Archive for February, 2010

[2b2k] Another re-org

Last week, I went through the current (dis)organization of the book with Tim Sullivan, my editor at Basic Books. I’ve known Tim for a few of years, (even before he became the editor of the tenth anniversary edition of Cluetrain), which is the basic reason I went with Basic for Too Big to Know. Tim’s got a sharp eye for the structure of books, as well as being smart about, and fully engaged in, the content. Truly pleasure to work with.

Tim is the opposite of freaked out by my thrashing. In fact, he’s actually sort of encouraging about it, because (I assume) he sees it as one way the creative process proceeds. So, I came out of that conversation a little less freaked out myself.

Here’s where I am at the moment. I have a prologue that needs some work but Tim thinks sets up the problem well enough. It contrasts Darwin’s sort facts with those at Hunch.com, and tries to lead the reader to see not just that there is too much to know but that our new muchness seems to be changing the nature of knowledge itself. (My concern with the prologue is that I don’t want the reader to think that the book is about algorithmic learning, as the Hunch.com example might suggest.)

I’ve now re-done Chapter 1. It begins with a section on the data-information-knowledge pyramid as an example of our traditional strategy of dealing with the knowledge overload by narrowing our field of vision. Then I talk about information overload as a fact of life. I introduce Clay Shirky’s “It’s not information overload — it’s filter failure” idea, and then say that the difference is not simply that we now have social filters and the like. Rather, our filters now don’t filter out so much as filter forward — they reduce the number of clicks it takes to get to an item, but they leave the other items accessible. This puts the fact of overload straight into our faces. I close by suggesting a half dozen ways this affects knowledge, but I’m not sure I’ll keep that little section.

I’m working on Chapter 2, for the moment called “The expertise of clouds,” which was a leading contender for the title back when I was plotting the book. It looks like it may be a very long chapter on networked expertise.I’m not exactly sure how to organize it at the moment. The main question is whether I put into it all the multiple case studies and examples of networked expertise I’ve been accumulating.

I feel like I’m postponing facing the organizational problem posed by what I’m proposing as Chapter 3: the history and future of facts. (That’s the grandiose way of putting a much more mundane topic.) I’m afraid that chapter will strike the reader as unfocused and pointless. Why are we reading about the 19th century social reform movement in England? Beats me. But, thankfully I have Chapter 2 to distract me from that question.

Tags:

From circles to networks

Just a terminological note:

Over the past decade, we’ve gone from talking about social circles to social networks. A circle draws a line around us. Networks draw lines among us.

(Yet more evidence — as if we needed it — that networks are the new paradigm. Bye bye, Information Age!)

Tags:

[2b2k] Eggs good for you this week

The title of this post is one of my favorite headlines from The Onion.

So, yesterday we’re told that maybe taking a baby aspirin every day is more harmful than helpful, except for those with certain heart disease heart factors. (My doctor has me on ‘em. I’m going to keep take them.)

Today, an article in the Boston Globe reports on a study that says saturate fats don’t clog arteries the way we’ve been told for generations. (In the 1930s, when my grandfather had a heart attack, my grandmother was told to make sure he eats lots and lots of butter, to keep anything from sticking to his arteries.)

So, what will they take back tomorrow? Germ theory? Gravity? Heliocentrism? Bring back phlogiston!

Tags:

[2b2k] Eggs good for you this week

The title of this post is one of my favorite headlines from The Onion.

So, yesterday we’re told that maybe taking a baby aspirin every day is more harmful than helpful, except for those with certain heart disease heart factors. (My doctor has me on ‘em. I’m going to keep take them.)

Today, an article in the Boston Globe reports on a study that says saturate fats don’t clog arteries the way we’ve been told for generations. (In the 1930s, when my grandfather had a heart attack, my grandmother was told to make sure he eats lots and lots of butter, to keep anything from sticking to his arteries.)

So, what will they take back tomorrow? Germ theory? Gravity? Heliocentrism? Bring back phlogiston!

Tags:

[2b2k] Tuttle Club’s expertise clubhouse

Here’s a post from last July — ok, so I’m a little behind in my reading — that describes the Tuttle Club’s first consulting engagement. An open, self-selected group of people converge for an open session with the potential client. They talk, sketch, and do some improv, out of which emerges a set of topics and people for more focused discussion.

This is semi-emergent expertise. I add the “semi” because the initial starting conditions are quite focused, so the potential areas of collaboration and outcomes are thus fairly constrained. But compared to traditional Calf Sock Expertise (i.e., highly paid and trained men in blue suits who believe that focus is the only efficient way to proceed), this is wildly emergent.

