This page is a plain-talk explanation of the ideas in BigBucketsFirst. It is longer, but clearer.


Sorting into Buckets

When we organize things, we do it by sorting. We put some things together in one place, other things together in another place, and still other things in another place. When we're done putting things into their places, we call them "organized."

We call those places, "buckets." So if we have silver and wooden beads, we might through silver beads into one bucket, big wooden beads into another bucket, and little wooden beads into another bucket.

So one of our first questions when we're organizing is: "What buckets are we sorting into?"

Determining Buckets

Sometimes, you can tell, right away, what buckets you need. If you have a clear view of what you're going to sort, and it obviously fits some arrangement, (like "pennies," "nickels," "dimes," and "quarters,") then it is clear how to sort them, ahead of time. You just choose buckets to match the categories you had.

But other times, it can be very unclear, just which buckets you need. How do you sort conversational topics? How do we decide to organize the pages of our wiki? What buckets do we need? What should our buckets be like?

We want to recognize that we'll make mistakes, and may need to reorganize things later. We also want to recognize that our needs will change with time. We don't want to do too much second-guessing, because we'll be wasting energy. We want a cheap and malleable way to order our things.

Start With a Big Bucket

Start with a big bucket. Let's take the example of pages on a wiki. When you have a young wiki, with maybe only 3-7 pages on it, throw every page into one big bucket. That big bucket is the front page of the wiki, the table of contents.

Now, why did we start by throwing everything onto the front page? Why didn't we start thinking about categories, and organization? We could look at those 3-7 pages, and say, "Well, I think I recognize a pattern- this page is about such-and-such, and this other page is about this-and-that, and this page is about A-B-C, and that page is about D-E-F,... Since we're going to categorize these things eventually, why not start now?"

The reason you don't want to organize at the beginning, is because you don't really know how things are going to turn out. I've found that, more often than not, deciding buckets ahead of time is a big mistake. You don't know how things are going to come out. You may feel that you'll know- but generally- you don't. Things change. Some things are found to be important, other things are found to be unimportant.

And another reason you don't want to organize at the beginning, is that you lose sight of what you have. When you put things into different groups, you are hiding some things, and emphasizing other things. That's the whole point of organizing- to make it easier to understand a big clump of things, by hiding some things, and emphasizing other things.

That's good. But, when you have only a handful of things, there's no need to organize it. So, you just want to put everything together. Your mind can clearly differentiate between 3-7 things without problem. To start hiding things is just to lose them, at this point.

So, because we can't decide before-hand how things are going to come out, and because we don't want to hide anything pre-maturely, we start with a great big bucket, the largest bucket possible- the bucket of everything.

Dividing into a Smaller Bucket

However, with time, that big bucket will get to be a problem.

A list of 30 pages on the front page may be a bit too much to handle.

We'll see some connection, between 5 or 6 pages, and we'll want to think about those things as a group. We'll want to ignore the 24, 25 other pages.

This is where we decide to pull in: "another bucket." We look at those 5 or 6 pages. Suppose those 5 or 6 things are about mathematics. The rest of the pages- the 24 other pages, those are not about mathematics, or only weakly about math. But these 5 or 6 pages are about mathematics, and math is something that we happen to be interested in thinking about, by itself.

Now, we perform something of a seperation. This could mean a lot of things: It could mean that we take those 5 or 6 pages, and take them out of our Table of Contents, and put them on their own Table of Contents. We could list them on a "math" table of contents, rather than our biggest bucket "everything" table of contents. We could do that.

I think it'd be better, though, to put just keep them on the grand table of contents, but just segregate them. That is, list them alone. Put them in their own section of the table of contents, near the bottom of the page. So, on the top of the page, you see a list of 24 pages, not about mathematics. And at the bottom of the page, you see a list of 5 or 6 mathematics pages.

This is in keeping with the idea of "big buckets first." Perhaps it should be rephrased: "Always keep a number of items in view."

