Reading Reflection: Tagging and Information Organization

Posted: October 27, 2011 in Food for thought

I thought I’d post a reading reflection, partly to show you what one could look like… certainly less intimidating than you would think.

This is about how tagging has the potential to change information organization – but it has not, really. And the reason why it has not is because it is hard to implement at the interface level in ways that are easy to use and likely to be adopted by users.

I have been thinking that the File Manager on my computer should work very differently. I should have one instance of a file and be able to associate it with various projects (e.g. class readings and a research project). I wonder what an interface for File Manager would look like, what metaphor it would use, to enable a radically different system of file organization. There are a couple of barriers to adoption, and a number of criteria this new interface should meet. Here are some thoughts:

  • theoretically, there’s no need for a File Manager. You could just dump all information in one place and retrieve it by searching. This is possible, it works, and I bet some people already do that. However, getting rid of the option to organize files would not be accepted by users, because:
  • some people (like me) may not remember what to search for. Instead, they remember information by its location. This method of retrieval by location (see Cooper, About Face, 3rd. ed) is very much ingrained in our cognition and memory. It is often much easier to remember the location of an object than its detailed attributes (which are needed for search).
  • In addition, there’s something very comforting about knowing what you know – or knowing what you have. I feel much more in control when my files are organized, and the act of reviewing and organizing lets me know what I have, where I am in the process, what else I need. For example, the Readings folders for each class are organized by week and topic, and within each folder, the readings are numbered and named by title. A quick look at these folders lets me know what readings I have available for each week of class. Dumping everything in a quick pile would enable me to retrieve one file at a time, but I could not easily see my organized library of class readings for a specific course. And given that I am so forgetful, I would probably reinvent the wheel every semester and build the reading lists from scratch. No, thank you.
  • Therefore, a new File Manager would have to combine the visual organization of information by location with tagging and search, and enable one leaf to hang on more than one branch.

Right now, I’m thinking of a “master file” and its shadows, or avatars. The master file could sit in the master dumping place, but its shadows could be used for visual organization into files and folders, or possibly an entirely different metaphor.

[So, it took me about 15-20 minutes to write this. It is a reflection on the readings, a way of making the readings mine by applying them to some of my own interests.]



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