This woman wants to standardize “discovery attribution” across the entire Internet.
What is discovery attribution?
Well, according to cross-disciplinary-interestingness-blogger Maria Popova, bloggers and Tweetists and the like are curators of information. We disperse ourselves throughout and infest the Internet, suctioning up the socio-bacterial output of popular culture like remoras clinging to a shadowy, infinite leviathan.* We digest our findings and reconfigure them into our own little signature turds, which we then fling, chimp-like, at computer monitors across the globe. This reconfiguration of informational turds, or to put it more gently, the discovery, collection, and presentation of intellectual bling, is arguably a creative endeavor.
Don’t blame Popova for that crappy mixed zoological metaphor, by the way; she puts it this way:
In an age of information overload, information discovery — the service of bringing to the public’s attention that which is interesting, meaningful, important, and otherwise worthy of our time and thought — is a form of creative and intellectual labor, and one of increasing importance and urgency. A form of authorship, if you will.
When Popova says that collecting stuff from around the internet is work, she’ll get no argument from me. She spends fifteen hours a day on her gargantuan Internetian output. Fifteen hours! The last time I spent fifteen hours on anything, it was a “Breaking Bad” bender, which enterprise, it should not surprise you to learn, failed to enbiggen anyone’s intellectual horizons. No lives were lost, fortunately, but a couple of dogs went unwalked, and I’m pretty sure some auntly neurons went on permanent hiatus, because day-um, that show is some effin hardcore culture-of-domination shit. Lard help me, I can’t look away!
But I digress.
Somewhere on the wild and wooly continuum of public media, along with stuff like journalistic integrity, plagiarism, fact-checking, and lyin-when-you-oughta-be-truthin, lies the gnarly concept of attribution. Attribution answers the question “not that we don’t trust you, but where did your idea come from?” This, alas, is a question that must be answered, so you can prove you’re not a low-down thieving plagiarist jacknut. And also, theoretically, so that motivated readers can continue their philosophic odyssey through your source material.
But the answer isn’t always straightforward. When you consider that all human knowledge depends on all the human knowledge that came before it, and acknowledge that there’s nothing new under the sun, and agree that even if it were possible to do (which it isn’t), art created in a vacuum without any cultural or historical or social references would be meaningless, it turns out that no matter what the idea, you didn’t — to downcycle a phrase — build that.
I’m all for attributin’. But how far back should you go?
In the interest of preventing the work of bringers-of-interestingness-to-the-public’s-attention from perishing in obscurity, Popova’s solution is the “Curator’s Code,” an implementation of unicode symbols that represent the closely related concepts of “via” and “hat tip.” In the spirit of classiness and mutual respect, everyone across the Internet would start via-ing and hat-tipping right and left, giving credit where credit is due, etc. For example, I got the idea for this post from Popova, so I should “via” her. Like this.
ᔥMaria Popova. That little squiggle is the symbol for “via.”*
So you pop ovah to Popova’s, and presumably from there the hyperlink trail will lead eventually to Idea Zero, the ur-concept from which hath sprung all intervening notions leading to the enturdification of an Internetian curator’s code.
But wait. Did I get the idea for this post from Popova?
I started typing this after I experienced what I initially thought were two separate Internetian incidents.
1) While listening to an On the Media podcast I heard an interview with the aforementioned Maria Popova, boostering for her curator’s code.
2) Twelve hours later somebody happened to comment on IBTP that another blog had erroneously credited me for ideas to which I had alluded in my post, but which had in fact orignated at another blog.
Hmm, I said. Maybe there’s a post in this.
But who to credit? And on second thought, I really get the actual idea from Popova? Maybe she was just the inspiration, in which case she isn’t entitled to a full-on via; she only gets, according to Popova’s code, a hat-tip. As should ↬Linda, the commenter who pointed out the aforementioned misattribution.
But why was I interested in the idea of attribution in the first place? Isn’t it true that deeper, in the roiling vat of grease and yearning that is my obstreperal lobe, there did ferment yet another story I’d heard somewhere else? I think I recall Jayson Blair, the elder statesman of journalistic fabrication, throwing in his 2 cents on some NPR talk show about freshman media liars Fareed Zakaria and Jonah Lehrer. And not only that, but I remember reading another article condemning Lehrer for plagiarizing himself, which sort of stung, because I recycle my own material all the time on this blog, because let’s face it, there are only so many ways you can say “you are a member of the sex class and the only way out is feminist revolt.”
And then I began thinking about all the other possible “inspirations” for this post. A horrible tangled web it was. How do you determine the provenance of an idea? How do you map out which of the lifetime 35,789,021 bajillion info-units received by your cerebral cortex has caused your neurons to fire in precisely this manner?
Crap. As a bloggist or a Tweetist or a what have you, one can only exercise one’s best efforts not to steal shit from people (or, apparently, from one’s own self), so that when one glimpses herself in the shop window at the Tractor Supply Co, the person looking back isn’t a fraud and a schmuck.
But I have to say, as this essay began to take shape, it stopped being about the original thing and started being about something else. I thought, shit, I’ll never figure out where I heard the Jayson Blair thing, so I can’t properly attribute that, and the same goes for that self-plagiarizing dealio. So I decided I would just write a post called “You are a member of the sex class and the only way out is feminist revolt,” attribute it to Jonah Lehrer, and call it a day.
* FYI I think I heard Alec Baldwin compare Liz Lemon to a remora on a “30 Rock” rerun the other day. So there’s the hat-tip inspiration for that joke.
** The squiggle is supposed to link back to the Curator’s Code site, which, for the record, I find confusing. It seems to me that if it links anywhere, it ought to be to the source material, mostly because it’s a pain in the ass to type in two links where one would suffice. Besides, I don’t believe that symbols in universal usage should require administration by independent websites. But then, I’m no Curator’s Code creator so what do I know.