over 10 years on 2008-05-01


the changing dynamics of information online (in two implied half metaphors)

information is starting to look like matter in newtonian physics
:  a body at rest will stay at rest until acted upon by an outside force:  information historically existed in a vacuum and it stayed put (private) until a deliberate force acted on it.  this was even historically true online.  in the early days information that was put online was private by default until it was deliberately catalogued or linked elsewhere - it was at rest until acted upon.  what you were looking for online could be a few keystrokes away, and you could still never find it.  search and social are actors, they are forces that change the dynamics of information flow... but they have become so universal that they are approaching an equivalence with 'gravity' - (in many contexts search and social - organization schemes - becoming a property of information itself, just as gravitational pull is a property of matter).

widner library / the library of congress is the best place to hide a book:  i used to sit in widner library and think that if all the computers and card catalogues were removed a single person could probably spend tens of lifetimes searching the stacks for a single piece of information.  even if you knew with 100% certainty than an evil demon hid the secrets of the universe, happiness, immortality, etc. in a single volume somewhere in the stack you would be far better off living a good single life than trying to find the hidden information.  meta-data and the ability to sort meta-data (dewey decimal system, card catalogues, search, etc.) are the fundamental tools that separate total privacy of a given volume from its total accessibility.  if you strip off the bar-code, remove the rfid chip, etc.  any given volume becomes unfindable.  without metadata, without context, you can be quite 'private' in 'public' and a book could go forever undiscovered in widner.

original swl blogposts and letters 2007-2010