ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Guide —

The more I collect stuff, and at this point I am collecting a virtual tidal wave of stuff, the more I am realizing how important the role of a guide is.

There are a lot of good people in this world, doing a lot of good work collecting stuff. And by “a lot”, I mean thousands and thousands. In many cases they’re classifying it. In many cases they’re classifying it, finding its context, and methodically making sure the “tags” and “scope” and “whatsis” and everything else is perfectly in place.

Color photographs from 1909-1912. 1,300 celebrity photographs taken over 30 years. Computer Gaming World. Glass Insulators. Bum Wines. Barbed wire. Hewlett-Packard Calculators.

We won, you know. When all this computer stuff started out, even nominally OK digitized and captured works were considered great. Even when the image was in fact crappy or the audio was crappy or the framerate was crappy, at the end of the day your computer could do something neat and you enjoyed it. And you hoped that over time people would create even more cool stuff and put it where you could get it. I won’t state a time when all this happened because it was different for different people.

But the fact is, we’re there! I get sent a lot of digitized material to accompany the in-the-UPS-box stuff that arrives on my doorstep regularly, and people are working to digitize stuff by the truckload. One of the things that held me back with is that a lot of things I might be inclined to scan in are being scanned in anyway. I’m probably going to scan in a bunch of rather obscure and semi-boring material, simply because I can know that nobody else is doing so. But already my collection is somewhat untenable and will need a little readjustment.

This is where a guide comes in. A lot of people knew about the DIGITIZE.TEXTFILES.COM site, but it wasn’t until I talked in detail about what was so cool about the 1980 Coleco Catalog I’d digitized that people started hitting that particular exhibit with such fervor. In fact, I’m now the #1 hit for Coleco Catalog on Google. But the thing is, I’m not even the best scan of that catalog! A while later I found out that there was a site called the Handheld Museum that had not just scans of the catalog but links to information on all the games inside. Granted, it doesn’t have the FULL catalog, doesn’t have TIFFs available, but it’s still a very good work. Why am I the poobah and he’s the goat, search-engine-wise? Guides.

Without an advocate, there’s just so much stuff that you can’t possibly skim through it all, even to find the thing you want. In fact, you might not even know there’s stuff to skim through, or might not know that one pile is better than another pile.

A lot of my big hits come from Andy Baio, alias waxy, who functions as a very good guide for a lot of people. His link log is a beautiful stew of video, audio, news and ideas, with only the slightest commentary afterwards. I’ve watched comments from him result in world press interest in something on my weblog.

Same for BoingBoing. They can mention something that is 3 years old and cause a hurricaine of interest to knock over an unsuspecting server. For example, on December 13, 2006, which is the time this weblog entry was written, BoingBoing’s Mark Frauenfelder linked to this page about the Schiebe Illusion, which is at least as old as May 24, 2004 (and links to a non-existent page on the home server, so it may be older than that). So this page sits around for two and a half years and then goes through the roof in terms of hits.

Is this bad? BoingBoing doesn’t make any claims their links are to new stuff, or cutting-edge, or even, really accurate. They just say “A Directory of Wonderful Things”. And heck, even if you’ve seen it a gabillion times before, some stuff never ends up being not-wonderful. But what they do is function as guides, which is why they stay popular, because ultimately, in the aggregate, they point you to some pretty cool stuff.

For most people nothing about this is a revelation; they already knew of a buddy or a website or other source that gave them better ideas of where to go. I’m just figuring out, however, that maybe a guide or advocate is not just a nice bonus but a critical part of archiving. Without someone giving context and sense and pointers, you’re likely going to miss out on a lot of cool stuff.

The issue with this is that the dark-mirror side of guides and advocates are Marketers and PR people, who are willing to put approval or demand attention for anything willing to give them a few bucks. And if it serves their purposes, they’ll act just like your buddy or get you to think they’re doing you a favor. I hate them; for example, check out these scumbags. Monetizing advocacy while giving the impression of it all being one big happy happenstance borders on a crime against humanity for me. At one point Creative Commons signed up with these losers, and the resulting shitstorm showed, pretty clearly, the division between the mindset of various people in that “movement”. So there’s a bit of a minefield to wanting guides; a lot of people want that “mindshare” of telling you what is interesting today, and that’s part of why BoingBoing’s front page looks like the lead vehicle in a NASCAR race.

Maybe I’ll put the call out for an official guide to my crap. Or maybe I’ll be that guy:

A much better catalog in the DIGITIZE collection is the 1983 Shelburne Holiday Catalog. It’s a treasure trove of late 1970s and early 1980s electronics design, intense language, and amazing claims. Go check that one out!

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One Comment

  1. Firas says:

    You hate all marketers and PR people? Unfortunate worldview there.