In 1999, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger formulated their 95 theses into what became the Cluetrain Manifesto, which was then published as a book in 2000. [1] The Manifesto pointed to new global marketplace, where markets are seen as conversations. In the authors’ own words:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

Their realization foreshadowed a fundamental shift in the way we do business online. Along with this shift, we see a change in the relationship brands have with their customers. Rather than crafting one-to-many messages in typical marketing speak, brands now have to engage in a conversation with customers. Online this means providing meaningful content and, as a consequence, acting like a media publisher.

John Battelle explores this idea further up in his article “All Brands Are Publishers, Learn How to Be a Good One” (Nov 2011, in AdAge Blogs). He writes:

Marketers need to play in both spheres to effectively build their brands. They need to get past a one-size-fits-all approach to media — the web ain’t TV. Dictating a message to your audience is no longer acceptable. Consumers online expect dialogue, so pairing your brand with relevant and passion-driven topics is one of the best ways to ensure that you are engaged with key audiences.

Writing for Gigacom, Mathew Ingram seconds this thought in an article entitled “The Future of Media: Brands Are Publishers Now Too” (May 2011). He questions:

What’s the next step in the blurring of the lines between brands and marketing and media and publishing? Mitch Joel, a social-media consultant and author, says that it could be brands hiring their own journalists and putting out their own publications — filled not with canned marketing messages but actual content.

Dubbed “content marketing,” this trend is not just about providing content or using social media for more exposure and increased PR effects. Brands have to provide useful content and participate the new interactions people have with them.

Wait — Let Me Google That First

More and more, consumers are reading reviews and ratings on sites like Amazon and elsewhere. Or they are asking Twitter followers for their opinions. And they look at who’s behind a service by researching profiles on sites LinkedIn and even facebook. Regardless of industry or sector, your customers are far more informed today than they were just a decade ago.

Traditionally, marketers envision three main phases in the customer journey with a brand:

  1. Stimulus – This is the very first time customers hear about your products or services
  2. First Moment of Truth – The moment they find it on the “shelf” and decide to buy it
  3. Second Moment of Truth – The first experience customers have with your product or service actually using it.

But if you think about the interaction with your brand these days, you’ll notice a gap in the above scheme. There is a significant new touchpoint that’s entered the picture. Between the first and second phases above comes product research and comparisons.

Market researchers at Google call new touchpoint the “Zero Moment of Truth” or ZMOT for short. See the ZMOT website and free ebook for more details. In a nutshell, the new model looks like this:

So now ask yourself: what will happen when customers google your brand name or product? Do they only get marketing messages from you or do they valuable content that helps them in some way? Chances are there’s also quite a lot of Information about your products and services on the web from a variety of sources. You not only want to be linked to the content they’ll find, you want to be contributing to it.

The important part is that this content can’t come across as just more marketing fluff. It needs to be information that’s part of the normal fabric of content, part of the online conversation. By doing this, customers will see you as experts in your area and will engage with you directly. And this brings credibility and loyalty.

In the end, approach content creation as a service your brand offers. Fill the ZMOT touchpoint with value. This is the advice Rebecca Lieb gives in her book Content Marketing: Think Like a Publisher. She writes:

Instead of advertising, the shift is toward publishing. Instead of buying media, you can roll you own and ‘be there’ when potential customers are researching purchase decisions and gather Information about products and services….

Companies that successfully address customer needs and questions with content add value to conversations that take place online. They position themselves not as “buy me!” banners, but as trusted advisors. Content can shape and create a brand voice and identity. Most of all, content makes a company and its products relevant, accessible, and believable.

Create Shared Value

Business strategy guru Michael Porter recently identified an epochal shift in the way corporations should work. Business is under attack for causing more of societal and environmental problems than it solves, and its legitimacy has never been lower. He writes in Harvard Business Review article:

A big part of the problem lies with companies themselves, which remain trapped in an outdated approach to value creation that has emerged over the past few decades. They continue to view value creation narrowly, optimizing short-term financial performance in a bubble while missing the most important customer needs and ignoring the broader influences that determine their longer-term success.

The path for companies to follow, Porter believes, centers on the principle of shared value. This is not about more corporate responsibility programs, but rather a transformation in the way the companies make money. Share value means creating value for the corporation in way that also brings value to customers and to society as a whole.

