Why files need to die

This O’Reilly piece (link at end) is an important read.

I spent the last nine month working at THINK Global School where we built a web platform, nicknamed Spot, that allowed students and faculty to exploit tagging. Everything we did was dumped into Spot and tagged by users with a number of keywords, including one so-called übertag; this allowed us to build dynamic smart searches which collated related material on the fly. What this gave everyone–students, faculty and administration equally–was a big bucket of unstructured data that could be sorted on the fly.

Although in its infancy, it is already capable of giving each user multiple, highly personalized views of the same data. It also creates excellent opportunities for interdisciplinary work. For example, my Grade 9 literature students and I read several works by 8th century Chinese poets, LI Po and Du Fu. The poems, set against the backdrop of the Great Wall, followed a three-day hike we made along a remote section of the Wall itself with William Lindsay. My math teacher was building scale models of the Wall in Google SketchUp and so I asked her to have the students add my literature tags to their work. The result, as you can see, is that all the related work–the math, the literature and the trip photos–shows up in one bucket.


My hunch–and this needs formal study–is that learning this way is less fragmented, more holistic. Certainly, by the end of the school year, our students were much more inclined to make connections between (apparently) disparate subjects. It’s a much more natural way to work, as the O’Reilly piece points out. And from my early experience with the concept, a much more powerful way to learn.

The next step would be to automate the tagging–to build a semantic web. That would eliminate errors, such as the misspelling or misapplying of tags, that cause data loss in a search. More importantly, itnwould ease collaboration between schools. Imagine easy, intelligent data sharing between schools!

Via O’Reilly Radar. http://radar.oreilly.com/2011/07/why-files-need-to-die.html?utm_source=feedbu…


  1. Reply
    charleshfowler July 16, 2011

    When you and I were talking about Skyping you in to talk with that group of IT directors, you had suggested talking about this: Spot, tagging et al. I steered things in the direction of what you have done with the iPad, which was my understanding of what was making the group itchy at that point. While that turned out to be fascinating, I do wish in retrospect that we had gone with your gut and focussed on this – it is a much more interesting change, closer to the core of things. Maybe another time? Cheers.

  2. Reply
    Brad Ovenell-Carter July 16, 2011

    Anytime Charles! The conversation is never over.

Leave a Reply