Everything Is Miscellaneous, by David Weinberger
I'm always intrigued when my experience with a book is different from the majority of readers who post reviews on Amazon. That's definitely the case with this one, Everything Is Miscellaneous, by David Weinberger. As of this posting, Amazon shows 12 customer reviews averaging 4-1/2 stars. More on that in a moment...
The core premise of the book is simple enough: In the physical world, an object can only be in one place at a time, so we generally categorize things that way. In the virtual world, however, objects can be categorized in an infinite number of different ways. For example, a 2007 Barry Bonds baseball card can only be in one stack/box and you better know where to find it if you're looking for it among the 10,000+ other cards in your collection. On the other hand, if you're building a baseball card database, you could have all sorts of keywords associated with that card including: Giants, home runs, steroids (sorry, couldn't resist), etc. That's the beauty of the virtual vs. the physical world; you can then search for his card using any of those keywords/tags you've attached to it.
Weinberger spends a lot of time providing examples of how all this tagging can look like a mess, especially when compared to a library's card catalog system, one of his common physical world examples. Again, it all makes sense, but this was effectively laid out in the first 50-100 pages, which means that the rest of the book was more of a rehash of that core concept. This is one of those books that could easily have been summarized in 5 pages in getAbstract, for example.
To be fair, Weinberger did present one example later in the book that I found to be very interesting:
Imagine, for instance, when electronic books are cheap and high-quality enough to begin displacing printed books. Every time a student highlights or annotates a page, that information will be used -- with permission -- to enhance the public metadata about the book. We'll be able to ask our books to highlight the passages most often reread by poets, A students, professors of literature, or Buddhist priests.
Pretty cool idea, don't you think?
Getting back to the Amazon reviews... This is definitely one of those books you either love or hate. The 12 reviews feature 7 five-stars and 3 one-star ratings. I'm afraid I tend to agree with more of the commentary in the lower ratings. Again, valid concept, but not something that requires 200 pages to explain.
Speaking of which, I wonder how sophisticated Amazon's product ranking and recommendation services are. For example, let's say I write a review, giving book "A" a one-star rating. There are other one-star ratings for that same book, written by other customers. Let's also say one of those customers who gave a one-star rating to book "A" also gave a five-star rating to book "B" and another one-star rating to book "C". Would Amazon use all that information to include book "B", but not book "C", in future recommendations for me? They certainly have the depth of information to mine for something like this and it would be nice to know that incoming recommendations have some bearing on what you've liked/disliked in the past, rather than basing it simply off what you've bought in the past!
Joe ... I'm about 75-pages into EVERYTHING IS MISC. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'll be able to make it to the end. I already understand the premise that "information is most valuable when it is thrown into a big digital 'pile' to be filtered and organized by users themselves." Not sure I'm going to get greater understanding reading the remainder of the book.
I can't help but think how EVERYTHING IS MISC. would benefit as a digital-only release. Weinberger should have followed through on the concept of "miscellanizing" the book's information by using digital bits. Instead, he relies on using old "order rules" of organizing his book into chapters and using a staid index to catalog information contained in the book.
Since he singles out the old order rules as being flawed, I found it odd that he followed this inefficient way to organize his book.
Posted by: johnmoore (from Brand Autopsy) | July 03, 2007 at 02:01 PM
Hi John. You make an interesting and ironic point. Btw, your blog is one of my favorites -- keep up the great work!
Posted by: Joe Wikert | July 04, 2007 at 09:40 AM
I've not read the Weinberger book (& doubt I ever will) but I like the concept of shared annotations in the digital environment. It reminds me of the thing I like about used books: seeing the passages that someone highlighted before, the notes in the margin.
Posted by: Jeff | July 04, 2007 at 05:21 PM
I agree with the point you make about this book and about Seth Godin's book. I find that many business self-help books have a premise that could be made in an eight or a ten page magazine article. I thought this about Wikinomics, for instnace and From Good to Great. How do they get entire books out of these ideas?
Enjoy the blog!
Posted by: Barbara Gavin | July 05, 2007 at 11:49 AM