Thursday, June 1st, 2006

Intaglectuals 1: Kevin Kelly

I’ve been meaning to write up my thoughts on what I heard at Book Expo America or listened to recently online—Kevin Kelly, Chris Anderson, David Weinberger and (maybe) Carly Fiorina. This started out as one big compare-and-contrast blob. I’d better split it up.

Kevin Kelly: What Will Happen to Books? As many of you know, Abby and I recently attended Book Expo America, promoting LibraryThing with Abebooks. BEA is a very “miscellaneous” affair—embracing everyone from authors to printers, agents to librarians.

If there was a unifying meme it was the need to react to Kevin Kelly’s just-published “manifesto” “What will happen to books?” (New York Times Magazine, May 14). The general feeling was “This guy’s a nut,” with an undertone of anxiety—What if he’s NOT a nut? What if I just don’t “get” it? What if I’m a dinosaur?

I generally find myself on the “left” of these issues. I think things have happened or are happening now—the web, Google, blogs, open source, book scanning, wikis, tagging, mashups—with ramifications for intellectual life in general and book publishing in particular. I even think—don’t laugh—LibraryThing has a tiny part to play in these changes.

So it’s odd to find someone to the left of me. That Kevin Kelly guy’s a nut! The article fairly bristles with overreaching, but I’ll single out a quote that makes me embarrassed for LibraryThing:

“The link and the tag may be two of the most important inventions of the last 50 years.”

The link, okay—particularly if link is metonymous with the internet in general—but the TAG?!

It’s too early to tell, but I’d be hesitant to add even something broader, like “user generated data (and metadata)” to the top 100 inventions of the last half-century. I mean, what do you bump? Genetic engineering? The Pill? The satellite? The one-click patent?

Am I a dinosaur?

*Of course, although books and tags were central to his the article, he didn’t mention LibraryThing. That’s life.

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