Thursday, July 10, 2008

Open Source competitor for Dewey

Tim Spalding of LibraryThing has made a call for volunteers to create an open source alternative for the Dewey Decimal Classification system. It seems Tim's ultimate aim is to have the LibraryThing 'collection' classified using this new system, apparently to allow users to 'browse' virtually.

The comments on the blog veer from the derogatory to heart-on-sleeve enthusiasm.

You can follow the discussions in the LibraryThing group: Build the Open Shelves Classification. So far the discussion seems to be struggling to get out of a DDC/LCC mindset, though some interesting ideas have been put forward. Personally I find that accommodating a one dimensional ordering (ie shelf ordering) is hampering the discussion and I think a more three dimensional approach would be more useful in the online context. It makes me think of faceted classification systems that I barely recall from an obscure part of my library degree a couple of decades ago.

What I find interesting is that LibraryThing senses a need for more structured than the folksonomy approach that is its signature. And in the same week that Web4Lib started talking about ChaCha, a search engine that combines human mediation with with search engines to give users 'answers rather than a list of links'. Does this signify a shift in the zeitgeist about the costs and benefits of human vs machine processing of information? Probably not. But it's a timely reminder that a trained human brain and structured information resources aren't yet anachronisms.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Hey, some quick comments from me, Tim.

1. The point here is not really to give LT members a way to browse their shelves virtually. There are many better ways to browse books in a purely digital environment than to "add the shelf back" in Clay Shirky's words.

2. The focus on the shelf is very intentional and integral. LibraryThing already has various ways of finding things—tags, tagmashes, use of LCSH, DDC, LCC, etc. I don't see users getting together to create a single classification as improving that effort. Indeed, the whole idea of single anything cuts against the possibilities of a digital world.

But real books still need to fit on shelves. And there are systems that are better than random. DDC is better, but I think it could be improved upon—and be free.