Blog posts that get meta about blogging can be a little yucky, but I hope you’ll allow me to get a little meta.  Having worked with databases for years I have come to appreciate the ability to label people or items more than one way in a database.  Multiple labeling helps me find these items later and know several things about them at a glance.  When blogging and other media sprouted up on the web with a tagging feature, I was intrigued.  It’s especially helpful to watch multiple people contribute to a set of tags and see how different people label the same thing.

Imagine my surprise then, when I came across this paragraph in the (otherwise unreadable) foreword of Roger Schank’s (quite readable) 1990 book, Tell Me a Story; Narrative and Intelligence:

[W]hy do some people resemble an old grandfather who can only tell the same few stories over and over again?  By contrast, why do other people seem to respond with a truly pertinent case?….[W]hat enables such people to respond intelligently? The answer…is that they have previously mulled over their experiences and labeled them in multiple interesting ways.  From a sequence of experiences they have constructed a narrative; they have reflected on this narrative and found a number of ways in which it is significant; and in so doing, their memory has attached several labels to the story, which allow them to recall the story when another narrative suggests similar labels.  Once the earlier story is recalled, these people can reflect on pertinent comparisons with the current situations.  Present wisdom depends on earlier indexing. (emphasis added) (pp. xv-xvi)

In 1990, Schank described the human intelligence that computers try to mimic through systems like tagging and search.  We’re built to index things, and we’re smarter when we do it and when we then employ those indexes.

The next time you’re writing a blog post and want to skip the tags, don’t do it.  Think about what’s relevant or how you’ll want readers to find the information in your post and hit that tag feature.  Be a friend to the hive’s intelligence.  Present wisdom depends on earlier indexing.

Along with 500 of my closest colleagues, I attended the Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania‘s Nonprofit Summit last Thursday.  As usual, the event was a great chance to see old friends and hear what’s new.  The fact that it occurred in early October this year made it feel even more like homecoming; if it’s in October again next year, maybe we can have a nonprofit football game to round out the day’s events.

I wanted to share a few things that I took away from the event:

  • Robert Egger of DC Central Kitchen reframed nonprofit collaboration.  I’d always thought of nonprofit collaboration – and Egger obviously thinks most of us have – as being focused on organizations coming together around mission.  Egger said we have reasons other than mission for coming together; owning our status as members of a sectore with shared strengths and issues has value in itself.  For example, he said that we never get any mainstream media coverage except for scandal and fluff.
  • Scott Hudson of the Alcoa Foundation said he has three questions when it comes to grants, speaking in social venture capitalist terms:
    • What are we buying?
    • What are the chances that we’ll get it?
    • Is this the best use of the money?
  • Larry Berger of the Saturday Light Brigade made a distinction that I have made before and one that I hold dear: the distinction between data and information.  One can’t have information without data, but it is possible to collect data and not turn it into information.
  • Janera Solomon talked about how she had to make the hard decision to choose quality over quantity at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.  This is a bold decision because quality is harder to evaluate objectively than is quantity, but she felt like she had to do it because the attribute her audience complained about was inconsistency.  If the Theater books fewer acts but they’re higher quality, the strategic thinking goes, the audience will build in future years.
  • During the Wishart Awards ceremony, I noticed that two of the three finalists used stories as the center of their videos.  They picked a client and gave a thumbnail of their lives before and after they’d found their way to the agency’s programs.  I remember those two videos a lot more than the other one, which was no less visually appealing but lacked a story to hold it together.