Thursday, February 03, 2005

I Dreamt of Social Tagging

I don't want you to think I'm obsessed with the subject, but this morning I dreamt about tagging and taxonomies. I awoke with ideas swirling around my brain.

The other day, I realized that I needed to digitize video from some usability tests I conducted last year. Not having any experience with this, the quest began. After a quick stop in Windows Movie Maker for some background, I turned to the Web for education and to find a capture device. After Googling and Froogling and Copernicing and Amazoning and site-hopping for reviews, tutorials, specs and ideas, I finally made my choice and purchase. But what a process!

Here's how I think social tagging may save me time and effort in the near future:
Quietly, behind-the-scenes and without any intervention on my part, my system (perhaps at the OS level) monitors my activities—examining the words I type, the sites I visit, the programs I use and continually checks them against online tag storehouses. When patterns are discerned, it dynamically creates summaries and signals me with a subtle icon. (I can set the signal's sensitivity to my desired preference.) In this case, my system has noticed that I'm interested in video capture devices.

With a click of the icon, I can choose a topic from a dropdown list of available summaries. I click "video capture devices" to view that summary page. Here—based upon my system's analysis of tags—I see a number of categories relating to my interest in video capture devices: tutorials, articles, reviews, specifications, comparisons, store listings and so on.

Each category cluster displays the most relevant and strongly tagged links, the number of other links and perhaps a list of related subcategories. If I want to read a tutorial, they are instantly available. If I want reviews, several are listed. If I'm ready to buy, e-stores and prices are on the page. I can dig as deep as I wish.

This summary page becomes my base camp for exploration of the topic. And as I venture outward, my system continues to track my interests, gently suggesting possible paths for further investigation.

When I pay visits to sites, bottom-up and top-down meet. User tags guided me to the sites, but once there a skillfully-created information architecture helps me find what I'm seeking.
What I find most appealing about this scenario is that (1) I no longer have to create and fine tune search queries to locate desired information and (2) the results are based on user-generated tags rather than (solely) on page rankings, search engine optimization or advertising dollars. These tags contain innate expertise because they originate from social groups consisting of people interested in the topic (because uninterested folks won't bother tagging).

Whether this is a pipe dream or not, I can't say. But I sure like the way it sounds.


Blogger sig said...

Would that not give a slightly left-brained user experience, a tad too linear and analytical?
What about those moments where your brain does a leap in whatever direction? The creative jump, most probably a right-brain thing and fun to boot. I do not think I could program those...

Just wondering :-)

1:25 AM  
Blogger Dave Rogers said...

I guess my "slightly left-brained" bias shows!

You're right--my scenario is linear and doesn't provide for those wonderful serendipitous connections that makes the Web so valuable (and fun).

I'm not sure how to resolve this. Could the system suggest alternate paths based on tags related to the topic at hand. For example, if I'm exploring "video capture device", could the system suggest "camera" or "video editing software" as an alternate? Could these be based upon the tags assigned by other users (e.g., if a significant number of people tagged content with "camera" as well as "video capture device")?

10:59 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

But couldn't you just set the system's preference to a more serendipitous level (where the connections between tags are more or less strict --think something like the visual system employed by Thinkmap)?

10:39 AM  

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