So in amongst the chaos, I have been doing some reading, including The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More and Linked: How Everything Is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means.
The Long Tail is a quick read, and gives you the fundamentals of power law distributions. It’s been helpful to me in understanding OCW’s traffic. I’d definitely recommend it for the basic understanding. I started reading Linked with less enthusiasm, mostly because it felt like it was being marketed as a follow-on to the popularity of The Long Tail. Even at the beginning, I was wondering if I ought to bother finishing the whole thing.
With about fifty pages left, I can now say that it’s definitely worth the read, and is a much more thought-provoking book than The Long Tail. It’s structure feels a little forced and the beginning a little fluffy, but it’s the result of quite a bit of mathematical research and goes much more in-depth than the introduction would suggest. A couple of thoughts: I’ve realized while reading it that my attraction to much scientific non-fiction is in seeing how people learn things as much as in the particular subject matter itself. The process of discovery is fascinating to me, and provides a window into how knowledge grows.
In Linked, I started out being surprised how long it’s taken for our understanding of networks to emerge. Observations that to me seem pretty obvious (networks aren’t all random) didn’t enter the thinking of mathematicians until the late ’90’s. 1990’s. You know, well after mankind had created the internet. Anyway, of course these guys do things with that observation way way beyond my humble ability to think about numbers and watching the paths they follow is really very interesting.
I’ll conceded the possibility that he’ll come to this in the end, but one phenomenon Barabasi has not acknowledged so far is the impact the Web is having on our ability to connect knowledge itself. He discusses the networks of Internet topology, cellular biology, Hollywood casting and economics, and in virtually every chapter, he discusses data sets that his research group has downloaded and examined, data sets that without the Internet would have been completely hidden to he and his staff. It really makes clear how the Web (and open access to information) are supporting an exponential growth in our understanding of our world.
One thing just occurring to me now is that a fundamental flaw of the learning object model might usefully be understood by thinking less about objects and more about networks when dealing with educational materials. Another way of understanding content vs. context? I’ll have to give it more thought.
So here’s an application of web technology to creative writing that really just might work. An online critiquing forum that connects the best-rated works to editors. It really depends I suppose on the quality of the feedback in the system, but feels like a good system. Maybe I’ll drop a chapter of the novel in and see what happens. It would do me good to critique some fiction, just to give those atrophied mental muscles a little bit of a workout.