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Friday, October 22, 2004Peter Merholz writing on the topic Metadata for the masses Many classification systems suffer from an inflexible top-down approach, forcing users to view the world in potentially unfamiliar ways
But 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.
He takes del.icio.us and Flickr as examples of "ethnoclassification" (a phrase he tracks back to Susan Leigh Star). (The branch of ethnoclassification on exhibit at del.icio.us looks excellent - it can also be called "folksonomy.") He looks at the benefits. Then he addresses the problems, and suggests the paths out of the forest we're making for ourselves. He adds,Ethnoclassification systems can similarly “emerge.” Once you have a preliminary system in place, you can use the most common tags to develop a controlled vocabulary that truly speaks the users’ language.Use the tags to understand how people consider the content at hand. Then you can “pave” the best paths to ensure findability — say, by explicitly linking “nyc,” “newyork,” and “newyorkcity.” These tags can be aligned with more formal schemes, thus enhancing the utility of both.
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