Should it all be Miscellaneous?

I know from the start that much of what I am working through will agitate a great number of the people around campus and the world that I consider colleagues. I apologize in advance, but this is territory I want to explore with others.

Today I attended the Penn State Web Conference and left asking new questions about how the information of the academy should be organized … even in that statement I am making the assumption that we should be organizing it. When I step back, I have to ask myself a simple question — what the hell am I asking? Of course we need to organize it — without our attempt to put content into an organized structure we aren’t climbing the curve to information and are certainly stopping short of knowledge … but, to tell you the truth I am now questioning that notion specifically. I am also rethinking the notion of the systems we are asking users to adopt — content management systems. Even the naming of it has become very frustrating to me … the idea that we need to manage content may not be the right approach at all.

I am reading David Weinberger’s new book, Everything is Miscellaneous and am taking from it the idea that information really wants to be free from the structure we attempt to pack it into — as if information is like the silverware we obsessively place into the drawer separated by the little dividing lines. His observation is that digital world shouldn’t be organized in such rigid first or second order structures — that instead it should be allowed to exist as complete thoughts and rearranged and explored based on the users’ needs or the context seekers are approaching it for. From his book:

We can confront the miscellaneous directly in all its unfulfilled glory. We can do it ourselves and, more significantly, we can do it together, figuring out the arrangements that make sense for us now and the arrangements that make sense a minute later. Not only can we find what we need faster, but traditional authorities cannot maintain themselves by insisting that we have to go to them. The miscellaneous order is not transforming only business. It is changing how we think the world itself is organized and — perhaps more important — who we think has the authority to tell us so.

So what. Well, what I am continuing to think about is the institutional knowledge issue I’ve been exploring over the course of the last few weeks. The Web Conference, while very solid, seems to be dwelling on two things — the big problem with managing the web at a large University and the use of content management to fix it. I am starting to think we are all wrong on both counts. I’ll try to make sense of that.

The idea that we can follow a book filled with instructions on how to do information architecture, web design, usability, and so forth may be crazy. The problems are too large to be solved by following a recipe that seems to work for corporate sites that have a focus on selling something — sure you can argue we are selling something and that is true. The problem I see is that we have stakeholder groups that insist on being included, largely can’t effectively participate, and really don’t have the space in their worlds to worry about the problem. Think about the pressures that compete with our primary need (in my mind that is recruiting new students) within the context of a University website — instantly I think about faculty pages, research centers, information for existing students, knowledge bases, externally facing Intranet like pages, class webpages, and so on (and on and on …). Let me just say it, those books don’t exist. I haven’t come across the process for managing that process. The system is too complex to look at it and arrive at an answer that makes them all happy.

The second thing I am concerned about is the almost fanatical need to push a tool as a solution. I am all for content management systems (hell I use them every day), but I am afraid that we will sell them as the solution and that they will lead to unfulfilled promises. The CMS will be part of the answer, but why have we lost our ability to look at the overall system? Not a CMS system, I am talking about taking a systemic view on the issue.

I don’t have the answer, but I spent some time talking to a few people I find very smart and suggested we take a step back and look more closely at what has made Wikipedia successful … I am thinking specifically about the governance models around what does and doesn’t see the light of day. What if we did an exercise that asks a subset of our dozens upon dozens of stakeholders to strip away all the noise around the Institutional webspace and focus only on the handful of critical concepts and directed intense, top down energy on that? Below this threshold, let go of control. Completely. Give the users the right and ability to write what needs to be written — let them easily collaborate, share, edit, tag, and create the information that makes sense. Don’t make them worry about hierarchy and navigation. Let University Relations work with the right people to manage say 100 pages within the Institution’s webspace and then let everyone else manage everything else. Make the stuff we really need to share so obvious that it just works and then just let search lead people to the rest. No idea if it would work, but after listening to and interacting with a couple hundred web professionals today, the current system isn’t cutting it.