We don't lose anything by merely segregating the 6 items from the other 24 items. (As opposed to completely removing the list of 6 items, from the the main table of contents.) You can still see the list of 24 pages. You just get the benefit of seeing the 6 pages on math, seperate. You can reason over them in a new way. You can say, "What's going on here? What do we know about mathematics? What kinds of things should we explore? What's the general trend of these pages?" That's hard to do, if it's all mixed together in one big bucket. But seperated out, now that we have a bunch of math pages, it's a good thing.

Completely Segregating

Now our wiki goes on for a few more weeks, and we now have 100 pages. 25 are about mathematics. And other "small buckets" have become apparent as well- the subject of "energy" suddenly became important a while back, and we now have 15 pages on energy. And there are 30 pages on farming! We've been talking about a lot of things!

They're all sitting on the same page, the same table of contents, but they are segregated. People like it. But, it's starting to get unweildly. When people are thinking about math, they don't want to be distracted by all that other stuff.

So, they make a new table of contents. The 25 math pages are all listed on the math TOC (table of contents), the 30 farming pages are all listed on the farming TOC, and the energy pages may or may not move to an energy TOC at this point in time.

The 30 "other stuff" pages are still on the main table of contents. They haven't been sorted yet. The ideas don't have enough "glue" to each other, they don't "stick together," like the ideas on math did, or the ideas on energy did, that they are worth considering together. Maybe there are 6 or 7 pages worth segregating out, like the original cluster of math pages. Maybe there are some groups like that, in the 30 "other stuff" pages. But, they are still on the main table of contents.

What about the Energy, Farming, and Mathematics tables of contents? What about them? How do people find out about them? You have to link to them from the main table of contents. You need a note saying, "If you want to talk about Energy, go look at the Energy table of contents."

So, now we have completely segregated buckets. We have:

Big Buckets First

The lesson here is that we start with big buckets first. We do not try to second guess. We do not expend any energy towards organizing, at the beginning. Only as the need to organize becomes clear, do we actually do it.


There are some exceptions.

There are times when you know, with certainty, that you are going to have more of something.

And there are times when you want to isolate something, on purpose. Maybe you want to say, "Let's talk about this thing," and you want a clean slate.

This rule- "Big Buckets First," is for when you don't know what you're going to be doing, for sure, and when you want to sort a bunch of things that have no obvious ordering to them.

Other Examples

When you are sorting thoughts, that are continually coming, this almost always applies.

Organizing wiki- not just the pages on a wiki, but actual wiki themselves, is an example of BigBucketsFirst.

You want a general wiki on a subject. Then you want to have specific wiki, dedicated to particular subjects, points of view, whatever- whatever emerges- to come out of the general wiki.

But if you start too specific, then when more general ideas come out, you have no good place to put them.


Organizing is sorting things into buckets. When order isn't obvious, sort into big buckets first. Then divide out into smaller (but not small) buckets, as useful divisions become apparent.

The technique can be applied to organizing the pages of wiki, and wiki themselves.






Caro Sig. Kimbro,

taoriver, we're in a stream. Left and right, up and dow, inside and outside are not fixed. They are in a stream, will always be. What we do is a knot. We take left and right, up and down, inside and outside and concentrate it, bind it to a knot, we gather, we make a swarm, which is synonym to "we make a reason to stay with the swarm", we create gravitation within a gas that doesn't follow the rules of gravitation, a magic gas. We make our own gravitation. Feet on the ground we do it. BigBucketsFirstExplanation. I agree with you, a fine work. The "everything" included, always. Good. The outsides. But it is also including the insides. The page itself. The smallest unit. People write on it. What happens there is just as livly as what happens in the everything. It must be as free. Pages must be enabled to "decide" in which buckets they want to be. Editable title. The camelcase title are the bones, nobody thinks about the bones when looking at the beauty-queen, right?


I agree; We need easy renaming. I believe the name of a page needs to be a property of the page. The page itself is just numbered.