Enterprise 2.0: David Weinberger – Rattling Business’ Foundations

Here in Boston at the the Enterprise 2.0 conference, ready to start blogging at 8.35 in the morning, despite the fact that the jetlag kicked my ass last night, and I got just four hours’ sleep. The schedule for today looks completely bonkers, though, starting at the crack of dawn and going on til 6.30pm, with hardly any breaks. I really, really wish that conference organisers would have a little pity for attendees. If my brain doesn’t melt before 10am, it’ll be a miracle.

Currently the conference chair is getting people to do a mobile phone vote as to whether control over IT is more important than enterprise users’ needs, and whether Enterprise 2.0 is more hype than reality. Interestingly, users and reality are winning already.

First speaker of the day, and the reason why I dragged myself across the city at this ungodly hour, is David Weinberger. Here goes:

David Weinberger – Rattling Business’ Foundations
If we’re talking about Enterprise 2.0, someone must be talking about Ent 3.0, or 4.0… it’s just going to keep going. We might have the sense of ‘enough already!’, because everything has been changing. But another set of changes, multiple sets of changes, already at work. Next changes: authority, trust, boundaries, i.e the shape of business.

Why aren’t we drowning? Told from early 90s that there’s going to be way too much info, lots of natural catastrophe metaphors, and there’s way more what was predicted. yet we’re not drowing, we’re doing well, even though there are a few issues. Solution to info overload is more information – it’s metadata, info about info. Got way smarter about metadata. Ent2.0 is really about getting hold of metadata in interesting and important ways.

Frame this broadly. There are two orders of order; in the first order you organise the stuff itself; in the second we physically separate the metadata, reduce it in size, and then have two or three ways of sorting that. This is handy, we’re good at it, and it works for physical stuff. But limitation – whoever gets to make up the sorting order is in control of something important, ie. how we order our world, because you’re only allowed one way of organising. That’s a limitation of the real. Always have to do it because physical world demands it. Limitation of the real is that it seems designed to keep things apart because you can’t have two things in the same place in the same time.

E.g. real estate on a newspaper – someone makes the decision of what goes where and that person has the power. Org charts are the same sort of thing, we like tree-like structures, thought that they were a natural order, but that’s not quite true. But they are quite powerful and we use them for business.

But how we think about our information, in categories, and sub-categories, but the sad truth about the trees is that they sort the world the way we sort our laundry: have a big lump of stuff, and then split by person, by body part, by style. but you have to make a decision as to which pile you’re going to put stuff in. this limitation that requires us to do this we’ve imported into how we sort information.

It’s a sad thing that we have assumed that the way to think about how the world is organised suffers from the same limitations as our laundry when we go to sort it.

But now we are digitising everything, so there is a third order of order in which everything is digital: the data, the content, the metadata.

Principle that changes:
– leaf can be on many branches, photographic equipment can go on to many virtual shelves. Messy, but that’s good. Messiness in the real world is a disaster, but online it’s
great – more links the better. Messiness enriches online, so long as we can sort through it. – tracking visitors to your website is very hard to do, your customers are messy.
– less difference between metadata and data; almost whole books are online, so everything now is metadata, the difference is metadata is what you know, data is what you don’t know but are looking for. If everything is metadata we just got smarter, if your business isn’t taking advantage of this, you have a boost coming, but requires letting go of control.
– unowned order; if you go to a real-world store, and you get everything that’s your size and made a big pile, they’d throw you out. Online, you want just what’s your size, you’d leave a site that showed you stuff that wasn’t. Control this by tagging and plastic classification or user ratings.

We’ve operated under the principle that you get some experts, they do the filtering, and then we look at their conclusions. But now we’re pulling the leaves off the trees, making a huge messy pile, associating metadata, enriching it all, and let the users postpone the moment that organisation happens until they know what they want to organise. Let them see the relationships which were invisible before.

E.g. Real estate site with map mashups with crime, or politics, or bus routes, or Starbucks proximity, or graveyards, or dog parks, flight paths, or where intersections of these things are. Knew someone who wanted to live under flight paths, so you can’t tell what people want, so give them everything and let them decide. So make it miscellaneous.

This is about authority, trust, fallibility. Institutions that have garnered authority over time, that people trust. Encyclopaedia Britannica, vs. Wikipedia. Why would you believe what Wikipedia says? Well you might know a bit about the topic, or look at the discussion pages, or how many edits there have been. But Wikipedia encourages you to put up notices if you see something wrong, .e.g. has ‘weasel words’, or reads like an ad, or is not objective…

Wikipedia is more credible because it’s willing to admit its fallibility. But you’ll never see them in the NY Times, because they are in the business of being authoritative. Businesses find admission of fallibility very hard to grasp, despite knowing that it is.

Wikipedia is not the only example of this – also present in every mailing list. Discussion expands the knowledge, and mailing list collectively is smarter than any individual within it. Knowledge is social, always was of course, but now it’s unavoidable. Conversations with suppliers, customers, etc.

But it’s not enough already. Ok, it’s been 10 years, but we’re not far enough along. Keep having major revolutions, these are big changes, it’s not hype, it’s right at the heart of knowledge, authority, trust, and how it’s smudging the supply chain, the org chart. We are reshaping business, whether we like it or not. Business is changing from being ‘theirs’, to the remaking of knowledge and authority that is ours.

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