I am headed to TagCamp later today. Its in Palo Alto, so there is not that much heading to do. I was atBarCamp as well, and like these self-organizing type of events. The participant list for TagCamp looks great. There are so many things to talk about that I am having a hard time deciding among them. Here are the topics I am considering.
- Continue with analysis of tagging/categorization from a cognitive perspective and its implications
- Tagging and the Practice of Information Architecture: How tagging is complementary to current practices in Information Architecture. How can both work together?
- Better findability with tags: Clusters, Facets and Collaborative Filtering
- Session focused on Collaborative Filtering and Tagging
- Will tagging scale? Will it move beyond early adoptors? How to make that happen
These are the topics I am considering and unable to decide between. What sounds the most interesting? Feedback welcome.
On another note, just in case you want to know more about what I think about blogs and blogging, read this interview by Rebecca Blood. Her insightful questions forced me to think about why I blog (and face upto the fact that I really wanted to be a writer!).
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I became interested in collaborative filtering. Well, it was five years ago, and I was at UC Berkeley, but it seems like eons ago.
What is collaborative filtering? Technically, it’s an algorithm for matching people with similar interests for the purpose of making recommendations. In non-technical terms, it’s a system for helping people find relevant content. Unlike search, where you parse a query to and the most relevant content, with collaborative filtering you find some way of gauging an individual’s interest in content, and then recommend what other similar users liked.
(or how the lower cognitive cost of tagging makes it popular)
At the start, let me confess that I struggled with this topic. From my first encounter with tagging (on systems such as del.icio.us & flickr), I could feel how easy it was to tag. But it took me a while to understand the cognitive processes at work. What follows is Rashmi’s theory of tagging – my hypothesis about the cognitive process that kicks into place when we tag an item, and how this differs than the process of categorizing. In doing so, my hope is to explain the increasing popularity of tagging, and offer some ideas regarding the design of tagging / categorization systems.
My ideas are mostly based on my observations about how people tag and relating it to on academic research in cognitive psychology and anthropology. This is a first version, which I expect to revise as I learn more. Feedback is very welcome.
The rapid growth of tagging(1)in the last year is testament to how easy and enjoyable people find the tagging process. The question is how to explain it at the cognitive level. In search for a cognitive explanation of tagging, I went back to my dusty cognitive psychology textbooks. This is what I learnt.(2)
Categorization is a 2-stage process.
Stage 1: Related Category Activation The first stage is the computation of similarity between the item and candidate concepts. For example, I come across the book “Snowcrash” in my library. Immediately a number of related semantic concepts get activated: “book”, “science fiction”, “Neal Stephenson”, “Zodiac”. Other concepts might be more personal; e.g., “favorite author”, “airplane trip”. Still other concepts activated might be more about the physical characteristics, e.g., “paperback”, “bad condition”.
Tagging captures the variety and commonalities in thinking about an object. When many people tag a url, it turns out that some of the tags are common, while some are unique. A lot of people, making decisions independently act in an intelligent fashion, and provide value for everyone. Del.icio.us manages to balance the individual’s selfish motivations, and the group good, in a manner I have not seen many social systems do. It’s a delicate balance, but del.icio.us maintains it very well. Let us look into how it maintains that balance, and why I think that the Lazy sheep bookmarklet disturbs it.
Cognitively speaking – just what is happening at the individual level when you tag a url? I encounter an article I would like to bookmark. Semantic networks related to the article are already active in my brain. When I press “post to del.icio.us” it’s not much more work to note down some of the more important associations.
I spent the first few years of my life in Calcutta. It’s a big, crowded city, a paradise for people watching – for those who enjoy that. We lived in a small street that overlooked a bigger one, and one of my early memories is sitting at the front window, watching the world go by. It was aimless and yet so enjoyable. I could do that for hours. Its the feeling you get sitting in a sidewalk cafe in New York or another big city. You observe people go by. Ever so often, someone seems more interesting, and your eyes follow that person longer. But soon you return to watching the people go by.
Lately, I have experienced that feeling again. When I have some idle time, I go to the front page of del.icio.us and look at what’s passing through. I refresh to see new bookmarks replace the old ones. A few times, I have even seen something I wrote pass by. More often, I recognize a bookmark that’s the talk of the day. I might be curious enough to take a peek at the article. But I return quickly. Because this is not about finding interesting content, ego-surfing, or what my friends have bookmarked. It’s mostly about seeing content float by. It was interesting to someone, somewhere. So for a brief, ephemeral moment it’s there at the top of del.icio.us, and it has my attention. And then it’s instantly displaced.
It’s simply about watching the web go by, one bookmark at a time.
Never change the frontpage of del.icio.us, Joshua.
I was just looking up something on Technorati and realized just how distracting I find the cute visual design – especially, the images to the left the search bar. Every time I go to that page, I find that my eyes go to those cartoonish figures. They are cute, but I am there to find something, not for the cute visual design.
And what’s with such a busy page? Seems like every possible option (Technorati Blog, Get Indexed, Personalize, Tour, Developer Center) has a place on the main page. Developer Center? Surely that does not need a link on the front page. It’s a search, not a browse page. I counted: there are more than 35 links on that front page.
Reminds me of something recounted by Marissa Mayer (from Google) at a BayCHI talk. They used to receive an email from a user once in a while. And everytime it would just have a number. Sometimes, the number would be high, and this user would express his displeasure. Later they realized that the number was the number of letters on the Google Home Page.
Someone pointed out this clustering application for del.icio.us. Its just for clustering your own data though, so its not leveraging the group mind. Still it was interesting to see the clusters formed by my tags. Some of the clusters were: clusteranalysis(!); visualization; mobile research; market research; flash; ajax; cardsorting; design.
Expectedly, they are using k-means clustering algorithm. I played around with the number of clusters and the cohesiveness of the clusters does change as the number of clusters goes up.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. Simple lists are great, weighted lists (or tag clouds) are even better. But as data accumulates, its no longer practical to navigate it through tag lists. Some sort of structure is needed. Back in February I had written about tag-sorting, and how easy it should it should be to cluster tags.
Enter categories or clusters as they are referred to on Flickr.
How it works: When you click on a tag, you have the option of exploring different clusters related to the tag. For example, summer has several associated clusters:
Word is Yahoo will soon be coming out with its OddPost inspired version. Ethan Diamond, one of the Oddpost founders, now working on Yahoo mail thinks that users are more likely to use folders than tags to organize emails. I tend to agree. I like the controlled messiness of del.icio.us tags for my bookmarked urls. And the social discovery of others’ bookmarks is very compelling. But for something as personal and important as my email archive – I prefer either a combination of folders and robust search.