My parting thought is if we are actually doing what I suggest, but in a massively inefficient way — everyone chooses their tools, establishes their own processes, and builds their own site maps. How does one make the leap from a massively decentralized process to a massively coordinated decentralized collaborative approach? Wow, I have no idea if any of that made any sense. I need reaction and feedback. If you made it this far, I’ll buy the beer to talk this over.

36 thoughts on “Should it all be Miscellaneous?

  1. That’s one beer I’m looking forward to.

    Good post, Cole! Exciting to follow your thinking.
    A few responses.
    1) What do you think of the role for off-site content hosting? i.e., Google Sites, Livejournal, OurMedia, etc. I could imagine one outcome from your Wikipedia-fied approach being a flight to external hosts (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing).

    2) How do you anticipate handling potentially greater legal threats? i.e., more user freedom = more freedom to outrage in terms of FERPA, copyright, accessibility, harrassment, etc.

    3) Could you see a role for the library in helping cat-herd this new, emergent order? For example, librarians mining the new PSU web aura for tagged terms, which could be fed into a new ontology.

    There’s more, but I’ll let you fire back, first.

  2. Complexity exists at PSU at the macro level, not at the dept. level – which is where we are running into the 900 lb gorilla. Depts. make a web site that is logical for them, self-contained and seemingly complete. A CMS helps this, but isn’t absolutely essential.

    Sounds good, until you multiply that by 1000, 5000, etc. Then you have chaos. Competing information org. schemes, architectures, world view, etc. To an outsider, this is truly chaos. And you’re right, there is no book to guide us here.

    But I half-cringe at the idea of no, or self-made architecture, for the following reasons:

    1. People (faculty, staff, students) don’t have the self-organizational skills and savvy needed to fully access the idea you propose.
    2. We are locked into a linear, tutorial model for delivering most information, especially courses. Part of this is tradition, part of this is the tools we use. Even the latest course content management systems are built on the traditional linear, tutorial model.
    3. Faculty need some reassurance that their students will receive ALL the content they deem necessary. Again, linear tutorials at least give some semblance of delivering that. What you’re proposing is much more discovery and/or constructivist in nature.
    4. Assessment to date is built around the assurances that content is complete covered the same for all.

    So what do you need for your vision?

    1. Training for all on how to effectively search for information and self-structure that information.
    2. New methodologies and tools that enable faculty and designers to develop content and place it in systems that allow for non-linear access, ad-hoc structures and organization at the individual level.
    3. Tracing mechanisms that guide a learner that is missing some key content areas.
    4. A new type of assessment that reflects not only specific knowledge gains, but some indication that the individual’s capabilities to acquire related (near) knowledge and seemingly non-related (far) knowledge is continuously expanding.

    This is all off the top of my head, so it’s incomplete, but what I’m writing is it’s not enough to build a new way to deliver data –> information –> knowledge, we have to craft a systemic change at all levels of the university for this to succeed.

    Should we build a pilot system? Sure! At the same time, we need to look at what it takes to effectively utilize it, from conceptualization to assessment.

  3. Hi Cole,
    I agree with Brett and Bryan–great, thought provoking post!

    Here are my thoughts:
    Mark Greenfield asked in his presentation today:
    Will Higher Ed. Web Sites Become Irrelevant?
    His answer: They will become less relevant. Distributed content is the future. (He noted that two years ago he was working 100% on Web pages based on his University’s server. Now, that percentage has gone down to 75% (I think–maybe it was 80%)).

    Anyway, I think what many of us are struggling with is a general feeling that the obsessively tweaked, CMS-driven web site, in its traditional form, is no longer the answer. It is incredibly freeing to think of an online environment where content flows freely and is not hemmed in by traditional organizational structures.

    That said, I think that future will arrive organically, and will construct itself over time–just as some of our content and tools have already begun migrating out to places like YouTube, Flickr, Wikipedia, etc… We may always (in the near future, at least) have a core web site like the one you mention, with 100 critical, perhaps purely organizationally relevant pages. But our content can and will migrate elsewhere.

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  5. Bryan … I’ll start with you as you are the first in the list (not so miscellaneous, huh?) … let me attempt to get the thoughts rolling.

