Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The card catalog: "I'm back. baby!"

I half-assed read something the other day that had me wondering. It was just a simple tweet by some twittererer about teaching kids intelligent tagging, and that's all it was, just a mention of some teacher attempting to get kids to think. But the twittererer included some additional observation, although with only 140 characters to play with, I now can't remember what it was.

But (yes, I'm still looking as I type this for the tweet) it was something about teaching kids to write for the internet and how tagging will become more and more important.

And it made me think that the future of the internet was moving away from keyword and full text toward an index of useful (and standardized) terms. And that these kids would need to learn these terms if they wanted to succeed in the online world, to have their data found through their mastery of metadata.

And my first thought was, Holy Shit, this is some librarian plot to bring back the card(less) catalog.

And that's exactly what it is.

Okay, a little librarian magic and I just found the original article, "teaching students how to create meaningful tags" (Written on May 13th, 2009), but not the original tweet.

What this teacher did was have his students write something then put it into Wordle to find the terms with the highest frequency of use then pull them out and add them to the main subjects and use those for tags. The Wordle generated image worked for him as both a visual tool and as something fun for the kids to do. Pretty simple.

But then I wondered if kids begin to learn which tags are used most often, will they begin to rely on them so much that their actual vocabularies decrease to just the 4,200 words they only really need to communicate?

And that was the seed for this post. "Will tagging make kids dumb?" I don't know. I assume everything makes kids dumb: video games, SpongeBob, lithium batteries, hand puppets, random number generators, novelty wristbands, safety scissors, 100 percent cotton t-shirts and spoons, all contribute to making kids dumb, in my opinion. Rock 'n Roll music and drugs make them happy, not dumb....................... anyway....

But getting back to the card catalog. Isn't one of the goals of the, and no, I'm not going to say "semantic web" and you can't make me. Isn't one of the goals of that to create a card catalog without the cards?

In fact, speaking of the smmnttwb (which I am not saying because I am not a library nerd), I think that there is an intelligent web out there already but we can't see it. It's been built for all the scientists, but they're not telling us about it. You want proof? Who is the smartest person on Twitter? Come on, think. The answer is nobody. There are no smart people on Twitter.

But those scientists over at CERN have the LHC cranked up full blast to run holographic web browsers with email and chat in 3-dimensional real time where each message has particle mass that alters the physical environment. Think, "good sandwich" and everyone gets a taste. Oh, yeah, these nerds just "think" stuff and that collider makes it happen.

But still, I think the card catalog will make its comeback one day. When keyword searching merges with an authority index so the more useful tags automatically replace weaker ones, then we will evolve from the chaotic tagging of LibraryThing.

Here is our friend Benjamin Franklin (see above image) tagged on LibraryThing:

18th century (98) america (43) american (62) american history (198)
american literature (49) American Revolution (51) autobiography (510) Benjamin
Franklin (141) biography (515) classic (41) classics (52) colonial (29) colonial
america (16) easton press (21) essays (23) founding fathers (49) Franklin (56)
history (356) literature (44) memoir (105) non-fiction (274) paperback (18)
philadelphia (20) philosophy (18) politics (43) read (47) tbr (20) unread (44)
US History (50) usa (42)
Take the most used tags and you get, history, autobiography, biography, non-fiction, American history, Benjamin Franklin, memoir.

Refine those "like" terms and you end up with Benjamin Franklin, American history, biography.
And what does that beaten, maligned, obsolete catalog card say?

Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790.
Statesmen --United States --Biography.
So don't be surprised if the card catalog comes back some day. Although, if we try to catalog the internet, those cabinets are gonna be freaking huge.

(oh, and the card generator is at http://www.blyberg.net/card-generator/ )