08 February 2006


Organizing as exactly as possible

It should come as no surprise that information can be organized in many, many ways. According to Rosenfeld & Morville, there are two major types sorting schemes: exact (objective) and ambiguous (subjective). Personally, I like to imagine a third category, custom, that overlaps both and therefore deserves special treatment.

Exact sorting schemes are things like alphabetically ordered, numerically ordered, chronologically order, and spatially ordered. These schemes require that you follow an accepted and hopefully well-known sequence, such as from A to Z, from 1 to 9, or from top to bottom. Exact schemes do allow you to reverse order -- my blog, for example, sorts each entry in reverse chronological order, with the newest entries at the top -- but they don't allow you to start mixing things up. In an alphabetically ordered list of words, words starting with C will always appear between the B-words and the D-words.

There are three major problems with exact schemes:

Of course, these three reasons aren't enough to toss exact schemes into the rubbish bin completely. Exact schemes are easy. You can get a computer to sort things almost instantly, and most audiences have no trouble using them despite their shortcomings. However, my last point -- that they're meaningless -- is why there are so many better options.

I'll talk about ambiguous and custom schemes in my next posting.

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