16 How (or by Whom) Is It Organized?

The rise of the Internet is affecting the actual work of organizing information by shifting it from a relatively few professional indexers and catalogers to the populace at large. An important question today is whether the bibliographic universe can be organized both intelligently (that is, to meet the traditional bibliographic objectives) and automatically.

In the preceding quote, Svenonius identifies three different ways for the “work of organizing information” to be performed: by professional indexers and catalogers, by the populace at large, and by automated (computerized) processes. Our notion of the organizing system is broader than her “bibliographic universe,” making it necessary to extend her taxonomy. Authors are increasingly organizing the content they create, and it is important to distinguish users in informal and formal or institutional contexts. We have also introduced the concept of an organizing agent (“The Concept of “Organizing Principle””) to unify organizing done by people and by computer algorithms.

Professional indexers and catalogers undergo extensive training to learn the concepts, controlled descriptive vocabularies, and standard classifications in the particular domains in which they work. Their goal is not only to describe individual resources, but to position them in the larger collection in which they reside.[1]

They can create and maintain organizing systems with consistent high quality, but their work often requires additional research, which is costly.

The class of professional organizers also includes the employees of commercial information services like Westlaw and LexisNexis, who add controlled and, often, proprietary metadata to legal and government documents and other news sources. Scientists and scholars with deep expertise in a domain often function as the professional organizers for data collections, scholarly publications and proceedings, and other specialized information resources in their respective disciplines. The National Association of Professional Organizers(NAPO) claims several thousand members who will organize your media collection, kitchen, closet, garage or entire house or help you downsize to a smaller living space.[2]

Many of today’s content creators are unlikely to be professional organizers, but presumably the author best understands why something was created and the purposes for which it can be used. To the extent that authors want to help others find a resource, they will assign descriptions or classifications that they expect will be useful to those users. But unlike professional organizers, most authors are unfamiliar with controlled vocabularies and standard classifications, and as a result their descriptions will be more subjective and less consistent.

Similarly, most of us do not hire professionals to organize the resources we collect and use in our personal lives, and thus our organizing systems reflect our individual preferences and idiosyncrasies.

Non-author users in the “populace at large” are most often creating organization for their own benefit. These ordinary users are unlikely to use standard descriptors and classifications, and the organization they impose sometimes so closely reflects their own perspective and goals that it is not useful for others. Fortunately most users of “Web 2.0” or “community content” applications at least partly recognize that the organization of resources emerges from the aggregated contributions of all users, which provides incentive to use less egocentric descriptors and classifications. The staggering number of users and resources on the most popular applications inevitably leads to “tag convergence” simply because of the statistics of large sample sizes.

Finally, the vast size of the web and the even greater size of the “deep” or invisible web, composed of the information stores of business and proprietary information services, makes it impossible to imagine today that it could be organized by anything other than the massive computational power of search engine providers like Google and Microsoft. Likewise, data mining, predictive analytics, recommendation systems, and many other application areas that involve computational modeling and classification simply could not be done any other way.[3]

Nevertheless, in the earliest days of the web, significant human effort was applied to organize it. Most notable is Yahoo!, founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo in 1994 as a directory of favorite websites. For many years the Yahoo! homepage was the best way to find relevant websites by browsing the extensive system of classification. Today’s Yahoo! homepage emphasizes a search engine that makes it appear more like Google or Microsoft Bing, but the Yahoo! directory can still be found if you search for it.

  1. This is an important distinction in library science education and library practice. Individual resources are described (“formal” cataloging) using “bibliographic languages” and their classification in the larger collection is done using “subject languages(Svenonius 2000, Ch. 4 and Ch. 8, respectively). These two practices are generally taught in different library school courses because they use different languages, methods and rules and are generally carried out by different people in the library. In other organizations, the resource description (both formal and subject) is created in the same step and by the same person.

  2. NAPO: http://www.napo.net The name and scope of this organization seems a bit odd given how much professional organizing takes place in business, science, government, medicine, education, and other domains where closets and garages are not the most important focus.

  3. (He et al. 2007) estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of websites and databases whose content is accessible only through query forms and web services, and there are over a million of those. The amount of content in this hidden web is many hundreds of times larger than that accessible in the surface or visible web.

    See http://www.worldwidewebsize.com/ for estimates of the size of the visible web calculated from comparisons of results from search engines.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

The Discipline of Organizing: 4th Professional Edition Copyright © 2020 by Robert J. Glushko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book