08 September 2006


Unfindable (a virtue)

Indexers work to make things findable, but there's another side to this coin. Indexers also work to make things unfindable.

An important and often overlooked consequence of the culling process that indexers hone when deciding what should be indexed or labeled, and how, is that every decision an indexer does not make makes something that more unfindable. In fact, just as there are infinite number of misspellings for any one word, there an infinite number of indexing choice that an indexer can choose. But unlike misspelled words, which by definition are "mistakes," every indexing choice and every keyword is a good keyword in the right context. The information space is too big for mistakes; for each conscious and unconscious inaction, the best we can hope for is "highly unlikely." If we don't do it, perhaps no one will need it.

There's a sign in a general store in Lake George, New York: "If you don't see it, you don't need it." This is the inadvertent motto of all indexers. We can only pray that everything concept we leave unindexed, every word we don't choose, and every relationship we don't articulate is unneeded. Then again, there are an infinity of choices we never even see, aren't there?

Unfindability is a pandemic, a glorious desert that stretches beyond our senses and imaginings. In today's word of RFID technology, in which every object and person (and object-person combination) can potentially be mapped and tracked over an arbitrary length of time, the vast wasteland of unfindability starts to rank up there with a good vacation.

Let's turn the indexing process around. As indexers, what do we want to make lost?

As indexers, we shape the worlds that no one sees. Now let's do it on purpose.

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I'm reading a book right now (which I won't name publicly) that's been getting a lot of praise. But the index seems very weak to me. A lot of references to things have been left out that I consider vital. My guess is that the indexer, for whatever reason, thought that no one would bother looking up those particular references. The indexer was wrong.
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