Digitization ... Trojan horse ... flickr ... museums
(...) But now we have bits. Content is digitized into bits, and the information about that content consists of bits as well. This is the third order of order and it’s hitting us—to use a completely inappropriate metaphor—like a ton of bricks. The third order removes the limitations we’ve assumed were inevitable in how we organize information.
(...) The digital world thereby allows us to transcend the most fundamental rule of ordering the real world: Instead of everything having its place, it’s better if things can get assigned multiple places simultaneously.
(...) The digital revolution in organization sweeps beyond how we find odd photos and beyond how we organize our businesses’ information assets. In fact, the third-order practices that make a company’s existing assets more profitable, increase customer loyalty, and seriously reduce costs are the Trojan horse of the information age. As we all get used to them, third-order practices undermine some of our most deeply ingrained ways of thinking about the world and our knowledge of it.
For example, medical information that used to come only through the careful filters of medical experts and medical publications is now available to everyone prior to the basic housekeeping processes of being gone through and put away. The miscellanizing of this information not only breaks it out of its traditional organizational categories but also removes the implicit authority granted by being published in the paper world. Second-order organization, it turns out, is often as much about authority as about making things easier to find.
We have entire industries and institutions built on the fact that the paper order severely limits how things can be organized. Museums, educational curricula, newspapers, the travel industry, and television schedules are all based on the assumption that in the second-order world, we need experts to go through information, ideas, and knowledge and put them neatly away.
But now we—the customers, the employees, anyone—can route around the second order. We can confront the miscellaneous directly in all its unfulfilled glory. We can do it ourselves and, more significantly, we can do it together, figuring out the arrangements that make sense for us now and the new arrangements that make sense a minute later. Not only can we find what we need faster, but traditional authorities cannot maintain themselves by insisting that we have to go to them. The miscellaneous order is not transforming only business. It is changing how we think the world itself is organized and—perhaps more important—who we think has the authority to tell us so.