A new study looks at information management and meaning construction practices of online distributed classification (or free tagging) communities, like popular online services such as Furl, del.icio.us or Flickr.
“We have definitely arrived at a point in the development of human knowledge where the amount of content published online everyday far exceeds the ability of anyone to categorize and index such wealth of information. Even for a hypothetical individual or organization of great skill and capacity, the task of processing all that content would pose an almost insurmountable problem, without even considering the difficulty of developing and maintaining a taxonomy to accommodate the speed at which new knowledge is produced.”
“[…] One approach, made possible by advances in network technologies, is to distribute the task amongst the maximum number of individuals possible. […]
This principle of distribution is at work in socio-technical systems that allow users to collaboratively organize a shared set of resources by assigning classifiers, or tags, to each item. The practice is coming to be known as free tagging, open tagging, ethnoclassification, folksonomy, or faceted hierarchy […] One important feature of systems such as these is that they do not impose a rigid taxonomy. Instead, they allow users to assign whatever classifiers they choose.”
Some of the findings were quite interesting, for example that people used the “extended tag” as an informal way of notifiying a smaller community about certain links, like “for David” or “Did anyone attend this event?”. Also, according to the study, “people seem to find more value in reviewing links than in submitting them”.
The practice of distributing classification of content can be quite useful for filtering the huge amount of information on the internet. Both Flickr and del.icio.us allows you to read links with a certain tag (http://del.icio.us/tag/tsunami) and subscribe to it via RSS (http://del.icio.us/rss/tag/tsunami). I have not yet used Furl enough to be able to comment on its functionality.