Piles of Leaves

Posted by David Meerman Scott 08:49 AM on April 12, 2005

I’m at the Buying & Selling eContent Conference in sunny Scottsdale, Arizona. The conference keynote was brilliantly delivered by David Weinberger, co-author of “The Cluetrain Manifesto” and Berkman Center Fellow. David presented a fascinating look at information architecture and organization and how people use content online.

You can read more coverage of the conference (and hear the audio of Weinberger’s speech) on Rafat Ali’s Paid Content. More coverage is on Ross Mayfield's blog (Ross is CEO of Socialtext).

Although the audience at this conference is electronic content publishers and buyers of content for large organizations, Weinberger’s observations have important implications for all Web marketers. I’ll try to paraphrase and explain. Weinberger says “everything is miscellaneous” – that is, people interact with content in different ways. He explained that the old view of information as a “tree” (with individual items as “leaves”) has morphed to “a pile of leaves.” Smart marketers are changing their sites to be piles of leaves, making it easy for people to search and browse using multiple criteria.

An example Weinberger used is online digital camera retailers. In the old “tree” metaphor, buyers only had one way to sort cameras – say by price or number of mega-pixels. Cameras have been posted on ecommerce sites using one path (price). In the new world, buyers can sort any way they want - brand, type of storage media, color, size - or any combination. And people search for cameras on sites such as Google in many diverse ways, such as: “digital camera,” “photo equipment,” or even “travel gear.” To serve these buyers, innovative marketers tag content (in this case each model of digital camera) with appropriate meta-data so the cameras can be compared and searched across multiple criteria. Weinberger said that an example of a site starting to use this approach is electronics retailer New Egg. This is fascinating stuff and very important for effective marketing with content.

David Meerman Scott

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