"Small Pieces Loosely Joined — a unified theory of the web" by David Weinberger

Aug 29, 2007

When I met Weinberger last year in Paris, he was in the process of finishing up his latest book, “Everything is miscellaneous”. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve seen him talking about it, and it appears to be a great look into taxonomies and how things are categorized and organized in the world and web. See also a conversation with him at YUI Theater.

I got the book, but thought that before reading it, I’d first read his previous work, and namely “Small Pieces”.

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Creating a unified theory of the web sounds like a daunting task if you attempt to do it comprehensively and scientifically. But neither of these is Weinberger’s goal. Rather, it’s a loosely associated set of essays. Or, if you will, extended blog posts, as he often talks in first person about his own experiences. And yet he still manages to have something in his work that makes such books valuable for me, and that is managing to take and aggregate the current trends and sites on the web and create longer-lasting conclusions out of this mess. I like writings that rise above the current trends and hypes (as of now, late 2007, I’d say these are “web 2.0” and social networking) and can convincingly talk about what was before, and what’s yet about to come. And it’s precisely because it’s not a scholarly, academic work (although it provides ample references to both academic and other sources) that it’s enjoyable to read, as Weinberger is simply a master writer and storyteller.

He analyzes the web across seven trends, or keywords – space, time, perfection, togetherness, knowledge, matter and hope. There’s a theme that goes through many of these – even though the web is the largest and most complex mass community ever created, and mass communities typically diminish individuality, it’s perfectly possible to remain individual, and human, on the web. As Weinberger says:

Perfection itself is homogenizing: there’s only one way to be a perfect circle.

I’ve also argued myself previously that even at times of crisis, and especially in the course of daily business, it’s perfectly feasible to avoid mind-numbingly politically correct corpspeak and use a human, individual language instead. Corpspeak may be nice and safe, but it’s often boring and meaningless as everyone speaks the same words, language and message. If I have a choice, I always go with writing that may be unpolished, but that communicates caring and passion instead of simply “doing the job”.

There are many other ideas in the book that resonated with me, but I’m not going to retype the whole thing. It surely builds a lot upon Cluetrain Manifesto, so if you liked the ideas presented there, whether just the 95 theses of the whole thing, you might as well want to take a look at “Small Pieces Loosely Joined”. It’s an easy, entertaining read, and you could even learn or rediscover something.