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.