Wikipedia and Heavy Metal
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Kayaking in chaos

Not a quiet weekend after all, but one when discussion on the web about tags and tagging — with implications for much more! — felt (for me) like we'd reached a clearing in the wood. (Though my metaphor should probably be one to do with rivers. Still, there's more than enough double-take to this post's title to be going on with.)

It began with yesterday's post by Clay Shirky on Many 2 Many:

… It doesn’t matter whether we “accept” folksonomies, because we’re not going to be given that choice. The mass amateurization of publishing means the mass amateurization of cataloging is a forced move. I think Liz’s examination of the ways that folksonomies are inferior to other cataloging methods is vital, not because we’ll get to choose whether folksonomies spread, but because we might be able to affect how they spread, by identifying ways of improving them as we go.

To put this metaphorically, we are not driving a car, with gas, brakes, reverse and a lot of choice as to route. We are steering a kayak, pushed rapidly and monotonically down a route determined by the environment. We have a (very small) degree of control over our course in this particular stretch of river, and that control does not extend to being able to reverse, stop, or even significantly alter the direction we’re moving in.

Cory commented: 'These paragraphs could just as readily apply to changes in copyright, lossily compressed music, or spam: they are characteristics inherent in the ecology itself. The discussion needs to center around how to exist in their presence, not how to change them.'

And just now, responding to David Weinberger's question posted earlier today, Aren't we going to innovate our way out of this?, Clay Shirky writes:

… My answer is yes, but only for small values of "out". A big part of what's coming is accepting and adapting to the mess, instead of exiting it. …   The Web … is chaos. Chaos! You can link anything to anything else! … How on earth can you organize the Web? It plainly isn't now, and it never can be. …

The whole of this last post needs to be read and thought about a long time (several whiskies). I particularly like: 'Anything that operates at really large scale takes on the characteristics of organic systems, including especially degeneracy, the principle that there is not a one-to-one mapping between function and location in the system. (Christopher Alexander got there a long time ago, in A City Is Not a Tree, to which we might only add that the Web is not a tree either.)'

There will be losses and gains. I like LaughingMeme's approach:

People are still too stiff and rigid with their tagging technique. Loosen up. You don't have to find the "right category" to put something into, that is part of the tyranny and inflexibility of a classification scheme that we're trying to get away from. Don't tell me what it is, the "truth" of it as it were. Tell my why it matters.

But I can see the force of Liz Lawley's concerns and we'll need to go on innovating as much as possible to limit the losses and maximise the gains.