    First of all thanks for the comment. Not sure what I really think of off-site content hosting, but I am inclined to say I like it as long as the terms of service (TOS) don’t destroy the originating content provider’s rights. I think youtube as an example is a great place to really share lots of killer video content. A couple of weeks ago we created a premier channel as a youtube partner — I was able to work with a friend there to get it going. What we’ve seen is absolutely incredible exposure to the content we have posted. Exposure like nothing we’d see from one of our buried PSU sites. I hate the idea that as a policy we would push people there, but external content sites are hard to not like — especially if the TOS works in favor of the individual. It is a whole other question for institutional content, but the beauty of early thinking is not having to think too hard about it. I sense another post related to this issue.

    In response to the second point, I am not suggesting a total free for all. I am advocating for a governance structure much like wikipedia uses — special teams with the specific role of helping to guide the acceptance of community created content. This can’t happen at the level I am thinking with a total open model — no way, no how. What I am suggesting is that a set of organically grown governance bodies be established to guide the pen as it crafts the content. Something gets edited and the team in “charge” gets notified of the update. Most content lives under the “discussion” tab of the wiki, not the main article space. It stays there until the community and the governing body feels the time is right. It will take time, but those participating on both sides will learn how to work within the community-based constraints. It might even lead to better writing!

    Finally in terms of the Libraries role in all this — for my dollar the Librarians on my campus are some ofthe smartest people I’ve met. I can see a time when we would need their guidance. What I am thinking about is a place where the University owns the most critical information and the rest is left open for community creation, discoverable by search. Most Librarians know a little bit about that. Now, given that concept, is placing an emphais on organizing an intentionally miscellanoeous set of content killing the effect? No idea.

    Bryan, I hope I clarified to some degree. Fire back! BTW, maybe we need to get some people in a room to think about all this (and to drink that beer).

  6. “… a place where the University owns the most critical information, and the rest is left open for community creation…”

    Not sure I agree that’s where things should go – why shouldn’t the community have access to the best information? Is the split based on where the funding came from? If something was publicly funded, does the Community have a right to the information? I don’t have an answer, but it feels wrong to lock the “best” info away…

  7. Where do you see web applications, like applying for admission, registering for classes, etc., falling into this un-organization? Obvious candidates for being very organized, I would think.

    But then there are those things that bridge the gap between being an app and being an ‘ordinary’ web page – a good example is the campus map for Mississippi. Not only is it a map, but once you drill down to the building level, it will tell you what classes are in what rooms, at what times, and capacity for each room. While the average Joe user might not see this as an application, it is in terms of development on the backend.


  8. What seems to be missing here is that systems to organize information exist because of our social need to categorize the world around us. When we decontextualize information or knowledge by talking about a system, or about freeing information we leave behind the very people who make use of both to help them navigate their world. Like it or not, we as social creatures need “systems,” content management or otherwise, to help us make sense of the world. When we begin to understand and appreciate why we need systems, then I think we’ll get a better handle on making better use of them from a development standpoint. It is also important to place in context developmental needs around systems and the like. If you have little investment in a system, b/c you are 16 and simply have not lived long enough, it seems easy to roll your own. The trouble comes when you are 30 and trying to figure out why your investments are not panning out; behind you are 16 year olds trying to re-invent the world and in front of you are the 40+ crowd desperately trying to hold the line.

  9. IMHO you are talking about the only way to effect *real* change, by changing the structure of the system itself (the parts and their relationships). Anything else is mostly moving around the same set of blocks. (A beneficial ecxercise in many cases but I think folly when you’re discussng the notion of content control in the age we live in. It’s kind of like thinking that if we improve the buggy whip we’ll be able to thrive in the era of the automobile.) To affect thi9s type of change two things need to happen: The value of the new system must be greater than the system it’s attempting to replace and the cost of the making the move must be worth it. Not to us–but to those we serve. So part of the implementation would have to be aiding the discovery process where those most impacrted by the change see that the benefits to them outweigh the costs.

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  11. Cole,

    Not sure that I totally buy this approach.

