Thursday, May 10, 2007

Three Questions with David Weinberger, Author of Everything is Miscellaneous

David Weinberger's new book, Everything is Miscellaneous, is playing to rave reviews. David became a techceleb with the publication of The Cluetrain Manifesto, which ranked #6 on BusinessWeek's top 200 books in 2000. He is one of the four co-authors of the seminal work.

In a galaxy far away, David was a client when he was at Interleaf. Happily for me, we reconnected when we invited him to speak at the MIT Enterprise Forum's Brave New Web conference last February.

We are honored to have David participate in our Three Questions series, a regular feature in our (sometimes quarterly) e-newsletter; the Spring issue went out today. We were lucky enough to catch David before his book tour started. Since David is always worth sharing, we'll replay those questions here. If you don't get our newsletter and you'd like to, just email me. At the end of the Q&A, I've included some snippets from reviews.

You have a new book just out -- Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder. Could you tell us a bit about it?

It turns out that the way we've organized ideas, information and knowledge for thousands of years duplicates the limitations on organizing physical objects. That's a terrible constraint that the digital world escapes. So, instead of thinking that we should have subject-matter experts come up with complex organizational schemes, we should instead just make a big honkin' pile of stuff. Put in every scrap of information, because it's not like we're going to run out of space in our digital bookshelf or closet. And rather than organizing it all ahead of time, give users the tools to sort and order it as they want at the moment. Then let users add their own information about the stuff, which will enable others to find even more. This enables businesses and their customers to get much more value out of the information available, it reduces the cost of building and maintaining the organizational system, and it greatly improves the customer experience. But, not coincidentally, it also challenges the authority of institutions that used to be able to tell us what's interesting and important in the huge miscellaneous pile of what we know. So, this is a big change not just in how we organize information, but in who gets to control what we know.

In your book, you talk about "meta-business." What's that about?

For decades we've been telling managers that, next to their people, information is their most important asset. But if you want the Web 2.0 network effects, you should let a lot of that information go. For example, airlines do very well by enabling sites like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz to have access to their flight schedule information. The travel sites add value to that information, if only by aggregating it with all the rest of the airlines' information, making it easier for people to make travel plans, and reducing the airlines' transaction costs. The same sort of externalizing of what used to be internal information is happening in industry after industry, from iTunes for music and Zillow for real estate. It's all part of the way business is becoming more miscellaneous, contributing to the huge pile of information, enabling people to innovate around how we're going to sort through it and

You recently spoke at the MIT Enterprise Forum’s Brave New Web conference and touched on Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. What’s important about the differences?

Web 2.0 points to three basic phenomena: Sites opening their data and services for use by other applications, the rise of content by users, and businesses taking advantage of "the network effect," i.e., the emergence of new and unexpected value as networks get bigger and more intensely linked. The first makes it far easier for people to create new applications, including "mashups" that combine the strength of multiple sites. The second was always the key driver of the Web's remarkable adoption curve. From the beginning, people jumped into this new world because we got to talk about what mattered to us, in our own voice, with other people. That's not new, but with the arrival of blogs, wikis and other social software, it's gotten even easier. The third - using network effects - has also been with us from the beginning, but as more people join the online world and as we create more and more links, you could say that the network effect has undergone its own network effect.

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Review Snippets (See the book website for links)

"A great read." -- Robert Scoble

"I haven’t read a page-turner like this since the DaVinci Code." -- EducationPR blog

"...his (brilliant, must-read) new book..." -- Ethan Zuckerman

"every chapter in Everything is Miscellaneous brings new insight to the subject. This is a hell of a book"… an "instant classic." -- Cory Doctorow


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