The one-sentence summary

The rules of the physical world do not apply online: everything is now miscellaneous.


  • The rules of the physical world (in which everything has its place) have been upended as business, politics, science and media move online. In the digital world everything has its places (plural), with transformative effects:

1.     Information is now a social asset and should be made available for anyone to link, organise and make more valuable

2.    There’s no such thing as ‘too much’ information – it gives people the hooks to find what they need

3.    Messiness is a digital virtue, leading to new ideas, efficiency and social knowledge

4.    Authorities are less important than buddies for trustworthy information

  • Physical space puts some things nearer than others; objects can only be in one spot at a time; there is only one layout; things need to be neat
  • Information doesn’t just want to be free – it wants to be miscellaneous


  • Atoms take up room, but content is digitised into bits. This is the third order that removes the limitations on how we organise information
  • The first order is the physical items themselves, the second is metadata (information about information – our systems for organising things)
  • We have many ways to do this: nesting includes trees (such as genealogy) and maps (in which lumps are units of land, and splits are the arbitrary divisions between them)
  • These days we need a faceted classification system that dynamically constructs a browsable, branching tree that exactly meets our needs
  • The new principles of organising information are:

1. Filter on the way out, not on the way in

2. Put each leaf (of data) on as many branches as possible

3. Everything is metadata and everything can be a label

4. Give up control (let data become ‘intertwingled’)

  • An article on Wikipedia is deemed ‘neutral’ when people have stopped changing it (NPOV: No Point Of View)
  • Online recommendations can come unstuck: Amazon recommended books on adoption for those looking at abortion


  • This information is buried in dense text – you need to root it out