July 29, 2005
A lot of people are adding structure to the unstructured web, their photo collections, and much more. A short list of tagging uses include Blogs, Yahoo’s MyWeb personalized web search, del.icio.us social bookmarking, Flickr photo sharing, Geotagging to tag items with locations, etc…even Google Mail abandoned folders as a way for organizing mail, instead relying on labels.
Organize your saved results and searches the way YOU want!
The statement above was probably made by Ask in reference to the fact that they conducted usability tests and found folders to be “more intuitive.” Their comments seem to pose a few possibilities on why this is so…my guess is that’s what we’re used to…many of us were introduced to OSes that use folders…doesn’t matter if it was *nix or Windows (BTW, remember the rumors that Apple would drop the “folders” concept?). Instead of tagging the saved sites, you add them to folders and tag the folders (but do not share those tags with others). Afterwhich, they’ll ask their users to transition to tagging.
It will be interesting to see what happens with tags and what users eventually become “trained” to use…just because they use folders now, may not mean they’ll use it later. The Ask people make a good point in addressing the needs of the users but it could keep them from innovating. They lack the social aspect that Yahoo’s Myweb employs to share these tags with others and let the majority decide on which sites are more relevant for which terms…eventually, this could help Yahoo’s relevancy. Ask addresses the users’ immediate needs but the uses of folders/personal tagging would be much more limiting in what they could do with their product.
At times, decisions like these become business decisions. Often, smaller sites, usually dependent on traffic, will wait for the market movers/makers to “train” users to use a technology instead of risk losing their own users/adoption. They could then switch over once these market leaders have trained users sufficiently. It saves them the cost of developing technology which may simply be the current “buzz” and would later need to be supported just to keep additional users in parallel with a new product (or risk losing many users by forcing a switch-over). It saves them the cost of abandonment from their site or their tools. Alternatively, Ask could be trying to differentiate their product the same way they differentiate their search engine. This, of course, is all speculation…but it is interesting to see they have taken this approach.
This reminded me of how I had been involved in a company that made innovative UI changes that were quickly reversed. At Citysearch, in August of 2001, we launched the concept of 2 boxes for local search: Anything/Anywhere (type in a location and a query term). Users didn’t know what to do with it…they had never seen that before. They were used to browsing to a location, then searching for a term…and we learned that the hard way. We had to make a change just a few short months later after really trying to give it a shot (and even trying a few other modifications along the way).
Fast forward years later and Google Local launched first in Google Labs, then in beta in March 2004 (still branded as such) with 2 search boxes labeled “What/Where” and they soon had wide adoption of that UI. Google was much better positioned to play around with this interface…they launched a non-existent product which meant they were about adoption and not about trying not to lose an existing user base…plus they were also of a much larger scale.
What are your thoughts on tagging? How about on innovating UI?