On search and tagging

Yesterday I gave a presentation at the Ark Group conference, “Enhancing search and retrieval capabilities and performance”, in Sydney. The presentation, called “Tagging and the enterprise”,  is available to conference attendees and I am rejigging some of the slides to load up onto Slideshare.

There were two key points I tried to emphasise yesterday in a conference context that discussed taxonomies and search in great detail.

The first was this: that having been brought up in a world of library-based classification schemes at school and university (Dewey decimal classification scheme), of thesauri and controlled vocabularies, of ordering and searching  for information using the structure of tree hierarchies, I was a typical information-order kind of person in my profession. Working with these established and authoritative structures was in fact the norm.

Yet I wasn’t completely satisfied that this structure always helped – sometimes I couldn’t find the information I wanted and nor could the people I was supposed to help. In fact, sometimes other people (not the authority) had better ways of describing and classifying an item, to which a cataloguer associate of mine would scream, “if it’s not in the book (subject headings), it’s not the correct term and I won’t be using it!”.

In fact when one thinks about, the photo below of steam locomotive 3801 charging through a train station means different things to different people: a Japanese tourist might (incorrectly) classify it under bullet train, while a railway historian might prefer the term ARHS enthusiast special, or the stock photographer might use 3/4 view as a suitable classification term. The point is that we could search using terms like these that make sense to us individually but get nowhere because Dewey or Library of Congress says so.

 3801 on ARHS Newcastle Flyer Special 2007

Moreover, the history of my everyday experience has been one where I ascribe my own, personal, and context-driven classification schemes. They have been informal and functional for my needs. I make up my own mind how I sort the dishes, how I arrange my digital photos (well, trying to make up my mind), and how the groceries in the pantry are arranged (even making sense of putting the jar of Vegemite on a small shelf in the kitchen with the cough medicines and cat worming tablets, instead of with the jams and condiments, to ensure that I find it). We try to make order out of complexity that gives us – the individual – meaning. Yet the world is a complex place.

The second point was that the demographic and technological changes in recent times have ensured a generation (or two) of tech-savvy people whose norms are those of identity, connection, collaboration, and peer relationships managed and articulated through digital space. This has a major impact on how information and knowledge is used and sourced. The implication of this demographic trajectory suggests an acceleration into the workforce of people whose norms are couched in the digital space.

The digital space changes our traditional way of looking at information since information is essentially everywhere and not bounded by the physicality of the book or the library. The incoming, tech-savvy generation of digitally connected workers will continue to be part of that change and will (more than) likely increase their participation in it since that is essentially becoming the norm.

Tagging will be one manifestation of this.

I will elaborate on the tagging issue tomorrow.

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One response to “On search and tagging

  1. Pingback: On the positive side of tagging « Brad Hinton - plain speaking

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