Peter Merholz writes:
what if we could somehow peek inside our users thought processes to figure out how they view the world? One way to do that is through ethnoclassification how people classify and categorize the world around them.
Were beginning to see ethnoclassification in action on the social bookmarks site Del.icio.us, and the photo sharing site Flickr. Both services encourage users to apply their own freely listed tags to content tags that others can then employ when looking for content. See a web page that looks interesting, but dont have time to read it? Post it to Del.icio.us with a tag that will help you find it again.
Lets consider another classification challenge. When Im looking for documents on Adaptive Paths intranet (which I helped design), Im often frustrated because Im unable to uncover items that I know should be there. There are a number of reasons why picking topics from a pull-down menu is arduous, the topics we currently employ are not sufficient, and updating the tool with new topics is too time consuming. Productivity declines as we hunt for documents with cryptic filenames.
The primary benefit of free tagging is that we know the classification makes sense to users. It can also reveal terms that experts might have overlooked. Cameraphone and moblog are newborn words that are already among Flickrs most popular; such adoption speed is unheard of in typical classifications. For a content creator who is uploading information into such a system, being able to freely list subjects, instead of choosing from a pre-approved pick list, makes tagging content much easier. This, in turn, makes it more likely that users will take time to classify their contributions.