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Dec 17, 2004: Good Question

Ed Vielmetti recently started a great discussion--"tags versus taxonomies"--on the AIfIA-members discussion list. Too much to summarize here; you'll have to shell out a few shekels to join AIfIA and subscribe to the list. But in the course of the debate, Thomas Vander Wal asked a provocative question, the kind that can keep you up at night:

Is hierarchy a means to classify and structure based on the tools available at the time (our minds)? Would we have structured things differently if we had computers from the beginning?

Which begs the follow-up question: will future generations that grow up with computers prefer to structure information differently than we do now?

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Comment: Liv (Dec 17, 2004)

Interesting question... on the same topic but in a different domain, I came across this week:

The Plight of Middle Managers
http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item.jhtml?id=4537&t=leadership&nl=y

Which discusses the fallacy of non-hierarchical companies. An indication that hierarchies vs. networks is not a matter of technology, but behavior. And that hierarchies are intrinsic to behavior and organization, not just the 'lack of a better tool'.

This doesn't answer Thomas' question, but I'd add that technology is always an enabler, but never a strategy. We can outline an intricate relational network with pen and paper, it just takes longer.

Comment: Lou (Dec 18, 2004)

Thomas goes deeper into this issue on his own blog: http://vanderwal.net/random/entrysel.php?blog=1598

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