Tags:

Jay Rosen on the journalistic quest for innocence

Brilliant, gorgeous piece by Jay Rosen that asks a simple question. Jay takes an investigative piece by David Barstow that he admires. In it, Barstow writes about the Tea Party movement: “It is a sprawling rebellion, but running through it is a narrative of impending tyranny.” Jay asks: Why doesn’t Barstow say that that narrative is false to the point of psychosis? Read what Jay makes of this …

[Later that day:] I’ve had a little back and forth with Jay about this in email, particularly about the journalists’ defense that readers can be counted on to know that the “impending tyranny” idea is false. I don’t buy that defense, and neither does Jay. It means that journalists get out of having to state the truth – there is no impending tyranny – because they can rely on readers agreeing with their own point of view. And we can be quite certain that this is what’s going on because (as Jay points out), if the journalists thought there was any credibility to the claim that Obama is imposing tyranny on us, that would be a far larger story than the Tea Party story in which the claim is embedded. So the journalists get to have their point of view and not have to state it…which makes objectivity into a pretense.

Tags:

[2b2k] Not throwing everything out

I talked yesterday with David Miller, my literary agent and friend. David is the first reader of my drafts (my wife is the first listener) because he has a wonderful head for structure and flow, he understands how books work as an experience for readers as well as how ideas develop in them, he cares about the quality of the book first and foremost, and he’s frank.

David has read drafts of the first two chapters and does not think I have to throw them out entirely. They need more narrative connection and more examples (Examples, my old nemesis. We meet again). And, David suggests, they need a prologue or preface that will set up the book’s problem. David says it needs something like the distinction between the kitchen’s silverware drawer and its miscellaneous drawer in Everything Is Miscellaneous, which gave the reader an easy way of formulating the issue in her mind.

The challenge, of course, is figuring out what that central issue is. I’ve thrashed among several alternatives, each of which would provide a different way of structuring the book. If the book is about the problem that there’s too much to know (which is, after all, the title), then the preface should illustrate that point. If it’s about the growth of networked expertise, then I should present a contrast between the old and new ways of being an expert. If it’s about the restructuring of knowledge, then the preface should give an example of traditional knowledge and new knowledge. If it’s about the socializing of knowledge, then … etc., etc.

I have three times in the past month given a 10-15 minute talk that has gone over pretty well, and that could serve as a setup. It starts with the data-information-knowledge-wisdom pyramid, gives its history, and critiques it on a couple of grounds. It ends by saying that the real problem with it is that it continues our traditional strategy for knowing a world that is too big to know: reducing the field of what’s to be known. But, in a networked world, not only do we have tools available that handle far greater capacity, all that’s available to be known is visible. (I’ve written about this here and here.) The old reductive strategy just isn’t enough any more. I like this way of setting it up, but I agree with David Miller that it still needs a preface, if only because the DIKW pyramid is not as well known as I think it is.

So, I’ve been thinking that I’ll begin it with the contrast between two cases: Darwin unearthing a stubborn fact about barnacles, and the uses Hunch.com wrings out of an endless series of answers to trivial questions about your preferences and experiences. (I had the chance to interview Caterina Fake for an hour last week.) The contrast is between the small world of hard-won facts, and the endless world of tiny, easy facts — nonce facts? — jotted down at 12 per minute. I want the reader to see not only that there are many more facts now, but that the basic role and structuring of facts (and knowledge) have changed.

I’m not convinced Darwin vs. Hunch is the right contrast to draw. My book is not about promoting the particular way of knowing that Hunch.com uses. The book is not about algorithmic combing of huge databases. That’s just one technique for dealing with a knowledge overflow. I’m more interested in the fact that we generate the knowledge overflow, and change our ideas about what a fact is, because we’re now able to do something with facts that nonce-y. So, I have to try to keep the reader from thinking that this is a book about learning without models or about the virtues of massive databases. But, I won’t know how it goes until I write it.

(Why Darwin on barnacles? Mainly because I want to begin with a snarky remark about Thoreau from a comment he made in 1852, which is when Darwin was working on barnacles, busy postponing publishing his evolutionary theory.)

Tags:

[2b2k] Not throwing everything out

I talked yesterday with David Miller, my literary agent and friend. David is the first reader of my drafts (my wife is the first listener) because he has a wonderful head for structure and flow, he understands how books work as an experience for readers as well as how ideas develop in them, he cares about the quality of the book first and foremost, and he’s frank.