This notion trickles down to content creation: the content brands create must bring as much value for customers as it does for them.

To make the transition to shared value content, follow John Battelle’s five principles for content creation. He advises:

  • Conversation over dictation. Instead of delivering a message to consumers, have a discussion with them. Join and start conversations.
  • Platform over distribution. What matters is how you use a platform to create effective interaction with customers.
  • Service over product. In conversation marketing, you’re providing a service, a continuing dialogue whose course through the Web is unknown. The more value it adds to the ecosystem, the more it will be shared, amplified and celebrated.
  • Iteration over perfection. Good first drafts and speedy responses to consumer dialog will always trump lawyered corporate speak.
  • Engagement over consumption. Simple consumption isn’t very interesting — what’s important is the context of that consumption, and action taken afterwards (liking, retweeting, sharing, linking, clicking). Become a trusted daily companion, not a once-a-year-during-the-Super-Bowl visitor.

Be A Modern-Day Johnny Appleseed

To understand these changes, think of Johnny Appleseed. A true American pioneer, John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) traveled throughout the eastern parts of America in the 1800s. As the story goes, he always with a bag of apple seeds and planted trees wherever he went. His dream was to produce so many apple trees that no one would ever go hungry.

Johnny Appleseed was a legend in his own time with broad “brand” recognition (and that without the help of Facebook, Twitter or Google!). His fame didn’t come from expensive PR campaigns, but from a direct engagement with the people he was trying to help. He is remembered for his generosity, altruism and conversation efforts, but he also owned a great deal of land and was a trusted advisor to many orchard caretakers. Seed by seed he built a small empire, and link by link so can your brand online.

So, start seeding your online conversations and grow your brand–not through louder messages about how great you are, but through content with shared value.

————-

[1] Chris Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Rick Levine, The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, Basic Books, 2000.

After pointing out a few contentious points in Everything is Miscellaneous in previous posts (see: June 13, 2007, June 2, 2007, and May 28, 2007), I wanted to review some of the book’s strengths. And there are many. This is perhaps one of the most interesting books about information and its order that I’ve read. Though I disagree with Weinberger on many points, the book got me thinking, and I found it quite engaging overall.

Order in the Court
A central concept Weinberger proposes is that of three orders of order:

  • First order – This is the organization of physical objects: “We put silverware into drawers, books on shelves, photos into albums.”
  • Second order – This refers to creating a surrogate record that is derived from the item to be organized. This record itself has a physical manifestation. The classic example used throughout the book is the card catalogue.
  • Third order – Here, there is no limitation for the type and amount of metadata that links to an item. Instead, an object can be classified, tagged, and organized by any number of means–essentailly without limit. What’s more, documents themselves become metadata. So this order is really more like disorder, and it is where the book gets its title.

I’m not sure the division between the second and third orders is entirely clear, but it rings true for the most part. It’s probably more of a continuum than true buckets of order.

Interestingly enough, Weinberger–a philospher himself–doesn’t refer to Karl Popper’s theory of reality. In the Popperian cosmology there are three worlds:
World 1: the world of physical objects
World 2: the world of mental objects and events
World 3: the world of the products of the human mind

I’m seeing these map roughly to Weinberger’ order like this:
World 1 = first order
World 2 = third order
World 3 = second order

These mappings aren’t 1:1, but the causation is different with Popper’s worlds. Perhaps the third order of order as Weinberger proposes it isn’t the next step forward, but a step back to something that more closely resembles human thought, knowledge, and understanding. OK, I’m probably getting in over my head, so I’ll just leave it at that and let you decide or comment further.

Lumping and Spliting
Another recurring concept is that of lumping and splitting. This refers to either grouping or dividing a topic in order to manage, use, or understand it better. “Nesting is a fundamental technique of human understanding. It may even be the fundamental technique, at least in its most primitive form: lumping and splitting” (p. 68). For example, dividing patterns of order into three orders (see above) helps us talk about and understand those concepts better.

But lumping and splitting inherently bring bias to the table. In the third order, however, this bias is removed–or at least lessened. Rather than one person or one group of people deciding how to lump and split information, we all do it. And we do it to fit our needs–without suffering from someone else’s biases. In the end, Weinberger argues that a big pile of metadata-rich information is better than top-down control of it. You then let users and machines sort it as needed from the bottom up.

