For John, BLUF: With enough PostIt notes you can analyze anything.
On the 9th of June this item—Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere—appeared at the blog of Associate Professor in Sociology (Duke) Kieran Healy. The point of the paper is that with just a little bit of work (in this case, the work of David Hackett Fischer of Brandeis University) one can isolate the trouble makers, in this case, Paul Revere.
Metadata isn't just about cell phones and the internet. As this paper points out, data is data, even if it is 1775.
I admit that, in addition to the possibilities for finding something interesting, there may also be the prospect of discovering suggestive but ultimately incorrect or misleading patterns. But I feel this problem would surely be greatly ameliorated by more and better metadata. At the present time, alas, the technology required to automatically collect the required information is beyond our capacity. But I say again, if a mere scribe such as I—one who knows nearly nothing—can use the very simplest of these methods to pick the name of a traitor like Paul Revere from those of two hundred and fifty four other men, using nothing but a list of memberships and a portable calculating engine, then just think what weapons we might wield in the defense of liberty one or two centuries from now.You don't need computers, you just need the data. Just ask the Stasi.
Regards — Cliff