David has read drafts of the first two chapters and does not think I have to throw them out entirely. They need more narrative connection and more examples (Examples, my old nemesis. We meet again). And, David suggests, they need a prologue or preface that will set up the book’s problem. David says it needs something like the distinction between the kitchen’s silverware drawer and its miscellaneous drawer in Everything Is Miscellaneous, which gave the reader an easy way of formulating the issue in her mind.

The challenge, of course, is figuring out what that central issue is. I’ve thrashed among several alternatives, each of which would provide a different way of structuring the book. If the book is about the problem that there’s too much to know (which is, after all, the title), then the preface should illustrate that point. If it’s about the growth of networked expertise, then I should present a contrast between the old and new ways of being an expert. If it’s about the restructuring of knowledge, then the preface should give an example of traditional knowledge and new knowledge. If it’s about the socializing of knowledge, then … etc., etc.

I have three times in the past month given a 10-15 minute talk that has gone over pretty well, and that could serve as a setup. It starts with the data-information-knowledge-wisdom pyramid, gives its history, and critiques it on a couple of grounds. It ends by saying that the real problem with it is that it continues our traditional strategy for knowing a world that is too big to know: reducing the field of what’s to be known. But, in a networked world, not only do we have tools available that handle far greater capacity, all that’s available to be known is visible. (I’ve written about this here and here.) The old reductive strategy just isn’t enough any more. I like this way of setting it up, but I agree with David Miller that it still needs a preface, if only because the DIKW pyramid is not as well known as I think it is.

So, I’ve been thinking that I’ll begin it with the contrast between two cases: Darwin unearthing a stubborn fact about barnacles, and the uses Hunch.com wrings out of an endless series of answers to trivial questions about your preferences and experiences. (I had the chance to interview Caterina Fake for an hour last week.) The contrast is between the small world of hard-won facts, and the endless world of tiny, easy facts — nonce facts? — jotted down at 12 per minute. I want the reader to see not only that there are many more facts now, but that the basic role and structuring of facts (and knowledge) have changed.

I’m not convinced Darwin vs. Hunch is the right contrast to draw. My book is not about promoting the particular way of knowing that Hunch.com uses. The book is not about algorithmic combing of huge databases. That’s just one technique for dealing with a knowledge overflow. I’m more interested in the fact that we generate the knowledge overflow, and change our ideas about what a fact is, because we’re now able to do something with facts much smaller than they used to be. So, I have to try to keep the reader from thinking that this is a book about learning without models or about the virtues of massive databases. But, I won’t know how it goes until I write it.

(Why Darwin on barnacles? Mainly because I want to begin with a snarky remark about Thoreau from a comment he made in 1852, which is when Darwin was working on barnacles, busy postponing publishing his evolutionary theory.)

Tags:

After press conferences, what?

After watching President Obama at the Republican Caucus, it’s clearer than ever that press conferences need to go the way of press releases. They are just too constricted for the opportunities and temper of the new connected age. The reporters are too interested in getting headlines, and would rather appear fair and balanced than chase down the truth. We do better, it turns out, when the President is questioned by people who can acknowledge that they really, really disagree with him.

So, what do we replace press conferences with? Or, more realistically, what can we supplement them with?

We know that Question Time in the British Parliament works well in Britain. But, it’d be good for democratic reasons to open it up to The People. Also, why should you have to disagree with the President to press him on an issue?

The problem, of course, is deciding who among us gets to ask a question. So, how about if questions were awarded to people who participate in particularly constructive ways , on any side of an issue, in the comments section of the White House blog (once comments are allowed)? This would be a mighty incentive for engaging civilly in the comments section.

But, then we’d need a way to decide who to pick. If it’s done algorithmically (e.g., have two buttons: I like this comment and I disagree with this comment), it can be gamed. If it’s done by human editors at the White House, it’s subject to charges of favoritism. So, how about if two or three known and respected people in their communities were chosen to select questioners from among the commenters; these people would represent different political views. New selectors would be chosen for each Presidential Q&A session.

Obviously, I don’t know exactly how to do this. But, in the Age of the Web it seems clear to me that we need to supplement press conferences with forums that replace objectivity with transparency, timidity with passion, and professionals with all of us.

Tags:

The Data-Info-Knowledge-Wisdom hierarchy

As part of my Be A Bigger A-Hole resolution, let me note that the Harvard Business Review blog has just run a post of mine that looks at the history of the DIKW pyramid and why it doesn’t make that much sense.

Tags: