Archive for October 2010


Less Is More

I propose the following law:

The value of information is inversely proportional to the complexity of the system used to organize it.

The core argument here is that the information itself doesn’t want to be organized, its humans that want to organize information. More specifically its YOU that wants to organize the information. You have a concept of that organization in your head. Until humans start sharing braincells you are the only person that truly understand the particular structure you want the information in. The more complex and specific that structure is, the more it is specific to you and the less your fellow meat sacks will understand it. Thus by organizing the data you have destroyed its value to anyone but yourself.

Computers have made it possible to increase the complexity of information organization to the point where the average person can no longer understand it. There are lots of organizations in common usage in computers that totally bewilder and frustrate average people. The file system is a great example. Users are endlessly loosing files. The don’t know “where” their files are. They did a search (in the wrong place) and they can’t find them. A file system is too complex an organizational structure for people to use intuitively.

Search is the ultimate proof of overcomplexity. When a organizational system grows to the point where search becomes the primary mode of information access it has effectively ceased to be an organizational system. All complex organizational structures are subsumed by search. Search presents results in a flat, unstructured list simply ordered by “relevance”. Relevance is a user specific concept that imposes the users own ideas of organization. Good search tools can learn what is relevant to an individual user, essentially imposing the users unique organizational view on the information.

This should yield some advice: Treat all attempts to impose organization on the data as a user preference.

If you can understand that then you know better than to bother structuring the data in some complex way. The next user will always want to see things differently.