Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I'm not Eleanor Roosevelt. I'm not Franklin either. I've been reading a book about them and the social ills they worked towards fixing. I'm not depressed because I'm not them, I'm just depressed because they had the political power, underscored by family money and status to make things happen in the United States. I don't have political power, family money or status to make stuff happen. Granted other presidents with backgrounds closer to mine did things but the New Deal was unique in the kinds of changes it made. All of which leads me to this weeks topic the wisdom of crowds, or the collective intelligence of crowds, both of which make up a whole new body of intelligence.
The body of writing presented this week was about the two and the influence on information systems. Both styles had their detractors and admirers but both had a conclusion that seemed to democratize information systems. In using these systems we change our way of accessing information, not exactly dumping taxonomies, but adding to them folksonomies. We take a basic system of information and open it up to the public, inviting them, through one method or the other to take a shot at some area of classification - dreaming up new ideas to fit into a structured system, adding new words to classify art. The ethos of classification remains inherent in the structure but we're no longer working exactly from the top down.
Within the wisdom of crowds, there is still very much a hierachical system. Some small group stores all of the information individuals send in and calibrates it in order to come up with new information. People don't get to talk to each other because they might influence each other. With the collective intelligence of crowds, people do talk to each other, at least in a controlled way. I like to think of it as a graduate group writing a paper. Ideas are introduced and commented on and built on.
Which brings me to Franklin and Eleanor. Now this will be a stretch but I really liked the book. In terms of a taxonomy, they were it. They knew what the country needed from the raw data and they created and sold the programs downwards. Now democratically there may have been more crowd wisdom in terms of the collection of data- people did send their representatives to Washington and their representatives did represent their needs. And in terms of the collected intelligence of crowds, there was discussion of the information and it was changed accordingly although not necessarily in reasoned response. Of course about here is where I need to end the political comparison I'm wandering in deeper and deeper muck about what I don't know. But the ideas of democratizing classification has all sorts of fascinating nooks and crannies to it. Does classifiying information i.e. tagging according to popular wisdom create a loss of possibly unique information? I was concerned when reading of the professor's grad students tagging works for studies. Would students be encouraged to pursue esoteric writing for their writings when they could go for the simple easy, well recommended works? Why change controlled vocabularies when they have worked so well? is doing some interesting things with combining controlled vocabularies and folksonomies, is it a good idea to follow them?
I want to follow these questions later in another blog but in the meantime, I really want to finish this book.

1 comment:

  1. I think the combination of controlled vocabularies and folksonomies worked out well in the examples we were given in class for public libraries. Some of the OPAC tie-ins may have been a bit clunky visually, but I was impressed with how things tied together. At least in that sense, the combination of traditional cataloging and tagging worked well.
    Your point about limiting findability is fair though. Thanks for your post.
    Alphie G.