Cats and Boxes

Talk about serendipity. Two days after I decide to finally start a blog PeterMe invites me to a bloggers meeting with David Weinberger to discuss his new book Everything is Miscellaneous at the Yahoo! Brickhouse in San Francisco (two colleagues and I happened to be out there for three days). It was a fascinating event for me because a) it exposed me to some non-IA (non-UX even) people that I normally don’t get to talk to, b) it was an interesting look at Yahoo!’s new Brickhouse facilities (very open plan, the biggest projection screen I think i’ve ever seen – probably 30’x15′, a “wall of stickies”, etc).

I’ve recently been reading Tony Ballantyne’s new science fiction trilogy – Recursion, Capacity and Divergence and listening to David talk about his view on “order” made me wonder if “order” has a loose parallel with the Schrodinger’s cat theory (essentially that “there is no single outcome unless it is observed”). We could say that “there is no meaningful order to things unless it is observed” – because of course it is the observer and their context that gives meaning to the order.

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3 Responses to “Cats and Boxes”


  1. 1 David May 18, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    I am just starting to dig into Everything is Miscellaneous and I heard a great interview on NPR. The thing that I keep coming back to is the influence of culture (in the anthropological sense) on the way we categorize. Human beings categorize as involuntarily as we breath. We cannot get away from it. The critical thing to know is when everything is and is not miscellaneous.

    In a collection of objects, like photos on flickr, it is important to avoid a strict classification scheme and allow people to form their own native categories.

    But there are times when an infospace is designed to help the user understand an unknown or complex set of ideas. At that point the wonder of “the miscellaneous” does not work so well.

    Now I have not completed my reading just yet so I hope David Weinberger would agree that there are times to place a rigid categorization scheme on an infospace.

    The key is audience. Flickr is designed to give the entire world random access to any given photo and allow the user to classify them as they see fit. Culture comes in because it is the lense with which we view the world. We place certain things in certain categories because of cultural values.

    When the audience is the self motivated investors in the United States who may or may not be comfortable with the complexities of investing then rigid categorization is a good thing. You can build a narrative and impart knowledge. Structure works for the user. On flickr a rigid structure would actually be a hinderance.

    Anyway – more on my blog once I have completed reading the book.

  2. 2 Richard May 19, 2007 at 11:21 am

    The main thing I took away from listening to David W. and his response to questions was that he’s not suggesting that there be NO categorization, he’s suggesting there are MANY – all appropriate for different users. Alternative periodic tables were discussed for example.

  3. 3 David May 21, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Definitely. I guess the way I see things there are times when the categorization mechansism is better left for the user to define – tagging on flickr – and there are times when the categorization of content should be taken out of the hands of the user. Still reading though.


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