Sunday, September 10, 2006

Under-35 Tech Innovators

Good profiles at Technology Review on the next (or current, depending on how you look at it) generation of tech geeks' crème de la crème. For instance, del.icio.us creator and 2006 Innovator of the Year Joshua Schacter. Excerpt: What del.icio.us's users were creating--without necessarily knowing they were doing so--was what technology blogger Thomas Vander Wal has dubbed a "folksonomy," a flexible system of organization that emerges organically from the choices users make. We're all familiar with the alternative, the kind of rule-bound, top-down classification scheme that Internet theorist Clay Shirky calls "ontological" in nature. The Dewey decimal system is an example: every object is assigned its place in a hierarchical system of organization, and every object is defined as, ultimately, one thing: a book goes in one place in the library and nowhere else. In a folksonomy, by contrast, definitions are fuzzier. With del.icio.us, the same Web page has many different tags, which often aren't even related to one another, and no explicit rules are being followed. Web pages are therefore listed not in one place but in many places, and sometimes pages aren't quite where you might expect them to be. So folksonomies are messier than "ontologies" are. What del.icio.us has shown, though, is that folksonomies' imperfections are outweighed by their benefits. In the first place, folksonomies are dynamic rather than static. A Web folksonomy thus allows us to reclassify content according to our changing interests. An academic paper that's interesting today might be equally interesting a decade from now--but why it's interesting, why people care about it, might be very different. A traditional categorization system has a hard time dealing with this: once the essence of an object is defined, it's supposed to be defined for good. In a folksonomy, the reclassification happens almost automatically--as people start tagging the paper with new, more relevant tags, for example. Web folksonomies are also better at capturing the multiple meanings and uses that a given site has, rather than constraining the possible range of meanings. It's useful, after all, to learn that many people have tagged stories about Mark Cuban "crazy," in addition to indicating everything else that's important about him. Finally, folksonomies are cheap. Imagine the labor and the time it would take to construct a traditional organizing system for all the pages on the Web, and then to maintain and update it. Then recognize that del.icio.us is producing a ceaselessly revised organizing system--at almost no cost.

1 Comments:

Blogger getalife said...

OK, I get this much better now - it's Multiple listings vs. one set classification - right?

5:34 PM  

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