March 30, 2006

Social information architecture, sorting, and tagging

Here are my raw notes from Rashmi Sinha’s talk at the IA Summit, “Sorting, Tagging and Social Information Architecture or The Missing Chapter in the Polar Bear Book “:

Who’s sick of hearing about tagging?

[Tagging provides a] focus on the individual….

Have you ever heard of “The man who could not sort”? The discussion of the Chandler card-sorting exercise reminded me of this. A man was asked to sort email into three categories. He couldn’t do it, saying “This is a waste of time.” It didn’t represent him. The test was torturing him. He finally gave up.

I noticed delicious around that time… something about categorization can be really hard, especially social categorization.

Cognitively speaking, analysis paralysis, balancing your scheme. Category boundaries change, labels become obsolete systems hide items – mistakes are costly.

The idea of “the one right category,” people really struggle with it. It’s almost an existential question

How tagging works

It maps to the cognitive process, a reduced load. It’s fun. There is self-feedback, social feedback, no balancing of scheme.

Findability is still the missing bit. Here’s where IA comes in. How do you add sorting, exploration, discovery?

Sorting Tagging
higher cognitive cost lower
richer data less rich data
harder to aggregate socially easy to aggregate socially

How to reduce cognitive cost of categorization

Better interaction design: don’t hide item as soon as you add it to category, flat schemes [q: flatter schemes?], non-exclusive categories.

Categorization is going to make a comeback. These are all fashions. (applause)

Reference to Don’t take my folders away! Organizing personal information to get things done, the feeling of satisfaction that comes from filing things in folders.

Typical IA approach: card sorting… etc. Try it with tags

Brainstorm tags for Apple:

Calculate co-occureence. Do hierarchical cluster analysis. You should get similar results if same domain (to heuristics?).

Hybrid approach: TagSorting

  1. Gather terms from
  2. Ask users to do cardsorting

Rashmi asks if anyone has done any other variation

Audience comment:
We do sorts and then ask them to tag the clusters (”how would you refer to this?”)

A lot of product and brand research involves understanding customer categorizations…

Understanding how people think… Reference to Gerald Zaltman, “How Customers Think” (2003)

Product Positioning

Consensus Building Techniques – KJ Method

  • Popular in Japan
  • Allows groups to quickly build consensus (back and forth between individual and group)

MindMapping for Stakeholder Analysis

  • map concepts across multiple stakeholders
  • Trochim’s method
    • ask stakeholders to sort statements related to issue
    • rate importance of each statement
    • create groups; through cluster analysis
    • depict importance of each group

Why tagging is sometimes appropriate…

The Web has become social

  • Findings from Pew Internet Report
  • internet & email play important role in maintaining dispersed social networks
  • people use internet to maintain contact with sizable social networks
  • people use internet to seek out others in tehir networks when they need help
  • concept of networked invidualism (connetions are indiv – to – indiv)

People hang out on the web just for fun – 40 million a day (US)

of men 34%
of women 26%

of 18-29 37%
of 30-49 31%
of 50-64 25%
of 65 20%

Tags make the web a shared experience

  • tags give you community
  • other social characteristics
  • social play
  • stalking
  • imitation
  • gossip
  • eavesdropping – [my addition --xian]

Concept of shared browsing, a way of socializing without having to deal with email list strife

Thomas VW: white hat and black hat stalking privacy issues

Why tagging, why now?

Pace layering: No time for consensus to emerge. Tags allow you to respond to fast-changing things. Categorization about consensus.


No focus on early adopters. Most IAs on non tech-savvy users. Should balance that by studying early adopters.

Designers like control, but design of social system means letting go

You don’t need Jonathan Ive for MySpace, craigslist, or TagWorld. This is a completely different type of design (social systems)

Tagworld is taking over from Myspace

Menus and Tag Clouds

The tag cloud-menu is not the future…


  • structured
  • stable over time
  • comprehensive


  • unstructured
  • relatively unstable
  • not comprehensive
  • let current stuff bubble to top

To respond to hurricane Katrina, most companies added link to the home page, but Flickr and Delicious didn’t need to do anything different.

Comment from audience: Cloud shows relative importance, something easier to assess than absolute importance

Q: why did MS adaptive menus fail
A: Because it’s not just you personally – it’s the social stuff

Design of Social Systems

Serve the individual’s selfish goal.

Create a symbiotic relation (avoid mob, tragedy of commons). Think about when should the individual feel alone, when part of group. How to encourage social sharing. How much mimicry to encourage. How to accommodate local groups. How to encourage expression of alternate viewpoints. W hen to introduce social networks. H ow to encourage wise crowds. How to augment navigation with tags.

Things to Try

  • Create an account on MySpace
  • Read Emergence, Wisdom of Crowds
  • Play a Multiplayer Online Game (World of Warcraft, Second Life)
  • Play with an API (Google maps API for example)
  • Think about what is fun on the web (not just tasks, work)

Q: what about bad-faith or ill-conceived early tagging, setting the wrong tone?
A: [I missed this]. Reference to Erich Von Hippel at MIT, research on lead users

Q: I don’t use tags/tag clouds to find, I search At Yahoo we use lots of tags

Q: Re tag drift, meanings change
A: Tom Coates wrote article on how the meaning of “Ajax” tag changed over time “Tags and Cultural Change”

Q: In spirit of fun and play, other good social applications in the local space (beyond DodgeBall)?
Comment: An app called Socialight out of ITP at NYU, allows you to add stories to buildings, “this is a great coffeeshop,” “there were three murders here in 1932 and everybody says this house is haunted.”

tags: ,


  1. [...] so far in what has been written there.) Today there is another interesting post, this time, containing notes on a presentation given by [...]

    Pingback by Family Man Librarian » Blog Archive » Notes on another presentation about tagging — March 30, 2006 @ 3:52 pm

  2. The Tom Coates reference was to this article:

    Two cultures of fauxonomies collide…

    and the referenced article was Pietro Speroni’s:

    Tagclouds and cultural changes

    Both reference to see these changes over time. Sadly, is offline at the moment. I’m hoping to get it functional again soon, but it has not happened quite yet.

    Comment by terrellrussell — March 30, 2006 @ 11:52 pm

  3. [...] pleTags A WordPress Plugin for Technorati Tags (tags: tagging technorati wordpress) You’re It! » Blog Archive » Social information architecture, s [...]

    Pingback by » links for 2006-04-02 — April 2, 2006 @ 7:05 pm

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