Thursday, October 25, 2007


Now, I hate the prefix "meta". It's become something of an industry buzz-term, so it's everywhere. Most of the time it's used to create sophisticated-sounding gobbledy-gook by people who want to sound smart.

(In a way, it's a little like the suffix "-phobia"; people who want to force you to think like them will take this suffix, attach it to the name of their their pet cause to create a sophisticated-sounding neurosis, then accuse all their political or cultural opponents of being [pet-cause]-phobic.)

Now within the software and data-mining industries, the meta- prefix does in fact have a specific meaning: "meta-[concept]" means "[concept] about [concept]"*.

So the term meta-data literally means "data about data". In practical terms, this means: for your data--say, stock prices from the markets--the meta-data is: when was the data collected? How much data did you collect? How reliable is the data? What vendor sold you the data? What pieces of information are available for each individual stock? And so forth.

And the term meta-strategy literally means "strategy about strategy". This means: How do we go about getting a strategy? Where did our current strategy come from? How valid was our process by which we settled on our current strategy? And so forth.

It should be pretty obvious from the above descriptions that companies that spend too much time thinking about meta-data and meta-strategies ultimately spend less of their time doing work, and more of their time doing, well.... meta-work. For a deeper understanding of meta-strategy, make a regular habit of reading Dilbert, and you'll get it.


Well. One of the things that happens to any blogger trying to blog on a regular basis--say, once a day--is that we start running out of ideas. Now, for sane, sensible people, when they run out of things to say, they simply stop talking. Then they wait a little bit, and when the muse strikes them again, off they go.

But for those of us who want to keep up some kind of schedule, we don't have that excuse. We may not have anything to say, but we have to say it anyway, with gusto, so that our fan base remains appeased. So many of us develop strategies to prime the creative juices. Some of my strategies:

  1. Read some news. Anything strike my fancy? It gets blogged about.
  2. You been working on some half-formed philosophical notion over the last few weeks? Write it down.
  3. Anything interesting happen in my children's education during the previous week?
  4. Pick anything from the Muppet Show and post a link.
  5. Find anything about Vikings and post a link.
  6. Find anything about Muppets + Vikings and post a link.
  7. Read all your friends' blogs. Find something interesting. Then post a link to it.
  8. Look through a catalog. Find something that you want, that your spouse would never let you have. Blog about it.
  9. Go find a quiz. Figure out which of the Village People you're most like.

But one of the most fertile sources of ideas for blogging is... you guessed it: Meta-blogging!

Meta-blogging is of course, blogging about blogging. Examples:

  • You could deliver a treatise on the history of blogging.
  • I'm too tired to blog today, so have a good night.
  • You could spend a post fretting about however in the world am I going to make it through NaBloPoMo?
  • You could deliver a message about your own blog, for example, when you get your x-thousandth hit or your eleventy-first comment, or when you write your Hundredth Post.
  • You could write a post saying "Here's how I get my ideas." For a good example of this kind of post, um... you're already reading one. But for another example, here's one.
  • This post, in fact, could be described as blogging about meta-blogging. Technically, we can't call it meta-meta-blogging, because that would literally mean meta-blogging about meta-blogging, and if you're meta-meta-blogging, that would mean you have way too much time on your hands.
So! Um... I've noticed three things in particular since I started blogging. First, I've gotten better at noticing noteworthy things during the day, and thinking, "I'm going to blog about that." Second, I've gotten better at taking a small idea and turning it into a huge essay. But third, I've gotten very good at writing about a whole lotta nuthin'. I'm really rather proud of myself tonight that I've managed to write several hundred words about the fact that I didn't have anything real to say.

(Incidentally, this was a skill that served me very well in school.)

*--This doesn't, of course, explain Metamucil. Nor does it cover the meanings of meta- used in the physics world. In physics, something that's meta-stable is barely stable, such that the slightest perturbation will cause the system to collapse. Think of a pencil balancing on its point; it's stable, but the slightest breeze that causes it to deviate from its vertical orientation starts a process that that increases the deviation until the pencil falls over. Typically, meta-stable situations only remain stable if some external force is carefully, selectively applied to counter whatever perturbations naturally occur.

1 comment:

Arby said...

Interesting notion. There is no definition of "mucil" int he dictionary. How can any thing be "meta" if it doesn't exist in the first place?