    How would a student applying to attend classes know the official process, some blog somewhere outsider Penn State? That doesn’t make sense to me.

    I think there is a place for ‘official’ information and that needs to be maintained in a CMS to protect the end-user from false information. Not to long ago, you could do a search and find a half dozen PSU sites with inaccurate or out-of-date information on some subject. Which one do I believe? The CMS has helped with this type of information. Formal information needs to be maintained and structured.

    Regarding CMS, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath. If you look under the covers, Wikipedia is a CMS. It just has a different governance model.

    One area we have not paid too much attention to is search. I think this is an area that we can learn a lot from the gurus. We need to use better search technologies that automatically created structured metadata from unstructured content. While I highly respect the Library community, this whole space is changing pretty fast and new ways of machine indexing are going to change that landscape dramatically in the next ten years. Information retrieval technologies could be a way to bring these two differing views closer together. Formal and informal information could exist in the same space without drastically taking away anything from the user. Each of these communities are necessary and add value. I think we need to be search for how we bring them closer together.

  12. My own present obsession is framing all of this stuff in a way that it doesn’t completely freak out the higher-ups. A distributed content strategy — even if “massively coordinated” — generates lots of interest, but is still seen as somehow lacking seriousness…

    Maybe a focus on governance models is the discussion we need to have, though the thought of shepherding that process through a large institution (with nothing like consensus on what a content strategy should look like) gives me The Fear.

    In any event, a provocative and useful post. Fantastic stuff lately, you’re on a roll Cole!

  13. Mike, please know that I am not saying we would ignore the rest of the web and make the student looking to apply go search for content outside the Institution. My point is that maybe there is a better model to identify and manage the “top tier” of the web content at a large Institution and staff that effort appropriately.

    I also absolutely think the CMS is the driving force behind managing content that is critical to the overall communication strategy of the Institution … I mentioned in my post an arbitrary number of pages (I draw a dotted line under 100) that UR would maintain in cooperation with Colleges, Campuses, and other critical information sources. Under the dotted line, I am advocating for a new way to think about governance — my point in invoking Wikipedia is b/c I believe at its core it does a few things really well and the way it governs from the side is brilliant. Without that, IMO, it just wouldn’t work.

    Wiki, Drupal, Plone, WordPress, and others are all great tools … what I am asking for are some new ways of thinking and some fresh ideas to move the conversation forward. I think we’ve refined the existing model to a place that gets us close, but will ultimately leave us short of our goals. I am not proposing a solution in as much I am proposing just another thought to throw into the fray.

    I agree completely with your thoughts as they relate to the importance of search. I think it does hold the overall key to the next phase of the web … so much content is being produced from so many sources and finding the right pieces of it is critical.

  14. I’m surprised to say that I think I get it. There’s some great thinking here.

    Let me preface by saying that up until yesterday, I was one who had concerns about the level of quality in a wiki. At the conference, I heard Christian say that there’s lots of bad content out there- wikis provide a fast and easy way to change that- and I was struck by the zen bullet right in the forehead. Of course.

    One more step is accepting that there are at least two aspects to the Penn State web: the business aspects and the academic aspects. Forgive the gross oversimplification, but giving University Relations/Public Information their space to do what they need to do, and do it exactly the way Publications and Marketing dictates (Cole’s top 100 pages) makes a good bit of sense considering that purpose is consistent throughout the system. The Academic and departmental needs vary tremendously, though. An open area of discussion for that remainder sounds so, well, appropriately Academic.

    And I’m even starting to thing an admission form could be in a wiki, with governance supplied by the intended college.

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  16. This I completely agree with….

    “I mentioned in my post an arbitrary number of pages (I draw a dotted line under 100) that UR would maintain in cooperation with Colleges, Campuses, and other critical information sources. Under the dotted line, I am advocating for a new way to think about governance…”

    Especially if it could create a consistency which might trickle down ‘under the dotted’ line. If it could be shown that users were achieving a higher success rate or level of satisfaction, it would be a great selling point.


