Collections > Sets > Tags > Links = Aggregations

Flickr recently announced that “collections” have been added as a feature: “make as many collections as you like, collection can contain collections or sets (but not both), collection can be nested 5 deep”

This is a bad thing. Let me explain why…
First let’s step back historically. In the traditional spatial-world “collections” were filled with physical objects, and those objects were within a single collection (though in large library collections +1million monographs there are sometimes objects in separate collections). The difference for our NOW digital-world is that virtual objects can exist in multiple collections at the same time. It is as though the only copy of Shakespeare’s Will could sit simultaneously on every Renaissance scholars desk in the world, and once more that object could be written on by every one of those scholars without it being harmed. In this way a virtual object exists everywhere and not anywhere at the same time! So, basically this means that there is no such thing as collections. And for that matter there is no such thing as Sets, Tags, Links, Grouping, Associations…or any other spatial=physical state that would suggest that there is a tie that binds any object to another single object. Rather, it is time we began to think of all virtual objects as flying books, or rather dynamically created aggregations. Imagine if you will a library, where every book was equipped with a rocket and pair of Superman ears. Now when a reader in the library mentions a word in the table of contents or index of that book the book hears this mention and flies to the reader at the speed of light! Of course my imagination is from the point of the reader and I see books flying at me in some kind of “attack of the books” horror film. Well, this is a bit what it is like to get your head around the idea of objects not belonging to collections but belonging to multiple aggregations! This theoretical concept is better covered by David Weinberber in his book ‘Everything is Miscellaneous’, see his video lecture on the topic here, and his podcast interview here.

Alright so lets get past the theoretical stuff and talk about the practical. Why shouldn’t you use “Collections” in Flickr? -> Because “collections” mean you are thinking about your photos as physical-spatial objects and not as digital-virtual objects! What you should actually be doing is assigning aggregations points for your photos, i.e. nodes where your photos can immediately “fly to” without being stuck in a single collection. Or in Web2 talk: create tags for your photos so they can belong to multiple collections at the same time. For example, lets say you are creating a collection of photos about your family; and then suddenly your parents get divorced (sad but a fact of life). Now you potentially need to split this collection in two. One collection of photos for your father’s side of the family and one for your mother’s. However, because you still like both your parents you still want a single collection for yourself. Well, this is accomplished with tags. You can go back through and add tags to each of these photos (or rather bulk-tag your photos: point and click): tag:MyDadsFamily and tag:MyMomsFamily to allow for these photos to be viewed separately. Now lets pretend your parents get back together! Now what do you do? – Well you can then perform a search -or aggregation- that allows you to add your tag:MyDadsFamily and tag:MyMomsFamily into a single aggregation.

The point being, things change over the course of your life. And when you are old and retired and are confined to an arm chair you want to be able to say some key words (which you still remember hopefully) and those pictures will appear for you to relive old memories.

So don’t get too carried away with “collections”, instead have a go with tags and lets things change from there.

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~ by dfflanders on July 4, 2007.

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