but first, a fable

Long ago, the ruler of a far distant land had a great idea. One day, while visiting his scholars in his dungeon, he noticed that the most productive ones had bribed the guards to pass notes back and forth between them. So he caused to be created a little fenced-off hole just inside the palace walls and gave his scholars leave to write down their thoughts on their abstruse topics then pop the notes into the hole.

The idea was so novel that, as the whimsy struck them, the scholars would sometimes saunter over to the hole and rummage through the pieces of paper there. If they came across anything that struck their fancy they would scribble their thoughts on another piece of paper and toss it into the hole.

Well, years went by and the king saw that his idea was good. Every now and then a rummaging scholar would find just the thing to complete a new theory and before you knew it the king would have cannons and flush toilets.

The king's bounty was munificent and as the kilobytes of data in the hole grew, so too did the tribe of scholars. The little hole soon became a pit, then a ditch, then a pond. Eminent scholars started losing their lives mining for information in the datapond. Others would start babbling madly as their brains caved in under the thought of all those lovely megabytes of data in the pond with so little ability to get at them.

Finally, the scholars demanded thread and seamstresses so that they could stitch together related pieces of paper. Pulling on one scrap of paper would bring with it all other scraps with related scribblings so that there would be less need to descend into the pond itself. This, they claimed, would make the invention of toilet paper and gunpowder happen much more quickly. Grudgingly, the king agreed and made it so.

More years went by and as the scholars toiled they enlarged the datapond until it contained gigabytes of data and spread over a sizable chunk of the palace grounds. Naturally, this attracted the attention of the whole kingdom, who thought it great fun. They petitioned the king to let them add pieces of paper to the datapond too. Who knows, maybe some famous scholar would one day stumble over their idle babblings, find them important, and make them famous as well.

Thus were added pictures of the people, their children, even their pets, and musings on every topic under the sun and moon. After the people, of course, came the shopkeepers, who tried to sell them things. And, following the money, everyone in the little kingdom soon happily joined in.

With the massive influx of paper, the pond very quickly became a lake, then a sea. By this time the people were spending so very much time writing and linking little bits of paper that they had little time to rummage for themselves. The sea was becoming a write-only memory.

Fortunately, a hunter saved the day by training a nest of magic spiders to descend into the datasea on command and find various pieces of paper. The kingdom celebrated for a whole week after that.

Alas, as the sea inevitably grew into an ocean even the fast little spiders were hard pressed to find things. They weren't very smart, you see. If they were told exactly what was out there then they might do a better job of finding things. As it was though, since no one knew exactly what was in the ocean, and since so very many pieces of paper were by then linked to so very many other pieces of paper, most people often phrased their spider commands very badly. Often the spiders then either found nothing relevant or they found such a mass of linked paper that no one could read it all. The people began to see that they needed a map of the terabytes of data swarming in the huge dataocean they now lived next to.

Of course, the ocean kept growing, as did its map, until one day the map grew so large that the people started crying out for maps of the map. But that is a story for another day.

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