  17. Eric … this is the primary thought here. Turn over control of the most important pages to create a very consistent message and provide a framework (opportunities and assistance in participating) for the rest. I think people below would be interested to mimic the quality “above.” Might be worth thinking about.

  18. Hi Cole
    EIM made me think a lot about education too. Take a small example – academic referencing. We _teach_ students the very formal methods for doing this, and even give them marks for doing it properly. It is an academic rite of passage. Yet what is referencing really? It’s metadata to help you find a _physical_ object. Yet if everything is metadata, then a quote or link is as good.
    I did a slidecast on EIM and its implications for education if you’re interested:
    PS – do you do transatlantic beers?

  19. Brett said “Sounds good, until you multiply that by 1000, 5000, etc. Then you have chaos. Competing information org. schemes, architectures, ….” That’s held true even in the microcosm of WebLion’s wiki ( It’s 2 years old, has two dozen regular contributors, gets a dozen edits a day, accumulates two hundred new pages a year, and we try to keep a straight face as we present it on the front page as a polyhierarchy. Even with such a small site, we need a several-day-long yearly gardening session to keep it under control. During those sessions, our biggest problems are (1) missing metadata that we didn’t forsee needing and (2) out-of-date info.

    From this, I suspect any nontrivial-sized knowledge store will need dedicated curators of some kind. Perhaps it would end up looking like Wikipedia, with users polarizing into those who correct typos and those who spend 10 hours a week lovingly gardening it.

    I agree that we probably can’t profitably enforce a hierarchy on a site as big as Penn State’s. For my money, I’d like a combination of really good search and wiki-like links that don’t make one manually ascend out of some departmental (or other) silo in order to find related items in a different department.

    Interesting post, Cole!

  20. Mike, I think we have for the most part — at least we’ve been moving that way. We have a website that at the top is maintained by a group of people within ETS … really the UR model I am suggesting. These “controlled” pages are really the basic organizational pages — projects, structure, goals, mission. Everything below that is a blog that anyone within the organization can publish to if they wish. Right from the main page is a link to the wiki … that is open to people to create content. At the moment our governance model is very loosely defined … not at all at the level we should have, but there is a disclaimer at the top that reads:

    “Please keep in mind this in an open and working account of several projects within Education Technology Services at Penn State. In most cases what you will read here are thoughts about various projects that are not in concrete form. This is an open wiki (to the PSU community) in that you are invited to contribute to the content within. In most cases, we hope you will respect this space as one that is centered on the work being done in ETS. Please feel free to contribute in a responsible way.”

    So at the core I think we are getting close to the thoughts I laid out in my post. Are we there? No and I doubt we’ll ever arrive at a real answer. In my mind there is room for new thinking and discussion around this (and all sorts of) topic.

  21. Erik … I agree that to get to this we have to really rethink all sorts of things. I think a governance model would provide a framework where natural roles would come to light … interesting observation. I think the ability to search and find good content will eventually win out over a top down imposed hierarchy.

    I appreciate the story of the Weblion wiki … I think college and departmental websites have the same issues. In the case of the WL team, you take it upon yourselves to proactively engage in gardening the content in an ongoing way. I wonder what it would take to enable/empower new groups of people to feel that way about Institutional content?

  22. Cole,
    You said: “…you take it upon yourselves to proactively engage in gardening the content in an ongoing way. I wonder what it would take to enable/empower new groups of people to feel that way about Institutional content?”

    For me, it’s twofold:
    1. Give me edit access. If I could have fixed the almost wholely misleading New Employee Guide when I started at ETS, I would have in a heartbeat. If I ruled the world, I’d give almost everybody at the University edit access to almost everything and *maybe* moderate the page that says how much tuition costs (there’s the use for the CMS). Version-track everything so you never lose anything. If it turns out someone sucks at writing, workflow his posts through a pool of copy editors. If someone grossly abuse her power, post her picture in a prominent Hall of Shame or fire her.

    2. Start with a corpus in decent shape. When I arrive at wiki page that’s a total wreck, I give up in despair and leave. When it needs only a little love, I fix it up.

