Monday, September 24, 2007

Ontology is Overated, by Clay Shirky

excerpts from an innerestin' article on the challenges of categorizing information in web-space and library-space: let's get granular and P2P!

"If you've got a large, ill-defined corpus, if you've got naive users, if your cataloguers aren't expert, if there's no one to say authoritatively what's going on, then ontology is going to be a bad strategy."

"The list of factors making ontology a bad fit is, also, an almost perfect description of the Web -- largest corpus, most naive users, no global authority, and so on. The more you push in the direction of scale, spread, fluidity, flexibility, the harder it becomes to handle the expense of starting a cataloguing system and the hassle of maintaining it, to say nothing of the amount of force you have to get to exert over users to get them to drop their own world view in favor of yours."

"Now imagine a world where everything can have a unique identifier. This should be easy, since that's the world we currently live in -- the URL gives us a way to create a globally unique ID for anything we need to point to. Sometimes the pointers are direct, as when a URL points to the contents of a Web page. Sometimes they are indirect, as when you use an Amazon link to point to a book. Sometimes there are layers of indirection, as when you use a URI, a uniform resource identifier, to name something whose location is indeterminate. But the basic scheme gives us ways to create a globally unique identifier for anything...And once you can do that, anyone can label those pointers, can tag those URLs, in ways that make them more valuable, and all without requiring top-down organization schemes. And this -- an explosion in free-form labeling of links, followed by all sorts of ways of grabbing value from those labels -- is what I think is happening now."

"As we get used to the lack of physical constraints, as we internalize the fact that there is no shelf and there is no disk, we're moving towards market logic, where you deal with individual motivation, but group value."

[individual motivation and group value! what do you call that? is it really just Market Value? huh.]

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