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Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room Hardcover – Jan 3 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (Jan. 3 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465021425
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465021420
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.3 x 2.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 454 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #147,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


Marc Benioff, chairman, CEO, bestselling author of Behind the Cloud
“Led by the Internet, knowledge is now social, mobile, and open. Weinberger shows how to unlock the benefits.”


John Seely Brown, co-author of The Social Life of Information and A New Culture of Learning
 “Too Big to Know is a stunning and profound book on how our concept of knowledge is changing in the age of the Net. It honors the traditional social practices of knowing, where genres stay fixed, and provides a graceful way of understanding new strategies for knowing in today's rapidly evolving, networked world. I couldn't put this book down. It is a true tour-de-force written in a delightful way.”
Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind
“With this insightful book, David Weinberger cements his status as one of the most important thinkers of the digital age. If you want to understand what it means to live in a world awash in information, Too Big to Know is the guide you've been looking for.”
Tony Burgess, Cofounder,
“David Weinberger’s Too Big to Know is an inspiring read—especially for networked leaders who already believe that the knowledge to change the world is living and active, personal, and vastly interconnected. If, as David writes, “Knowledge is becoming inextricable from—literally unthinkable without—the network that enables it” our great task as leaders is to design networks for the greater good. David casts the vision and gives us excellent examples of what that looks like in action, even as he warns us of the pitfalls that await us.”
David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States
Too Big to Know is a refreshing antidote to the doomsday literature of information overload. Acknowledging the important roles that smart mobs and wise crowds have played, David Weinberger focuses on solutions to the crisis in knowledge—translating information into new knowledge by exploiting the network.  Based upon the premise that ‘knowledge lives not in books, not in heads, but on the net,’ Weinberger outlines a bold net infrastructure strategy that is inclusive rather that exclusive, creates more useful information—metadata, exploits linking technologies, and encourages institutional participation.  The result is a network that is both ‘a commons and a wilds’ where the excitement lies in the limitless possibilities that connected human beings can realize.”
Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus
Too Big To Know is Weinberger's brilliant synthesis of myriad little debates—information overload, echo chambers, the wisdom of crowds—into a single vision of life and work in an era of networked knowledge.”


About the Author

David Weinberger is a Senior Researcher at Harvard University's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society. He is the author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined, Everything Is Miscellaneous, and a coauthor of The Cluetrain Manifesto. He lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An excellent reflection on the impact(s) of the disintermediation of information, full of fascinating insights into how our approach to learning and knowing is evolving through the influence of instant connectivity with unimaginable quantities of information. Very well written in every respect--I keep coming back to it for tidbits.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 39 reviews
117 of 130 people found the following review helpful
Unconvincing April 18 2012
By Corwin J. Joy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The premise of this book is that somehow networked organizations and networked thinking will lead to better, smarter decisions. As long as we include a sufficient diversity of opinions and experience in the networks helping us make our decisions we will arrive at better, more informed answers. In fact, as the amount of information explodes, these networks will be the only way to manage all the information we are creating.

Here's the problem. I don't think anyone will dispute that reaching out the to internet to search for knowledge can get reasonable answers quickly. Also, running contests where many experts are involved can get good results. The problem is, if you are solving a real problem at the end of the day somebody actually has to do the work to get an answer. A "network" isn't going to magically come up with an answer. Also, reaching out to a wide group on the internet often results in the same stupid *wrong* answers to a problem being circulated around and around and around. Networks can just as easily work in a negative direction recycling stupidity rather than knowledge. There doesn't seem to be much of a role in this book for sustained critical and deep thinking about a problem to arrive at a solution. This doesn't make sense to me since much of human progress continues to come from sustained hard work by individuals working to achieve expertise in an area and focusing on a single problem at a time. This book makes some good points about how our relationship with information is changing to rely more on networks of our colleagues or friends to filter and absorb the massive amounts of information created every year. However, the author's confidence that networked thinking and organizations will magically solve many of our problems is happy nonsense, in my opinion. Also, while the author claims that networks can make better decisions, he never really gives any detailed research supporting this assertion or showing under what conditions networks are better or worse at solving problems. This makes the book more of an exercise in faith rather than something you can use to decide if a network would be helpful in a particular problem or not.
60 of 69 people found the following review helpful
"The solution to the information overload problem is to create more metadata!" Jan. 28 2012
By Getaneh Agegn Alemu - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Having his background in philosophy, perhaps no one had expected David Weinberger to write a book on a topic that is at the heart and soul of librarians, i.e. cataloguing and classification. In the modern notion of the term this is called metadata. When Everything is Miscellaneous was published in May 2007, at first it was as if some war was waged against Melville Dewey's classification system, especially the class 200 for Religion. Some protagonists in the field such as Peter Morville responded with an apt blog entry arguing that "Not Everything is Miscellaneous". In his book, even more in his several book talks, Weinberger mocked not only Melville Dewey and Michael Gorman but also Aristotle, albeit with a great caution. In many ways though, the book has slowly been well received and cited widely in the library and information science literature. The book would be considered as disruptive in its argument against some of the conceptual foundations of library and information science, mainly classification and categorisation systems. In Everything is Miscellaneous, Weinberger called for a total rethink of not only the notion of classification systems but also the very definition of metadata. For him, "metadata is what you already know and data is what you're trying to find out" (Weinberger, 2007, p.104).

Now his new book is out as of early January 2012. Too Big To Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room. In this book, Weinberger offers yet his staunchest critique on well established conceptual and theoretical foundations of knowledge including the DIKW (Data- Information-Knowledge) pyramid that most computer science and library science have incorporated in their curriculum in their foundations course.Another concept he took aim is information overload. A typical Google search on the phrase information overload returns more than 6 million results (doubled even since Weinberger records this statistics). Popularised by the technology futurist Alvin Toffler, the phrase resonates in the minds of librarians who for so long have hinged their value proposition on solving the problem of having too-much-information. As Weinberger notes, information overload, also called info glut, data smog, or information tsunami, is a problem so serious that it has become a topic for a whole body of work. Not only that, the problem also warranted inclusion into the scientific and psychiatric dictionary with its nomenclature such as information anxiety or information fatigue syndrome. In Too Big To know, in what seems a disruptive argument, Weinberger tells that too much information is actually a good thing. To support his argument, he cites Clay Shirky, who argues that "it is not information overload. It is filter failure".

By providing several examples and writing rather beautifully, Weinberger contrasts the long-form argument of the Age of Books with the loosely connected webs of the Age of Networks in which he argues, the long form argument is a constraint inherited from the medium of print. Our thought process, nonetheless, works not in a simplistic, linear and long form ways but in an intricate web of links and associations which is better reflected in the Age of Networks. Scientists work in private in the Age of Books, after-the-fact peer-review is the norm, but in the Age of Networks, he argues, the filtering process is immediate, open and on the cloud. In short, he argues the abundance of crap and good that is generated through the network gets filtered by the network itself.

Reading this book, one can surmise that Weinberger is for Open Access. He is for Open Internet. He is for Open Data. He is for Linked Data. Such an open ecology, Weinberger argues, provides a fertile ground for innovation and creativity. Overall, influenced by less baggage from the disciplines of either computer science or library science, Weinberger seems to suggest that the influence of the Age of Books is fading and the time has come for the Age of Networks. Hence, he argues, knowledge is now residing in the network, not on any one or even genius skull.

In many respects, Weinberger's Too Big To Know, is in agreement with arguments put forward by James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds and Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody. Perhaps a slight oversight in the book may be the notion of `information overload as good and inevitable' was first discussed by David Allen in his book Getting Things Done (2002). We will await reflections from other authors such as Andrew Keen who may argue against some if not most of the views espoused by Weinberger.

The book is relevant to the field of library and information science in many ways. The discussion on the value of metadata, especially on metadata that is generated by users in terms of user tagging, ratings, reviews, filtering, and recommendations (pp.186) is crucial for librarians who are at the cross-roads of choosing between old and new metadata paradigms. This book illuminates new ideas on library collections and provides a glimpse of what the future of libraries would look like, albeit Weinberger's discussion is at a philosophical level. Metadata is ultimately one of the solutions to the filter failure in which he asserts "the solution to the information overload problem is to create more metadata". This is a notion, I believe, we in library and information science should develop further.
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
A (Kind of) Postmodern Look at How Our Conception of Knowledge Changes With Media Jan. 24 2012
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on
Format: Hardcover
A few reviewers complain that this book is a bit scattered and lacking a clear, explicitly stated, thesis. I somewhat agree with them, so let me try, as best I can, to give you what I think the author's core message is.

In the vein of philosophical postmodernism, David Weinberger's underlying idea is that what we come to call knowledge changes in 'shape' with the media we are using to convey and absorb it. And for quite a long time, we have been using the media of the printed word, in scrolls, books, magazines, academic journals, etc. And the consequence of this is that knowledge appears to be somewhat neat, tidy, and resting on foundations. Thus, I go to a library to get a book (which is published only after a rigorous peer review or editing process), and read its very linear argument where one chapter builds on another to reach a conclusion. When needed, the author cites authorities in footnotes, which I will seldom check myself because of the time and energy (if not monetary) cost involved. And while the author can anticipate my objections, we are having a one-way conversation where the author is talking to me (and where I can talk to myself in an 'inner dialogue' but not to the author).