Small Pieces Loosely Joined
The phrase Web 2.0 has a certain buzzability these days. Some times you’ll hear people define Web 2.0 as the use of technologies like AJAX, or worse the use of 3-D buttons with a reflection. Even talk about communities and user participation sometimes misses the deeper meaning of Web 2.0. It’s the miscellanization of information that enables Web 2.0 activity–along with the connectivity only the Web can offer, of course.

At its core, then, Everything is Miscellaneous is really about Web 2.0, or at least about the underpinnings thereof. It’s about the theory and consequences of the atomization and re-connecting of information in the digital world.

Even broader, Everything is Miscellaneous is, in part, a philosophy of information, covering wide range of classification-related topics from a historical perspective. The author reviews the origins of taxonomy and alphabetical ordering, and even Aristoltle’s notion of hierarchies and understanding. But at the same time the book is thoroughly steeped in the modern, digital world of information.

Quotes
Here are some of my favorite quotes I highlighted while reading it:
page 82: “Reality is multifaceted. There are lots of ways to slice it. How we choose to slice it up depends on why we’re slicing it up.”

page 88: “The basic fact that order often hides more than it reveals has sometimes itself been hidden within the art and science of organizing our world.”

page 105: “The power of the miscellaneous comes directly from the fact that in the third order, everyhing is connected and therefore everything is metadata.”

page 168: “So Peter Morville may have it backwards: Tags may become more useful, meaningful, relevant, and clearer the more there are.”

page 189: “There is no dorm room, divorce, or political scandal as messy as the World Wide Web. There’s an excellent reason for this: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, in his wisdom made sure that the Web is a permission-free zone. Anyone can post anything she wants, and anyone can link to anything else, all without altering a central registry, without having to get approval, and without anyone saying exaclty where to shelve the new material. So, the Web has grown without plan, which is exactly why it has grown like crazy.”

Interesting side note: Amazon suggests to purchase Everything is Miscellaneous with my book, Designing Web Navigation. This is an interesting contrast thematically: One is about controlling and ordering information from the top down, the other about messiness as a virtue. The thing that joins these two books, however, is the potential audience. So it’s actually a good example of why making a big messy pile and then using algorithms to find new and interesting connections just might work.

Designing Web Navigation and Everything is Miscellaneous

Everything is Miscellaneous is well researched. But unfortunately the book uses end notes (does any one really skip back to them while in the middle of a chapter?). And the text lacked numbered references to the points in the notes, so it is extra hard to follow the notes. It’s impressive, though, the Weinberger has talked with many people first hand and actually gone to location to investigate topics, and it’s welcomed that he shares this with us.

The author takes on some deep topics in a fairly accessible style. Everything is Miscellaneous is well written, but not light reading. But at just over 250 pages, you really have no excuse for not picking it up. Throughout, the discussions are thought-provoking and, at times, simply mesmerizing. I highly recommend this to anyone in the information business or doing web design.

OK, here’s my last gripe about Everything is Miscellaneous, a fantastic book by David Weinberger. I realize that this might be nit, but I’d like to point it out anyway: Weinberger contends that in the past physical formats of information limited the vision of librarians and information professionals.

Yes and no.

Many paper-bound information specialists and librarians had plenty of vision. Take Raganathan. He was able to see organization completely independent of the media that represents it, well before the electronic computer. By pointing out his genius many times in the book, Weinberger contradicts himself. Or look at the work of Paul Otlet. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about him: “His vision of a great network of knowledge was centered on documents and included the notions of hyperlinks, search engines, remote access, and social networks—although these notions were described by different names.” Then there’s Eugene Garfield, who created a reverse citation index in the early 60s–well before library automation.

The point is that the vision was apparently there in many instances. Sure, there were limitations in implementation, but there are in the digital world too.

I believe it was the GOALS of librarians that limited their foresight. Namely, library systems were created by librarians and primarily for librarians. They are traditionally very content-centered and not user-centered. For instance, what library patron really cares about the dimensions of a book or CD when searching for information? Yet this information is meticulously recorded by librarians as a rule of thumb. The bottom line is that libraries simply are not user-friendly systems.

