Tuesday, February 21, 2006

del.icio.us sayings

Joshua Schachter, from del.icio.us, gave a talk at a future web apps summit that Simon Willison attended -- and took notes on. They're wonderful snippets of thought relating to del.icio.us, RSS, and tagging (as well as more techie concerns).

Here are the bits that made me either nod my head in approval or mentally tag for more consideration:
When you chose what to build, solve a problem you have yourself so you can be
sure to understand it. Passion counts.

Aggregation is often a focus of attention (latest, most active, etc.)

As the population gets larger, the bias drifts; del.icio.us/popular becomes
less interesting to the original community members. Work out ways to let the
system fragment in to different areas of attention.

Tagging is mostly user interface - a way for people to recall things, what
they were thinking about when they saved it. Fairly useful for recall, OK for
discovery, terrible for distribution (where publishers add as many tags as
possible to get it in lots of boxes).

Automatic tags lose a lot - doesn't help the user really achieve their goals.
That's why the "add to del.icio.us" badges don't let you suggest tags.

Value in Delicious is in the "attention" - auto-tagging detracts from this.

Make users do the minimum amount of work. But make them do something.

You have to speak the user's language. "Bookmarks" are what you call them if
you use Netscape of Firefox - most users these days know the term "favourite"
instead. Half of his population (? users) didn't know what a bookmark was.

And here's a line that made me -- as a librarian -- stop and stare:
"Beware librarians" - some people want to give tags a specific, underlying
meaning. Don't let them.
Come on...

Anyway, his comment re tagging as most useful for recall -- for the person who tagged it -- reminded me of Roger Schank's "Tell Me A Story: Narrative and Intelligence" (1990), a book I keep returning to in thinking about tagging as well as cataloging (yes, the librarian kind).

Here's an excerpt from the foreword by Gary Saul Morson, summarizing Schank's argument:

"What enables ... people to respond intelligently? The answer, for Schank, is that they have previously mulled over their experiences and labeled them in multiple interesting ways. From a sequence of experiences they have constructed a narrative; they have reflected on this narrative and found a number of ways in which it is significant; and in so doing, their memory has attached several labels to the story, which allow them to recall the story when another narrative suggests similar labels. Once the earlier story is recalled, these people can reflect on pertinent comparisons with the current situation. Present wisdom depends on earlier indexing.

In effect, then the real moment of intelligence occurs not (or not only) when one is reminded of the pertinent story, but when the pertinent story was stored in memory. Intelligence occurs earlier. It is closely related to good indexing."


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