Thursday, February 3, 2011

Connective Tissue and Information

I came to this week's CCK11 Elluminate session knowing that connective tissue is, simply put, that which holds our body together. I take my connective tissue for granted most days. Don't we all? But, if you think of it, it would be impossible to exist without it since it "supports, anchors, and connects" the different parts of our bodies, while providing flexibility and order. The more we exercise our connective tissue (bones, tendons and ligaments), the stronger it gets.

Thomas Vander Wal used this analogy to kick off his presentation called Information and Its Connective Tissue so it was easy to see where he was headed with it. Vander Wal suggested that the "connective tissue" of the informational variety includes:

  • hyperlinks (direct connection to source of information)
  • systems and software (the structured options available for doing our work - i.e., social software (micro-blogs and blogs), wikis, shared media, social bookmarking as well as personal tools for files (Dropbox, etc))
  • workflow (how we access and organize information - i.e., delicious)
  • metadata (the info we add to files (i.e., tags) and the aggregation of things that are alike)
 In regards to metadata, I learned about folksonomy, which was a new term for me and illustrated by Vander Wal here:

In our session, Vander Wal clarified that the "object" in this diagram refers to the thing that is being tagged.
The "identity" is the person who tagged that object and "metadata" is the tag being used on the object.

So, the beauty of the folksonomy concept is that if I label or tag something a certain way based on the meaning it has for me, and you do the same, we may find that we learn a lot from each other. But, I don't filter, connect and tag things for you. First and foremost, I do it for myself using vocabulary/terms/tags that add meaning based on how I've understood the information so that I can access this all at my leisure, in an organized fashion. But because it is usually stored in a social environment (meaning that it is shared and open to others) we, who think and label similarly, might find each other through what we are mutually tagging as valuable or interesting.

Sound a bit pedestrian? Well it is! After all, folksonomy is a way for the common person to classify things on their own terms...and sometimes this means missing out on great information due to some odd categorization choices, typos, and spelling mistakes. Yes, there's a lot of what Cory Doctorow bitterly describes as megacrap out there! But remember, what really matters in folksonomy (as I understand it), is how I've chosen to tag and store objects for my personal growth so if I want to spell something incorrectly, that's my system and my prerogative.

I read that in our bodies, connective tissue also has the important function of separating different groups of cells, so to take Vander Wal's analogy further: this course is all about making connections as you organize information, but in so doing you sometimes also have to insist on separating things out as you try to make sense of the chaos.

As I move forward in CCK11, I resolve to exercise my connective tissue in an attempt to strengthen it and in so doing, develop my folksonomical side. That can't possibly be a word. Or can it? It might just be the perfect label for all the thoughts currently going on in my head. Tag! You're it, folksonomical!

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