Cloud Street

Monday, February 13, 2006

We climbed and we climbed

I don't trust Yahoo!, for reasons which have nothing to do with my dislike of misused punctuation marks (although the bang certainly doesn't help); I don't trust Google either. Maybe it's because I'm old enough to remember when MicroSoft [sic] were new and exciting and a major attractor of geek goodwill; maybe it's just because I'm an incurable pinko and don't trust anyone who's making a profit out of me. Anyway, I don't trust Yahoo!, or like them particularly; I switched to Simpy when Yahoo! bought del.icio.us, and I've felt a bit differently about Tom - hitherto one of my favourite bloggers anywhere - since he joined Yahoo!.

Still. This (PDF) is Tom's presentation to the Future of Web Apps conference, and it's good stuff - both useful and beautiful, to use William Morris's criteria. The fourth rule (precept? guideline? maxim?) spoke to me particularly clearly:
Identify your first order objects and make them addressable
Start with the data, in other words; then work out what the data is; then make sure that people (and programs) can get at it. (Rule 5: "Use readable, reliable and hackable URLs".) It's a simple idea, but surprisingly radical when you consider its implications - and it's already meeting resistance, as radical ideas do (see Guy Carberry's comments here).

More or less in passing, Tom's presentation also shows why the Shirkyan attempt to counterpose taxonomy to folksonomy is wrongheaded. If you're going to let people play with your data (including conceptual data), then it needs to be exposed - but if you're going to expose data in ways that people can get at, you need structure. And it doesn't matter if it's not the right structure, not least because there is no right structure (librarians have always known this); what matters is that it's consistent and logical enough to give people a way in to what they want to find. To put it another way, what matters is that the structure is consistent and logical enough to represent a set of propositions about the data (or concepts). Once you've climbed that scaffolding, you can start slinging your own links. But ethnoclassification builds on classification: on its own, it won't get you the stuff you're looking for - unless what you're looking for isn't so much the stuff as what people are saying about stuff. (Which is why new-media journalists and researchers like tagging, of course.)

Anyway - very nice presentation by the man Coates. Check it out.

1 Comments:

  • Start with the data...

    It seems that there are some eternal truths in IT. I remember learning a similar principle back in my early days developing turn-key systems in C. And this is one of those principles that is reinforced (rather than invalidated) with each new generation of technology.

    A data modelling friend once provided a more general definition. "It doesn't matter if you call it a mug or a cup, as long as you're consistent and keep it in an easily accessible place where everyone can find it." The structure we create is a communication tool. Like librarians, we're creating structure to help us share information--between modules in an application, between web sites in a mashup, or between people. If we don't create any structure, if we start with function rather than data, then we're creating an isolated island of functionality (a module or web site) that will be unusable by anyone else.

    By Blogger Peter, at 8/11/06 23:27  

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