagging up to a wider audience - friends, co-workers, even strangers - consider Amazon's suggestion system.

The book is a masterpiece and is a must-read for anyone involved in using - or designing - any part of our virtual and future world(s).
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The big contribution of "Everything is Miscellaneous", I think, is the concept of "orders". "First-order order" is structuring, like the placement of sentences in a text or products on a shelf. "Second-order order" is classification, putting information into categories and subcategories, maps,, etc. "Third-order order" is tagging and other meta-data, which allow us to make our own categorization on the fly ("give me a list of all books in this bookstore, divided by century published and subdivided by genre"). It's a neat set of phrasing, and if the book is not remembered for anything else, hopefully that taxonomy will remain.

Where the book falls short, though, is in its own "first-order order", its organization of ideas; which may be sadly appropriate for a book extolling "messiness". The book jumps from topic to topic, introducing ideas and people seemingly (to my mind) haphazardly, and in a way that makes it hard to keep track of all that has been covered. A better system of organization might have been chronological. After all, the full possibilities of tagging, or "third-order order", have only been enabled by computers and the Web. How much more interesting could it have been if we could see the progression of techniques for ordering and taxonomy through time, as a function of improving information technologies? Have there been pre-computer attempts at tagging? You can get a sense for some of these issues by piecing out the historical anecdotes Weinberger places, but it would have been easier to see them in a more natural order.

On that note, I also think Weinberger gives too little time to historical attempts at classification.
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The core conceit of "Everything is Miscellaneous" is the "third-order of order". Here's how it works:

First-order is stuff. You put your stuff in places. Woo hoo. But where is my purple frog pither? DRAT!

Second-order is cataloguing or "stuff about stuff". You pick a few attributes about each bit of stuff and write them down with some location information e.g. a library card catalogue. Ideally so that later you can find bits of stuff with the attribute on the list. Yea team. But it can only be searched the way you made the catalogue. If I only remember the thing is purple and not that it is a pither, I can't look it up. Oh well.

Third-order is every bit of information that you (or anyone or everyone else) can think of about some other bit of information. A bit of reflection tells you that you cannot do this all at once (who'd remember? who wouldn't think of something to add later?) so it isn't suited for paper. So you put it on a computer. Great. Now you can search on "purple" or "frog" or perhaps "pointy" and get a list of things with that attribute.

What's particularly cool about this (and Weinberger doesn't explicitly mention it so maybe it's only cool to me) is that GIVEN cheap computers and GIVEN huge amounts of metadata, THEN the "third-order of order" is an emergent property. It's very useful but it also strikes me as incredibly obvious.

That's my first big problem with the book. It's not a bad book in the sense that it will make you dumber. Rather, it takes an obvious premise (hey! databases and lots of metadata let you organise spontaneously in lots of different ways!) and some useful advice (hey! giving your customers lots of metadata and the ability to manipulate that metadata is probably a good idea!
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