Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Another Divergence

There's tagging, and then there's tagging.

The other sort - as found on del.icio.us and flickr - seems to me to be a new sort of link: one that points to more than one address. On flickr those addresses reside within a single domain. On del.icio.us they can be anywhere on the web.

Dr. Alex Primo and his research group in Brazil have been working on "collaborative multidirectional Web links" since 2003. Considering that the link is a tag of sorts (a word or words that bring up several possible associations, and therefore destinations) multidirectional links could be the future of tagging. Read the article. Here's an excerpt:
Co-link technology is very simple to use. After a link is clicked, a small menu opens at the side of that word with a list of directions (co-links) and an option to add a new co-link. Thus, clicking on a link does not discharge the automatic loading of a pre-specified page. Instead, a menu of one or more associated readings is presented to the interactant, multiplying the navigational possibilities. While traditional links are still configured as unidirectional vectors, they can now become multidirectional with co-links technology. In other words, many directions can be chosen from the same link.
Ok, great. But why not withhold access to determination and choice? There's something exciting about the blind quality of some links: you may have an idea of what will come up after linking, but you're not quite sure. What if multidirectional links were more like blogger's brilliant "next blog" button? Landing you at one of many possible destinations within fixed parameters? It may not sound so immediately useful, but maybe the internet is more about quasi-random exposure to vast quantities of available information.

And maybe links - and tagging - have more to do with the way the brain works than we are consciously aware. Rashmi Sinha gets cognitive on tagging:
First, there is less cultural consensus around items we categorize in the digital domain. Categorization is often based on cultural knowledge. For example, over the years we learn the cultural consensus regarding the boundary between wolf and dog, couch and chair, fruit and vegetable. With digital objects, there is less cultural knowledge about the categories - in fact, one purpose that tagging serves is transmitting cultural knowledge about our constantly evolving digital lives.
Simple enough. Now, I'm not one to get all hysterical about AI. The Matrix was a great movie, but more useful as a metaphor than a cautionary tale, imho. That being said, let's look back at Kevin Kelly's prognostication of the "World Wide Brain":
This planet-sized computer [the web] is comparable in complexity to a human brain. Both the brain and the web have hundreds of billions of neurons, or webpages. Each biological neuron sprouts synaptic links to thousands of other neurons, and each webpage branches into dozens of hyperlinks. That adds up to a trillion "synapses" between the static pages on the web. The human brain has about 100 times that number - but brains are not doubling in size every few years. The Machine is.

Think of the 100 billion times a day humans click on a webpage as a way of teaching the Machine what we think is important. Each time we forge a link between words, we teach it an idea. Wikipedia encourages its citizen authors to link each fact in an article to a reference citation. Over time, a Wikipedia article becomes totally underlined in blue as ideas are cross-referenced. That cross-referencing is how brains think and remember. It is how neural nets answer questions. It is how our global skin of neurons will adapt autonomously and acquire a higher level of knowledge.

The human brain has no department full of programming cells that configure the mind. Brain cells program themselves simply by being used. Likewise, our questions program the Machine to answer questions. We think we are merely wasting time when we surf mindlessly or blog an item, but each time we click a link we strengthen a node somewhere in the web OS, thereby programming the Machine by using it.

3 Comments:

Anonymous jenn said...

This reminded me of what used to be called the Exploding Dictionary (now has some silly name connecting it with Merriam-Webster) It's not interactive like Wikipedia, but each word in a definition is linked to its definition.

Another example, anyway.

6:32 PM  
Anonymous jenn said...

someone sent me this today: a librarian's view of tagging

8:34 PM  
Blogger coturnix said...

Has anyone here read Gordon Dickson's "The Final Encyclopedia"?

1:37 PM  

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