Image [cc] nengard

On Monday, ReadWriteWeb contributor, Richard MacManus, wrote an article called Why Topic Pages Are The Next Big Thing. The article starts out with something that might look very familiar to a librarian… especially one experienced in cataloging structure.

Chronological and real-time consumption of content just doesn’t work anymore. It’s time for topic pages to add a layer of organization on top.

MacManus argues that the way products like Facebook, Twitter and even blogs are consumed in a Last In, First Out method doesn’t match the overall needs of those consuming these products. “The time for topic pages has come,” writes MacManus. Most librarians would probably agree, and say that the time for topic pages has come, again.

The examples that MacManus uses for showing the trend is once again moving toward topical rather than chronological organization are Medium and Pinterest. Both of these products are ‘visual’ aggregators of information, and I’m afraid that the underlying message of why topical organization is important might be lost because of these examples. Topical organization based on visual cues are very cool to the eye, but this type of organization isn’t limited to this type of stimulus. While I was reading this article, I began thinking of KM projects that could benefit from the type of topical structure that projects like Medium and Pinterest are attempting to do. Come to think of it… maybe KM could adopt some of the visualization found in these ideas, but that’s a topic for another post.

The other key ingredient that is mentioned in the article will also make catalogers smile. MacManus specifically points out the flaws in the current topical organization of products like Twitter, Flickr and Delicious is that these are “freeform” topic generating products. Products like Medium are attempting to control the topics, much in a way that AACR2 attempts to structure information resources into specific cataloging rules. In other words, the topics are generated from an organized list rather than just making up new tags every time someone uploads a new piece of information. It seems that the narrowing of subject headings is where MacManus thinks we should be going.

I was not the only person to make the link between what MacManus is advocating in his article, and the traditions found in library subject headings. Luc Gauvreau commented that this is nothing new at all:

And organizing informations by topics is really not new, libraries do that for centuries. And culture around the World always find a way to categorize, classifie and order their infos: it’s the only way to understand something, give meanings to the world. Dewey and Library of Congress classification, traditionnal bibliotheconomy are old, almost obsolete, but their [objective] is the good one. A date, chronology in itself is nothing, it must be related with topics and space (places) to mean something.

Of course, the same old problem that we run into here is that subject classification isn’t an easy process, and cannot be automated in a way that doesn’t end up causing more problems than it solves. If it were easy, or there was a way to automate the process, then we would have a way to apply Library of Congress classifications to the Internet and voilà, problem solved, and Internet organized! Perhaps there is some happy, forgive the pun, Medium, here that the new Topic Pages products will find. I’m sure if they need help in getting there, the creators of these products can contact their local library cataloging departments for guidance.