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Everything is miscellaneous meets metacrap

My favorite doctor / philosopher of the web, David Weinberger has a new book out, called Everything is Miscellaneous, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

In conjunction with the book, David is doing a series of podcast interviews, and the first is an interview with Cory Doctorow about his 2001 rant on Metacrap.

I've had many discussions over the years about metacrap—both about the ideas in Cory's article, and about Cory's article itself. There's a lot I could say / write about all of that, but, briefly: I'm a fan of the article, I regularly need to discuss similar issues with clients, the specific points in the article are only occasionally useful to bring up in these discussions, and I find it counterproductive when colleagues or clients see the article as a series of "answers" rather than as a series of "questions."

In the realm of user experience / information architecture work that I do, context is always a critical factor in any discussion. So, for example, Cory's point #2.3 is that "People are Stupid" (when they are in the role of deciding about how to enter data). But, in my experience, in some specific contexts, some people are very resoundingly not stupid about this, at all.

So, I tend to look at Cory's points, like "People are Stupid," as a question to ask, e.g., in the context at hand, how likely is it that someone will enter data in a "stupid" way where the system assumes or depends on non-stupidity?

But, getting back to David's interview with Cory: David and Cory discuss what they see as the disadvantages of "explicit metadata" (what Cory addresses in Metacrap) vs the advantages of "implicit metadata." I found these terms of the be double-extra-jargony, and had some trouble understanding the essence of distinction. So, I asked for clarification in a comment on David's post about the interview, and David clarified:

It’s the difference between a library catalog card getting dog-eared because people keep referring to it and asking someone to come up with five keywords to describe themselves. The implicit is left behind in the course of doing something else. The explicit is created by a human thinking about it.

As someone who does "user research," I deal a lot with the discrepancy between what someone can be observed doing and what they say they're doing. And so, I might rephrase Cory's implicit / explicit metadata idea in terms of: observed / reported information. (That makes more sense to me!)

While there's the whole sticky issue of "interpretation" of what's observed (e.g., when you buy a toy for your nephew on Amazon, and Amazon interprets that observed behavior as a sign that you're always looking to buy more toys), I think this distinction between observed and reported information is a generally interesting one to explore further.

For example, on projects where we do contextual interviews, if we observe that someone has a pile on their desk labeled "miscellaneous important," we consider if the digital version of what's happening needs a "miscellaneous important" concept, somehow. But, in more pervasively digital contexts, one might design ways for the digital system itself to play the role of "observer" of what people are doing. And, then one might design interfaces that "automatically" adjust in response to these observations.

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