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Information organization: first order, second order and third order

A new book bursts with provocative ideas: David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder (Henry Holt 2007). It explores clearly and engagingly how in the coming years, with huge amounts of online information searchable, sortable, rateable, and improvable by users, we will change how we think about information. No longer will we be restricted to first-order organization, where we put the information in a physical structure such as books in the law department’s library. We won’t even be restricted by second-order organization, where we compile information about the first-order information, such as a card catalogue, which have time and space limitations.

Both of these traditional orders of information have physical boundaries and both imply the imposition of authority. For example, first-order knowledge management was a drawer with precedent documents stacked in some kind of arrangement. Second-order knowledge management was an index of those documents. Drawers being in short supply, the first order had physical limitations. Candidate documents for the collection needed to be vetted and approved, so someone had authority over what was included.

The third “order of order” removes the limitations we have previously faced on how to organize information. Digital information confronts no physical limits; indeed, the more of it available, the better the quality and usefulness.

This blog creates third-order information. It has digitized and untethered ideas about how to optimize an internal legal function so that others can find the pieces (the posts) and combine them with other pieces of information in whatever context and for whatever purpose they want. Vestiges of second-order structuring come from the categories I designate – and note that I do not choose multiple categories nor eschew them altogether – and from the chronology of my postings. Still, this blog is a tiny stream feeding into the ocean of unstructured electronic information.