Now, Weinberger writes, since the technology is changing, how we think about what knowledge will surely change also. First, it is becoming glaringly apparent how little information any one of us can absorb. While information was abundant with books, this fact was somewhat 'hidden' because only a fraction of all total information was published, and only a fraction of that was carried in libraries and bookstores, and only a fraction of that was ever seen by any individual reader. Now, of course, we are painfully aware of how much info there is because the internet makes it cheap to publish and brings it to us (rather than expecting us to go to it).

In addition, instead of looking at citations I seldom expend the time/energy to verify, things are becoming hyperlinked. And with hyperlinking comes a challenge to the linear ways of the book - where one followed the argument where the author, rather than the reader, wanted to take it. (How many times have you got lost following hyperlinks, versus how many times have you got lost in checking physical citations?)


So, maybe, the world where information appears scarce, long-form books are the pinnacle of what knowledge looks like, and where knowledge rests on firm foundations (citations which MAY but seldom are checked let alone challenged) is a thing of the past. On the internet, anything can be published relatively cost-free, discussion boards and blog posts + comments yield as much knowledge as (and more rapidly than) books, and everything is hyperlinked, including hyperlinks (the citation process ends up looking less like a straight line and more circular).

So what?

Well, Weingberger offers some possible suggestions for how to cope with this (hypothesized) change, but he leaves those for a very short last chapter (of which I will not divulge details). The other reviewers are correct to note that this book is less focused than it could be, and because of that, readers very probably WILL come away with their "so what?" not having been answered. Weinberger is content to make his argument that the future of knowledge will probably change and leave it at that. (Of course, along the way, he disagrees vehemently and convincingly with those who think "the internet is making us stoopid" by, in essence, pointing out that our idea of what "smart" is was largely shaped by the technology we use, the book being the supposed measuring stick for what intellectual achievement is. And that begs the question that is at issue.)

So, this really isn't a 'how to' book, or a book that will be of much interest to business folk (or others) looking for tips on how to deal with informational trends. It is much more a book of philosophy whose interest lies in... its just being so interesting. The author's case is really novel and while I think his exuberance may lead to some overstatements (there was no such thing as basing theory on fact until Bacon? Ever heard of Galileo?), most of these areas don't, in my view, affect his overall case. The irony is that it takes a long form book - published by a publishing house, replete with footnotes rather than hyperlinks - to make it.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Tainted by a limited world view Dec 30 2012
By Knowledge Worker - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Although this book does contain some very good, quotable sentences, overall the author lacks an understanding of how "hard science" works. He is correct in stating the obvious, that the wisdom of crowds can help reveal information about highly complex situations, such as societal attitudes and broadly-based questions of human behaviour. His arguments hinge, however, on a definition of what a 'fact' is that dances around the established understanding that there is some thought and skill behind raw data collection, and that there are some 'facts' (think gravitational constant) that aren't open to debate. It is absurd to conflate, as the author does, Darwin's work collecting and observing various species with a crowd-sourced effort to explain a news event like a tsunami or earthquake. At some point, the smartest, and not the loudest, voice should guide the discussion. The internet, and the social graph, is terrible at distinguishing between wisdom and popularity.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Mass Knowledge Feb. 23 2012
By Retired Reader - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is a meditation on how the Internet and its relatives have affected meaning and use of knowledge in the 21st Century. It really provides an epistemology for what is called the Information Age. Weinberger explores such concepts as "crowd sourcing" "collective intelligence" and the effect of open Internet access on public understanding and evaluation of issues affecting them. This book is filled with original and for the most part valid insights on how the Internet ET all has shaped and changed not only how knowledge is used, but how it is perceived. I will provide one example of how Weinberger has gone about making his argument:

In 1967 twelve academic philosophers formed the "Heidegger Circle" as a closed study group for the German 20th Century philosopher Martin Heidegger. This group had all the advantages of a closed circle: productive work could be done using basic commonly agreed to assumptions, with information exchanged quite probably accurate and ideas advanced well considered. The members were experts on Heidegger. Yet the fact that it was a closed circle insulated them from criticism outside the circle and outsider information that could have helped them to develop and clarify their thinking on a notoriously difficult writer. Well with the Internet the circle became a 4,000 member group that included people who did not really know what they were talking about and could "grind important topics down to dust." Yet the larger group also collectively knew more than the closed circle, challenged older and often incorrect assumptions, and developed new areas of study of this philosopher.

So is this book worth reading? Well it depends on whether or not you want to know what knowledge has become in the age of the Internet and the theories that Weinberger contends explain the transformation of knowledge into a network based phenomenon. The book is an insightful piece of work that will profoundly influence such esoteric subjects as systems thinking and knowledge management.