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Information Beams, Aggregating the Raw Feed, and the Death of the Folder

Water drops

It finally struck me as I looked at an inbox with 4,000+ emails waiting to be deleted or filed. David Gelernter is right; and so is David Weinberger. The file folder is dead, or at any rate, it’s dead to me. I don’t want to file stuff and I don’t want to delete stuff. Gelernter sketched out the idea of Information Beams, here’s how he describes it:

I can imagine all the electronic information in my life collected into one beam, or (equivalently) one flowing stream. Every electronic document: every email, photo, draft, URL, audio, video, calendar or address note, and so on.

Combine that flowing stream with search and you have David Weinberger’s “Everything is Miscellaneous.” There’s no need for a hierarchy of folders as a mnemonic. Folders on a hard drive don’t actually contain anything, they’re a visual metaphor to help organize things. It’s a metaphor we carried over from the file cabinets standing next to our desks. It’s the difference between Microsoft’s Outlook and Google’s Gmail. “Tag and search” beats “file folders” for the findability of documents and artifacts. Sheer laziness will overthrow the metaphor of the folder. As the volume of the stream increases, the workers will revolt at the Sisyphean task of manually organizing the individual drops of water.

The idea of Information Beams connects to a new model for primary reporting I call the Raw Feed. The other inspiration is Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody, and the story of the Mermaid parade. This model works best for covering events, but it could be extended. Take the upcoming Democratic Convention in Denver, imagine if a torrent of blog posts, Twitter posts, audio files, YouTube Videos, photographs poured into a single raw feed of the event. Search, along with some collection of tags and plain text, would make the raw feed navigable. But the meaning of everything is nothing. The job of both the professional and the amateur writer would be to create legible stories and sensible collections from the raw feed. The feed itself would be part of the commons, everyone would have access to it, and all media companies would contribute to creating it. The value of a good storyteller would be revealed.


Published in zettel