  23. Interesting! Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of facilitating findability. Historically, the tools that have aided findability have been information architectures and search. In future, those tools (in their current forms) won’t always be sufficient to give web users the content they want, when they want it. Users need new tools that can pan the ever-increasing digital river and sift out relevant golden nuggets… maybe even put those nuggets together in new and useful ways.

    From the user’s point of view, does it matter if the content she wants is smeared across N different “sites”, each with their own information architecture and visual styling? Not necessarily, if she can *easily* find stuff that satisfies her. Even today, she may not even see content on the site where it originated. RSS feeds and web services grab stuff and repackage it for use in new contexts (e.g. other sites) and new channels (e.g. feed readers rather than web browsers). This kind of repackaging will only increase as more people cotton onto the idea of the semantic web.

    So what are the implications for us in higher ed? Lots.

    (1) We need to increase findability by adding metadata to our content in ways that can be picked up by current and to-be-invented tools. For instance, we should all be learning more about microformats, and implementing them wherever relevant. We probably want to help others pick up our content and present it in their own contexts (e.g. by making RSS feeds and web services more readily available).

    (2) We need to keep in mind that not all content is text. More and more web content is in the form of spoken words, still pictures and videos (… and in the future, who knows what). This non-text content also needs to be labeled appropriately so that it can be picked up and sifted by whatever tools are available to the user.

    (3) We should be helping invent tools that will help users “pan the digital river” effectively. One I recently came across is “Twine”, . I’d be interested to learn more about others.

    (4) I don’t believe we should abandon information architectures of our own. I think they will still be incredibly important. The point is, they are increasingly not the only thing we need to consider.

  24. Erik … agreed on the NEG, but if I recall you started before I did, correct? I hope that policy has changed — and if it hasn’t shame on us. I will work towards that. And I really like your second point — make me work to be a part of the community, not to pull it out of the depths — although on second thought, it might be worth our extra effort to do so … not sure on that one.

  25. As an institution, we have so fundamentally failed in our mission to inform and engage our users and stakeholders, that a radical restructuring of our processes for creating and finding our Web stuff is a tantalizing thought. Sometimes it seems that the only thing that saves us is that the Web presence of most other institutions sucks as badly as ours. Anything that would shake up the myths and misunderstandings that drive so many decisions about the Web is an instant candidate for consideration.

    As a very clueful conference attendee suggested, innovations in our Web presence are going to bubble up from the grassroots, not from decisions made at the top. So, if resources and applications are going to allow user engagement and participation – before I’m retired – they’re going to happen because the local passionate designer/developer has a supervisor who doesn’t mind giving up control of the Web to the staff and to the users; and is willing to take the blame if the something goes wiggy.

    Changes like that also have to be very spotty. A cool lab here, a sweaty Web shop there, a department needing a boost in enrollment over there; slowly and gradually more experiments and cheep failures and a few successes over time. But it might not look like what Cole has in mind. Which brings to my mind one candidate shop: a little place called ETS with a good share of passionate and genius designers and developers just itching to engage. And in the midst of a massive site redesign, no less.

  26. Cole, you said: “… it might be worth our extra effort…”

    Keeping with the idea of community, I think a sprint could get an abysmal wiki in shape.

  27. dave said “I think a sprint could get an abysmal wiki in shape”, and right he is. We’ve done that on some of our more involved wiki pages. Perhaps a migration path for the University as a whole would be to shove a section of the web presence into a CMS and then really go to town on it: fix stuff, delete stuff, be extremely bold. The trick is to have it version-controlled so we can make major edits with impunity. Go till it’s 95% done, then put it live. Then repeat with another section. That process should work if our major problem is fear. If our major problem is apathy, we’ll need a different solution.

  28. An interesting notion of using a sprint to manage a softer side of the web. We usually think of a developer sprint to bang out a tough programmatic task — I like the idea of migrating these more technically focused themes into other areas as well. I think we’re all approaching community in interesting ways and I really think we are all coming to new conclusions about how to leverage what we are learning.

