The Book Report

S&S

I finally finished The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom (which was actually a very quick read, it’s just that I didn’t have a lot of time to devote to it). It’s kind of weird to have, essentially, a book report assignment at 25. I don’t know that I’ve done one since 3rd or 4th grade, and now I’m in, like, 18th grade (ha — that’s a little depressing). Second grade was the year for book reports, when we got stars on a chart for each book we reported on, and Jessica and I were always neck-and-neck (she beat me in the end — I think I got a little too into 100+ page Sweet Valley Twins and didn’t read as many short books as I could have). To be fair, it was technically a “critique.”

Anyway, The Starfish and the Spider brought together a lot of examples of the same idea: that decentralized organizations function pretty damn well in our less and less centralized world. I didn’t like the way the authors acted like the classification (centralized v. decentralized) was black-and-white at first — most organizations (if they are “organizations” at all) have at least some amount of centralization — but they did address this in the end. It was kind of like a big finale — that perhaps there is a spectrum, and organizations can fall anywhere between completely centralized and completely decentralized. Apparently even non-fiction needs a climax. The book was entertaining, but I think leaving that bit out until the end signified an underestimation of the book’s readers.

I’m interested not so much in how people can be organized in a decentralized manner, but in how information can be organized. Wikipedia, with anyone being able to add anything exemplifies this. LOCKSS is a good example, as is BitTorrent. The internet itself is, too. In a world where “google” has become an actual intransitive verb, and Yahoo’s hierarchical Web Directory is so five years ago (that link takes you to the Internet archive page from early 2002 — check out Yahoo’s current site for contrast), I think we need to pay attention to how people actually find information, but also educate ourselves and others on what the best ways to find information actually are (hint: it varies depending on where you’re looking for information!). Is the fact that no one finds what they need in a library catalog the fault of the catalog (for not functioning like Google), or the fault of the user (for thinking everything functions like Google)? I’m not arguing either way, but I think work needs to be done on both ends…

Speaking of work needing to be done on both ends, for a girl who has her personal book collection cataloged (see “Recent Acquisitions” on the sidebar) and writes lengthy papers on social tagging, one would think that adding categories to a post would be second nature. It just isn’t. But I would like to add some tags to my posts — keep an eye out…

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