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?