Meg and I are preparing for our first real date since Rowan was born (6 months)- tonight's Ben Folds concert. I wish I saw him with the Five, but I'm still excited for the show.
I just sent of a webtext on the pedagogical dimensions of del.icio.us, the social bookmarking technology of social bookmarking technologies. Seriously, del.icio.us changed my life. I submit to any non-believer (i.e., non-user) the Firefox test- just try surfing the web wish del.icio.us for a week. You'll wonder how you ever lived without it.
As a bit of a sneak-peak, to celebrate the victory-is-mine moment of getting this off to the C&C special edition editor, I thought I would share a portion of the introduction that covers the theoretical implications of tagging. This works has a direct link to my dissertation in its focus on how digital technology contributes to the widespread, ongoing paradigm shift from Being to becoming, from product to process, from The Self to the group, from Truth to contingency. Here it is:
Beyond these benefits, the most significant advantage of del.icio.us concerns its method of cataloging entries: tagging. del.icio.us defines tags as:
...one-word descriptors that you can assign to your bookmarks on del.icio.us. They're a little bit like keywords but non-hierarchical. You can assign as many tags to a bookmark as you like and easily rename or delete them later. Tagging can be a lot easier and more flexible than fitting your information into preconceived categories or folders.
Tagging does not seek to replicate a physical organization system for information; there's no "files" being placed in "folders." In The Long Tail, Chris Anderson points out the ontological/categorical/strict-taxonomic organization of systems such as the Dewey decimal system, though effective organizational strategies for physical objects, fail to capitalize on the unique, non-physical properties of digital information (156-159). Such top-down, hierarchical systems are designed to properly "place" physical objects. Tagging represents a mode of organization that can only be realized once information becomes digital and is thus no longer tied to the limitations of physical place. Tagged data has no singular proper place- users in folksonomies such as del.icio.us can simultaneously tag data in multiple ways, allowing it to simultaneously exist across any number of spaces. Rather than attempting to organize information according to pre-existing, structured categories, Anderson imagines
a world of ad-hoc organization, determined by whatever makes sense at the time. That's more like a big pile of stuff on a desk instead of rows of items stringently arranged on shelves. Sure it may seem messy, but that's just because it's a different kind of organization: spontaneous, contextual order, easily reordered into a different context as need be. (159)
Thinking of del.icio.us, we can add "idiosyncracy" to Anderson's description of tagging as a mode of organization. Each del.icio.us user is likely to tag pages differently. Such a random system might not be as "neat" as the Dewey decimal system, but its flexibility and fluidity allow it to effectively capture what Suriowecki and others refer to as "the wisdom of crowds." To overstate the theoretical implications: del.icio.us can be seen as a collective attempt to explore, organize, and share the web underwritten by a spirit of enthusiasm and generosity ("Look what I found!") rather than one of mastery or colonization ("We must order this"). While an extended discussion of the impact of tagging and digitality is beyond my scope here, those interested should see Dave Weinberger's insightful Everything is Miscellaneous which ambitiously approaches a new metaphysics for digital information (see especially pages 92-95 for how del.icio.us and tagging contribute to this effort; see also his webtext "The Hyperlinked Metaphysics of the Web"). Interested parties should also give Clay Shirky's seminal "Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags" some attention.