TagCamp and other things of note

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!).

Collaborative Filtering strikes back (this time with tags)

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.

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A cognitive analysis of tagging

(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)

cognitive analysis of tagging

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”.

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Is the Lazy Sheep bookmarklet for del.icio.us a good idea?

sheepTagging 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.

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