Thoughts on Morville’s “The Sociosemantic Web”

Today for Critical Studies, we read a chapter from Peter Morville‘s Ambient Findability, “The Sociosemantic Web.” This chapter suggests that taxonomies are out, folksonomies are in, yet (given the choice) Morville says, “I’ll take the ancient tree of knowledge over the transient leaves of popularity any day” (p. 139). That was the one line of the text that confused most of us, given his overwhelming support of how links, tags, and other forms of metadata can contribute to our understanding of the web, but that was one of our only concerns.

A few things that the chapter raised, however, related to the ways in which we, as researchers and educators, find, use, and distribute knowledge, as well as what counts as literacy now. First, we talked about the ways in which we “traditionally” did research in school with 3×5 cards, encyclopedias, and card catalogs which then lead to a final, polished paper of regurgitated information. Today, students are (or, at least, they could be) working from Wikipedia, keeping Google Notebooks, checking out social bookmarks and blogs of others working on similar research, and creating collaborative reports with a wiki. In what ways does this challenge the traditional power structures evident in schooling, in general, and literacy education, in particular? Was there ever a “pure and good” way to do research, despite the clear and concise steps that we would like to believe comprises good research?

Second, the idea that the world was built on taxonomies and is now working in folksonomies (although we are not so sure there was ever a dichotomy) makes what we want students to do as literate citizens very different than what it used to be. It is no longer about memorizing one idea sequentially after another, but instead looking for connections — sometimes suggested by experts, sometimes by peers — and trying to synthesize ideas into something new and useful, not just to repeat it for a test. We talked about the list of genres represented in hypertext (p. 146) and the ways in which composing those texts on paper as compared to using hypertext drastically changes the task. In some ways, linking is the new way to create citations (although, looking at a list of someone’s references to see what to read next has been a skill that we’ve used before the Internet).At any rate, it was an interesting read and since Morville might be coming to campus later this year for a talk, I figured it would be good to write a little bit about his work now.

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