Perhaps this is subtle and not-so-clear distinction, but one that still exists in my opinion: the vision was there, but the goals were off. Maybe this is what Weinberger was expressing, or maybe it’s really the same thing. In any event, there were visionaries in information organization before the digital world took over, as Weinberger himself points out.

Again, let me start off by saying that Everything is Miscellaneous is a really great book, particularly for an old librarian/IA type like me. Fascinating stuff.

But Weinberger’s comparisons and criticisms of the card catalog in libraries seem odd. There’s hardly a library in the US that still uses them. Even the smallest public libraries have probably converted to an OPAC years ago–many in the mid 80s. Why even bring them up?

Even if you want to keep the argument in the offline world of libraries, Weinberger still makes it seem like the card catalog is the only access point to books. It’s not. There are many many bibliographies and reference resources that slice and split works by any number of facets. There are also many different indexes to articles with many many access points. Heck, you can even see who else has cited that important scientific article you found with the Science Citation Index. Weinberger over-simplifies a very complex system of citations and linking of resources that exist in physical libraries.

I agree with Weinberger that the third order of organization the web affords is different, but not because other means of accessing books (just to stick with that example) don’t exist. That vision was already there in the paper world.

There are indexes that provide access to Bach cantatas by the first line of text, for instance. Same for poetry. And then there are the countless literature guides in just about any discipline and sub-discipline.

So what the web really changes is:
a.) Who is doing the organizing. Now it’s everyone instead of information professionals
b.) The time it takes to create new lists of access points to books, to then find those list, and to use them effectively.

The Time of Information in the third order, then, is the real thing to focus on. It’s not about more information or more ways to organize information or even more people doing the organizing. The information experience people have in the third order world of the web is one that changes the relationship and proportions of time in information seeking, organizing, and use.

I’m just about in the middle of Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger. I’ve enjoyed his other books, and this one perhaps tops them all. Really good read. If you have anything to do with the development, conception, or organization of web sites and web content, get it.

I find myself, however, agreeing with him and disagreeing with at the same time: “Yes, that’s right, but…” For instance, while I’m sure Mr Weinberger knows exactly what the DDC is, I feel he misrepresents it at times. Not that I’m a fan of the DDC nor am I defending it in any way. I’ve never really used it. But it seems he’s attacking some of the wrong aspects of the DDC and in the wrong way.

Of course, seen abstractly–as a second order organization system, to use Weinberger’s term–there are many problems with the DDC. Yes, the geographic splits are very Western-centric. Yes, Christianity gets many divisions while all other religions are lumped together. Those are certainly weakness of the system that shouldn’t be glossed over and will hopefully be corrected.

But the DDC is really about the first order organization of books–how they sit on the shelf. So if you compare its second order arrangement to other second or third order systems, you lose a lot. The DDC is a classification scheme, not a cataloging system. Missing from Everything is Miscellaneous, then, is a discussion of the user experience you have while in the stacks of a DDC library. Namely, the books are arranged by subject. If you find one book on Muslims, others around it are likely to be about Muslims too.

And if you think people don’t look left and right when retrieving a book from a shelf, you’re wrong. They do. It’s an important type of information discovery in physical libraries. Let’s say you go to the stacks for a biography of J.S. Bach. You may then see biographies of C.P.E. Bach and J.C. Bach, perhaps whom you didn’t know much about or even existed. That’s an interesting connection you may not have seen online or in a card catalogue. Or, you may find other novels by Herman Melville near Moby Dick that also interest you. It’s almost like a menu of links for “related products.” Yes, it’s only one dimensional and limited by physics (a book can only be in one place), but it’s a heck of a lot better than no order of books at all.

Also, on page 58 he compares DDC to topics of books on Amazon. This is just wrong. The DDC is a classification scheme, not a list of topics for cataloging books. Comparing the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) to topics on Amazon would have been better, for instance. Of course, you’d find problems with LCSH, but at least the comparison would be accurate.

In other words, a subject heading catalogue is about the second order organization of books–what they are about–, whereas DDC is about the first order organization of books on the shelf. I was missing this in the book, and felt Weinberger’s argument gives readers the wrong impression. He seems to make DDC something it’s not, and sets it up as a paper tiger at times. I agree with many of Weinberger’s conclusions, but how he gets there is problematic, in my opinion.

Note: Rather than a single review of Everything is Miscellaneous, I hope to post more thoughts on individual topics in the future.

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