The Fractal Nature of Knowledge « Not Otherwise Categorized… is Seth Earley’s response to a question about whether we “need more categories” as knowledge becomes more specialised. He points out that “categories are only meaningful given a specific scale” and that the level of abstraction you need depends on the context.
The metaphor of the fractal nature of knowledge strikes me as quite a good one in this respect – a knowledge organisation system should allow you to pan out or zoom in to get different views, but obviously there are practical limits (Borges’s map of the empire that is the same size as the empire itself) so you have to make a selection – in both breadth and depth. Seth Earley notes that “Communities of Practice can coalesce around extremely arcane branches of knowledge” and they could well need a very “fine grain” that no-one else in their organisation would ever use.
He adds that “there is no ‘standard’ way of organizing knowledge even for a specific process in a specific industry” and describes the way different organisations (businesses, libraries, universities) have different “knowledge consumers” and therefore different classification needs. He also argues that for businesses to gain maiximum value from their knowledge, they should find the “sweet spot” between chaos and control – allowing people to “self-organise” while contributing to the overall goals of the business.
The ISKO UK event Sharing vocabularies on the web via simple knowledge organisaton system (SKOS) was another roaring success, with great speakers and a very high calibre audience. If you’ve been reading up on knowledge organisation and want your books signed by the authors, an ISKO meeting is the place to go! The SKOS event, on Monday 21st July, was very detailed and technical, but understandable enough for novices to the subject to appreciate, and a great way of getting a handle on some of the key concepts. The first speaker was Alistair Miles from the University of Oxford who is using SKOS to get biological research (specifically into fruit flies) onto the semantic web. His colleague Antoine Isaac talked about transforming exisiting knowledge organisation systems into a semantic web format. Stella Dextre Clarke, Leonard Will, and Nicolas Cochard talked about the new British Standard (BS8723) for thesaurus creation that they have been compiling. It is in the process of being turned into an ISO standard. They also explained its relationship to SKOS. Ceri Binding and Douglas Tudhope from the University of Glamorgan then described their STAR project for managing archaeological information using SKOS. Finally Bernard Vatant from Mondeca explained that you don’t have to choose between SKOS and OWL – you can use both.
The event ended with a panel session for questions and answers and then networking over wine and nibbles.