Organized in the Cloud

As I reflect on my time at the Project Bamboo workshop held at Princeton University last week I am left with a few thoughts. While not as stunning to me as was my Berkman at 10 reflections, the Project Bamboo workshop did leave me with my head swimming with activity. The Project Bamboo workshops focus specifically on the needs of the Humanities community and bringing to light challenges and potential solutions to these newly (or not so newly) discovered issues. Challenges such as research method support, research management systems, tagging, discovery, describing objects that otherwise seem indescribable, and so much more were teased out by the 100 or so participants. During the first day I was struck with something as I spent time in the first table activity — in a modern sense, we tend to organize materials in the cloud better than we do locally. There was context to this discussion that I won’t get into, but it started me down a path that I am interested in exploring more.

Here is a tangible example of what I mean … on my iMac at home I have probably in the neighborhood of 7,000 local photos of travel, my children, friends, landscapes, and all the other things we take pictures of. Several hundred of them do have some form of meta data assocaited with them — most are simply tagged with four or five stars, while a few I have renamed or even organized into albums. But at the end of the day there are thousands that are simply disorganized (other than date and other EXIF meta data that comes pre-packaged upon import).

My Flickr Stats

Now, compare that with my Flickr space … as of today, there are 1,813 photos on Flickr that are tagged, have been given titles, and even several hundred with descriptions. This may seem normal, but I see something sort of strange in it. My personal repository at home is largely disorganized (perhaps miscellaneous) and yet I trust my true organizational structure to a third party in the cloud. It really has me wondering about how one goes about synchronizing the offline universe of local storage with the more structured cloud concept. Where is the application that does that for me?

This is a simple example, but it also makes me think about the literally hundreds of documents I have on Google Docs that are neatly organized with tags compared to the thousands I have on hard drives throughout my home. Why do we do this? I asked my friend and colleague, Bryan Alexander, and he told me as we got on the elevator, “everyone likes to dress up in public.” I’ve thought about that comment and I think there is something to it — and I know when Bryan reads that he’ll say it was an in the moment comment, but it seems to hold true. So what do we think in a collective sense? Does anyone have thoughts they want to explore with me?

10 thoughts on “Organized in the Cloud

  1. maybe I’m just excessively anal about it, but every photo I keep gets star rated, titled, and tagged in Aperture. Anything with 4 stars or higher gets a description. THEN I start sending it up to Flickr and the photoblog… I do find myself searching Flickr pretty often for my own photos, because they’re always available (although I keep forgetting that photos earlier than 2004 aren’t on Flickr…) but my home library is the gospel. That’s where the high res originals are, and where the metadata that describes them is most important. To me.

    I’m not that anal about everything though – I don’t have offline copies of my blog posts, tagged and organized on my hard drive. I do keep backups of the blog and blog database, but my posts “live” online. My photos “live” in my home collection…

  2. That might have been an off-the-cuff response, but there is an element of truth to it. I am more concerned about the organization of my online identity (flickr,, even blog categories) than I am in what I have on my multiple hard drives, for the simple fact that others are looking through these things and it is easier for them to see what’s there. Also, I will admit that I don’t have the best organization yet–it’s still a work in progress as time permits–but it is where I wish to have things organized for easy access. I’m discovering everything IS miscellaneous, and what I need depends on how it will be used, and the organization changes every time I search for something. This is easier to do online and “in the cloud” because the older method of organization is on my hard drive, and harder to find things if it isn’t organized in my current train of thought. Still a cloud in my mind, but I’m working on it, and I think others are too.

  3. D, interesting. I’ve watched you evolve you love of photography the last couple of years and remember you blogging about your move to Aperture. I also see Tweets from you talking about actually taking time to really select the best shots from your digital “film” after shooting. I am not quite that together with it. For the most part, if I shoot it the picture ends up in my iPhoto account. I just haven’t taken the time to be more organized and it worries me.

    Reminds me a lot like the shoeboxes I used to keep pictures in — always promising to label the boxes or put them in albums … that only happened a couple of times after a big trip to London and after the birth of the Girl. These days I live in the “storage is cheap” world and live a foolishly disorganized local life. Maybe its time to rethink that?

  4. I think for me.. my local hard drives are a lot like the ‘junk drawer’ in the kitchen where you just throw everything. You know “where it is” and you know where to look if you ever need it, but it’s not organized and pretty. I always make the attempt to be really organized every time I get a new machine and I tell myself that I’ll keep things labeled the same, and organized the same way, but inevitably that falls apart over time.

    That being said, I’m also the kind of person who is very aware of any inconvenience I may be causing others and so when I put things online, I spend more time tagging them, using keywords, putting them in ‘sets’ on Flickr, etc. Not only to make it easier for ME, but for everyone else.

    Chances are good that no one I know will ever be digging through my junk drawer in the kitchen, but chances are extremely good that strangers will be rummaging through my online files, photos and blog posts.

  5. Interesting thoughts, and definitely true in my case. I think part of the reason (for me anyway) is that if it’s stored locally, my brain says “Hey, I have physical access to this thing, and if I need to find something, I can do it. It might take hours, but I’ll find it eventually”. Whereas in the cloud, I’ve become so accustomed to how huge it is, and therefore realize that I need to put some form of metadata on it for me to even have a slight chance of ever finding it again.

    The fact that the two (local & net based) are getting closer and closer to being the same thing, it becomes even more important to categorize.

  6. That’s very nice of you to remember my saying, Cole.

    The other commentators have fleshed it out well. We do tend to armor ourselves when we go out. Even anti-styles are a deep form of style, even of formality.

    So the metaphor applies to our information presentation (info-mimesis, anyone?). When we read papers aloud, for example, we usually end up crafting thoughts into something passable. Online, we either rely on someone else to do formatting (think Usenet, or blog platforms) or obsess about design ourselves (again, anti-design is a strategy).

    With Web 2.0, we’re conscious of self-presenting to a degree. Sometimes it fails, as when people upload a ton of images to Flickr and don’t bother naming files. Or when we target a niche audience knowing it will grate on other audiences’ eyes (think MySpace). But otherwise we’re aware of other people looking at our metadata, naming, document selection.

    Pedagogically, this is linked to the boom resulting when students published papers or ideas to Usenet or Web 1.0, back in the 1990s. Audience 101.

  7. Well, might I suggest we all follow two separate schema; one for us, and one for the world. Generally speaking, I suspect we don’t just “toss all our pictures into a drawer.” There is, undoubtedly, some structure to the filing on our hard drives. Either folders by date taken, or SOMETHING. And, even if we don’t file them that way, the computer can quickly sort by date taken. Why is date-taken useful? Because I generally know when I did certain things in my life, and thus can still rather quickly perform a boolean or a bubble-sort through my “data.”

    Of course, very few people know what I was doing on specific dates, so finding my pictures of interest to “others” will require some sort of tagging that will make my pictures (and other data) accessible to the masses.

    Again, this is my critical evaluation of the book “Everything is Miscellaneous.” In reality, by tagging, NOTHING is truly “tossed in the drawer” but rather infinitely definable and thus infinitely “SPECIFIC” rather than just “Miscellaneous.”

  8. Oh, and with the advent of GPS tagging directly into the EXIF data for photographs, I can (hopefully soon) now search for “those pictures I took at MIT, back in 2005” quite quickly…

    Ahh, the beauty of faster CPU cycles. It allows us to be “elegantly sloppy” through search.

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