SansBlogue  
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
 

Reticulation rocks ::

Sean McGrath with his absurdly titled blog post that led to an intriguing article "Gmail, Technorati, WinFS - cogitating reticulation" pointed me to one of those simple, “obvious” truisms that change the way you think.

Arthur Koestler (The Ghost in the Machine) is widely credited with recognising the complementarity of hierarchy and networking. He called these processes "arborisation" - making tree structures - or hierarchies and "reticulation" - making interconnected networks - or web structures.

Paper and writing technology made hierarchy easy; lists are a natural way to organise thought in the medium of text. By contrast, some have claimed, networking does not seem as easy on paper, indeed Sean seems to think that reticulated thought is less immediate for most people:
If your head works the way most people's heads work, your first port of call in organizing raw information of any form is to put it into a hierarchy.

He goes on to remind his readers that such simple systems soon break down.

There comes a point however, where you find that hierarchies are not enough to capture the rich structure of information. You start to join bits of hierarchies to each other in complex ways.
Actually at this point I disagree, in my folk psychology there are two sorts of people:

[Incidentally I’ve another theory, of interest to bibliobloggers, that list people like Greek, while web people take to Hebrew better… But that's another story...]

Either way – whether humans are list people who must reticulate, or whether some are aborializers and some reticulators – organised thought needs both. Text was better at hierarchy, hypertext (or at least the HTML that demonstrates hypertext to most of us) makes webbing more obvious and easy.

BUT organised thought needs both.

And here Sean draws Gmail and the rest into the discussion. And, at last, I understand why there is all the fuss about folksonomies and metadata. And even WinFS ;) Apparently Gmail allows people to classify mail into more than one place at a time. No longer will the good programmers who created Thunderbird force me to decide if Elaine’s message about library acquisitions with the note at the end about a conference in Sydney go under "research", "library", or "Biblical Studies Department" it can go in all three at once!

That’s almost a good enough reason to use webmail! (So if any of you who offered me Gmail accounts still have invitations to spare, at last I might be ready…) Certainly it’s a feature I hope my favourite mail reader emulates, soon, please, please…

But much more importantly, it explains why folksonomies are important, and why I must think some more about how/if we can one day build such ideas into the Hypertext Bible Commentary and Encyclopedia project…



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