There’s a Facebook group called “Campaign to Rename Our Moon.” The group’s founder wants to change the name because “the moon” is kind of boring. A friend and I talked about the idea and I was arguing in support of it, really only half seriously, but I was trying to stress the importance of applying consistent naming rules, that are scalable, so that it makes sense to more people than only the people we know or could know (and to computers), and in situations we can’t conceive of. (The conversation ended with parallel universes.) Especially in text, the fact that the moon, a specific thing, shares the same word with what we could call everything else like it (other moons) really bugs me. At first I thought, we might not always have the context necessary to distinguish between “the moon” and the moon (of another planet).
It got me thinking about linked data, and the effort to include library catalogs, and how, in an environment in which things are more precisely identifiable because of its relativity to everything else, rather than in spite of it, we might not have to worry about the confusion our moon’s name might cause in a future we can’t see. On the Internet, linked data can provide that context all the time.
Of course, that future might not involve the Internet at all.
At the library where I work, I was telling a colleague about Google’s “agoogleaday” trivia game. The random question for the day, for which Google provides a modified version of its search engine, was a sentence full of obscure medical terms. My colleague was immediately discouraged by the jargon, and I hinted offhand, “You don’t need to know what the question means to find the answer.”
I wouldn’t have realized what a strange thing that is to say had I not just finished a book by James Gleick titled “The Information,” a history about how we think about and handle information. A lot of this book, especially toward the end, talks about information stripped of meaning (with abstract math) in the process of being transformed into something universally quantifiable, and the knee-jerk reactions against such deflowering. (And the current effort to bring meaning back, e.g. the Semantic Web.)
At the time, it felt like my offhand comment about agoogleaday was more intellectually fraudulent than strange. I might have actually looked around, worried that some of the high schoolers pounding away at their keyboards heard me essentially lend authority to the CliffNotes approach.
In Gleick’s book, there’s also a fair amount of math jargon thrown in, which I’m normally wont to skim, so long as I get the gist of it.