    Could the practice of the sprint be introduced to stakeholders as it relates to managing/working web content? Would be interesting to see how that would go.

  29. In the spirit of what Cole is saying here, such a sprint would offer a double opportunity if it were conducted in the open-space spirit: include end-users, “outsiders,” others not usually invited.

    We might have a hope of restoring oxygen to the Web if we take an approach along these lines rather than what has been proposed recently, in the usual top-down fashion. Is anyone else unenthused and a bit depressed by the statement, “The Web Review Committee should be composed of both University administrators and faculty members who are charged with this ‘oversight’ responsibility”? I am.

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  31. Rose … all I am saying is that if we return the power to the community, we also have to find new ways of engaging leadership. If UR took over the top 100 pages, their work should be informed and guided (at least as it pertains to curricular descriptions) from informed and will faculty. Same should hold true for content that discusses a College’s perspective — administrators (and those they select) should also have a voice.

    For the pages below the line, governance would still need to occur. What I would propose is that a mix of informed and willing participants be selected to help guide the work of the community. Not enforce rigid rules, but help oversee the collective voice of the University. Does that clarify or am I still missing your point?

  32. Cole,

    I had pretty much the exact same idea as you some three years ago. We should talk– a beer would be nice. 🙂

    I can tell you how it went. Bottom-line, you can try, but in higher education the control-freaks will come out of the woodwork to break the conditions which make these tools work. The values may be baked-in, but they won’t last. Little by little they will try to impose hierarchy and the silos will begin to form. My thinking now is that the mechanisms for production have to be outside the academy.

    I’ll send you a link to one of the saddest wikis you’ll ever experience.


  33. Cole

    I have been wading through (slogging through) this book as well. I find it to be rather tough. It’s one of those reads where I find myself arguing with him more than agreeing.

    The bottom line (Way at the end of this comment) is this: Weinberger as simply rediscovered ‘hypertext.”

    Tagging, and categories, and all those things that he says make our digital experience “miscellaneous” and thus “not organized” actually make our experience infinitely structure-able” and re-structurable.

    The fact is, for all his discussions about silverware, and tags, and flickr, we are still creating card catalogs. We all participate in creating them, perhaps, but when all is said and done, if someone has not tagged in advance something, we still cannot find an object (atom or digital) with that tag. The Catalog is larger, and can be searched more quickly, but it is still a catalog with the work done, on the front end.

    For instance, tagging is great–but it requires us to create the tags for our stories as we find them. If I “tag” a story as a favorite, but put no tags on it, then finding it can ONLY be done when searching for stories I have marked. The more things I mark, the more ways you can find it, but this is not lacking structure (the way being truly miscellaneous in a silverware drawer would be) but rather is a potentially complex structure.

    Yes, I know he talks more about that when he writes about the smart tagging, which, to my mind, leaves me wondering if his discussion doesn’t just simply “jump the shark” about a third of the way through.

    There just simply isn’t anything “NEW” here. It is the heart of what hypertext was supposed to be. We create links. We can read/explore/engage in (supposedly) non-linear ways. Actually, it was still “linear, in that you click a link, then another, then another–but until TIME no longer flows linearly, we are, well… stuck.

    Might I suggest that the PSU websites are already (to follow Weinberger) miscellaneous. I can use the search tool to find what I am seeking quite quickly, without having to follow the arboreous structure created when webs are designed. That should be enough–don’t you think?

  34. Great question, Cole. I have some more fuel to add to that fire: Rather than draw an arbitrary line at certain top-level pages, why not look at the purpose/audience of the pages?

    Are the pages in question marketing/PR pages aimed at prospective students, alumni and other visitors? If so, leave them in a CMS coordinated by the PR/marketing types.

    Are the pages intended for internal staff documentation & training? Make use of PennState WikiSpaces because the information can be quickly updated by anyone, can assume any structure at any time, and could break down interdepartmental silos of information. (Example:

    Are the pages for existing students & faculty? Allow them to the freedom and flexibility to use the tools they need to provide the unique learning experiences their courses require.

  35. Pingback: » Blog Archive » on content management and communities

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