Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hunting Friendly Infovores

You?re It!

So... I'm listening to Joshua Shachter et al chatting away at Etech via IT conversations, and idly looking at a blog about tagging too.

Now... I like tagging. It suits my slightly messy mindset, and fits in nicely with the way that I remember stuff. It's fun, and useful, and simple and quick, so I use it.

There are quite a lot of discussions going on about tagging around work at the moment. Obviously, we have some seriously heavy duty IAs, Data Modellers and whatnot around, so the discussions tend to degenerate quickly into a 'It's sloppy/It's great' sort of place - more due to a collision of paradigms that anything else.

Mr Coates posted about one of these conversations the other day; and made a comment that (I think) came out of a chat we'd had. And this is where the link to above comes in:

Here?s an analogy. I visit a lot of thrift stores. The true cost of an item in a thrift store is a function of the time it takes me to find it, not the price (which is always cheap). A very large thrift store is more likely to have what I want, but at a greater discovery cost. Like, a thrift store is great for serendipitous discovery but not so good for known item retrieval. Put another way, wouldn?t be your first choice if you needed articles on Rousseau and the French Revolution, just like the Sally Ann wouldn?t be your first choice if you needed a smoking jacket, size 42T.

OK - so it's not as easy to pinpoint very precise information with a folksonomic system. I can't disagree with that. That's what google is for.

But the benefit you get from such a fuzzy, messy system works on the personal level. If you found it, and tagged it, you're more likely to be able to find it again under your personal filing system than, say, a Dewey Decimal system.

And the point where it becomes *really* useful to have things in big rummage bins is when you're browsing.

This is the pleasure of the charity shop (that's thrift store to you AmeriCanadians). It is the pleasure of having a mooch about; it isn't focused searching for one particular thing, it's finding something you didn't really know you wanted, but that gives you immense pleasure when you find it. For example, a copy of an out of print book by a favourite author. A Vivienne Westwood Tshirt for 50p. An insanely funny old record.

This is what offers; a way of finding websites you didn't know you needed. You can very easily specify the kind of thing you're interested in (well - as long as it's a bit geeky or involves naked chicks, in's case) using a tag then you can rely on distributed serendipity to find it. The numbers of people using the system mean that the work of looking for that exciting, tangential nugget of infotainment gold in the bottom of the brantub is distributed, and the things that would be overlooked are found.

It's about finding out something new, not checking up for that verifiable piece of information; about broadening the edges of your knowledge, not deepening it.

Does that make any sense at all? Probably not. But the thing to remember is that people use the web differently. And not just one person to another - an individual will use the web differently at different times; having a tool that suits your mood or mindset is only of benefit. We, the people wot make stuff for computers, tend to make stuff in our own image. Let's acknowledge that not everyone likes the way we make stuff.

Stop worrying about using one, or the other. Use both. Overlay two maps on to the territory.

And another point; the quote above assumes that time=money. This is a fallacy; I can afford to invest time into looking for that tux that fits. I will invest more time into looking for that tux that fits that is half the price of the one in the high-street shop. Financial and Temporal richness do not always map directly on to one another in the personal sphere; only in the sphere of business, and even then not very well.

Folksonomy is about the pleasure of the chase.

No comments: