Thursday, June 01, 2006

Intaglectuals 1: Kevin Kelly

I've been meaning to write up my thoughts on what I heard at Book Expo America or listened to recently online—Kevin Kelly, Chris Anderson, David Weinberger and (maybe) Carly Fiorina. This started out as one big compare-and-contrast blob. I'd better split it up.

Kevin Kelly: What Will Happen to Books? As many of you know, Abby and I recently attended Book Expo America, promoting LibraryThing with Abebooks. BEA is a very "miscellaneous" affair—embracing everyone from authors to printers, agents to librarians.

If there was a unifying meme it was the need to react to Kevin Kelly's just-published "manifesto" "What will happen to books?" (New York Times Magazine, May 14). The general feeling was "This guy's a nut," with an undertone of anxiety—What if he's NOT a nut? What if I just don't "get" it? What if I'm a dinosaur?

I generally find myself on the "left" of these issues. I think things have happened or are happening now—the web, Google, blogs, open source, book scanning, wikis, tagging, mashups—with ramifications for intellectual life in general and book publishing in particular. I even think—don't laugh—LibraryThing has a tiny part to play in these changes.

So it's odd to find someone to the left of me. That Kevin Kelly guy's a nut! The article fairly bristles with overreaching, but I'll single out a quote that makes me embarrassed for LibraryThing:
"The link and the tag may be two of the most important inventions of the last 50 years."
The link, okay—particularly if link is metonymous with the internet in general—but the TAG?!

It's too early to tell, but I'd be hesitant to add even something broader, like "user generated data (and metadata)" to the top 100 inventions of the last half-century. I mean, what do you bump? Genetic engineering? The Pill? The satellite? The one-click patent?

Am I a dinosaur?

*Of course, although books and tags were central to his the article, he didn't mention LibraryThing. That's life.

4 Comments:

Blogger RJO said...

So what is a tag, then? (This is the ideas blog, right?) Are the LC Subject Headings tags? If not, why not? Is every author link on LT a tag? If not, why not? Is a tag necessarily something *I* create? If so, then your tags are not tags for me (I say, solipsistically). If your tags are tags, then why aren't the Library of Congress's tags also tags.

(Can you imagine the above translated into Greek? I think it would sound like a passage from Aristotle. "If what is is, it has being, not not being...")

(Still working on my Doctor of Thingology dissertation.)

6/01/2006 9:12 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Good questions, rjo.

I'd say that a tag needs to be part of an "uncontrolled" vocabulary--i.e., a tag is whatever a tagger wants it to be, with no central authority (like LC) dictating what can and can't be a tag. So if you want to tag something "the_best_book_evah" and I want to tag it "donkey_poop," there is no one to say we can't do that.

I got a little lost on the "my tags" and "your tags" part of your comment, but I think the ability to at least search other people's tags is an important part of the utility of tagging as an "invention," or as something actually useful.

Tim, I had similar thoughts on reading Kelly's article. I couldn't believe how much uncritical attention it was getting, when the first half seemed full of unexamined or unexplained assumptions and assertions. But I didn't have the energy to fisk it myself.

6/01/2006 10:46 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Neither did I. Part of me would love to go through with a red pen, and part of me just figures—-as the blogosphere teaches us--good stuff rises and bad stuff sinks. Who cares?

Has anyone noticed that the essay ideas are in conflict with the medium? The New York Times is the establishment--the voice of authority, objectivity and the prior selection of quality.

6/01/2006 10:56 PM  
Blogger tartalom said...

What is a tag. Any metadata that facilitates easier access to the information you need. The user generated tags as seen on Librarything may be unconventional or, in some cases, silly. But used well, they can help you access what you need or turn you on to stuff you knew nothing about. Some Library sites are using tags in tandem with conventional cataloguing now: http://foto.clarelibrary.ie/fotoweb/
I think the two complement each other perfectly

6/02/2006 1:09 PM  

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