In his now-famous style of ranting at SXSW this year, Bruce Sterling berated the incessant flows of information on the web, saying it's, "like watching you get beaten to death with croutons".
I'm inclined to agree that sometimes it can all be a bit much. But I also don't care - I've got a lot of personal enjoyment and utility out of posting links to del.icio.us, and it seems like a lot of other people get value from reading them - either directly, or on aggregate.
I've been trying out Tumblr recently and I'm thrilled that it's allowing me to do the same thing but with images and videos, and the occasional quote. It's a very free and easy way to keep track of things I think are noteworthy. It turns out I don't want to find most of these things again, so the lack of tags and other things is fine - a blessing, even. If you're the kind of person who likes a steady stream of croutons, feel free to read along at randometc.tumblr.com.
When life gives you lemons, suck 'em, honestly, lemons taste awesome. When the web gives you croutons - feast!
Flickr integration alone means that if you're already a Firefox/Flickr user it's worth checking out the latest beta. I'm still working out how it interfaces with del.icio.us and multiple blogs, but it's found all my Blogger blogs already. If you're reading this then the blog editor works!
It seemed a little laggy in the interface, but I think that was whilst it was indexing my history in the background - it's better now. We'll see if I'm still with it in a week or two, but for now I'm using it as my primary browser. I even uninstalled Firefox... imagine!
Could this be done with a Greasemonkey script or a Firefox extension?
Like many people, I find that 99% of the time I don't really want or need a blog - I'm happy pouring links into my del.icio.us account instead.
If you subscribe to this blog via a news reader, I can recommend subscribing to my del.icio.us feed too. Since I'm usually pretty diligent at using the extended descriptions as commentary, you'll get more of what I have to say through that channel. I'm not much of a fan of inline del.icio.us links in blog feeds, so I won't be doing that here for the foreseeable future.
Because Mike is right, radii are beautiful, I cooked up a little sketch I'd been thinking about to show connections between the tags in my del.icio.us links.
Posts are dispersed on the time axis, left to right, and a circle is drawn connecting posts which share tags. The circle is drawn with a lower alpha value, so darker circles mean that more than one tag is shared. It's not that meaningful, save from showing that I use more tags per post than when I started using del.icio.us (nothing a quick graph wouldn't show too), but it's a pleasing pattern never the less.
There are a couple of posts over at Signal vs Noise about weighted lists using font size and background colour (another one for Widgetopia, I think), as recently seen on Flickr, we make money not art, craigslist, 43 things and del.icio.us, amongst others.
I like this technique wherever there isn't an obvious feedback loop involved, but as soon as the size of the link drives its popularity which then drives its size, I think the utility falls down. This is illustrated best on 43 folders, where you have to try really hard to see past the 2 or 3 most popular links.
On Flickr, the technique is more effective for two reasons - the font size change is more subtle, and the popularity of a tag doesn't usually mean that it will attract more photos.
Everything2 has had weighted links for a while in the form of the softlinks which appear at the bottom of each article. (Softlinks are generated when someone follows a link from within an article, or if someone searches for something from the article page).
There are two variations, the regular view shows related articles - the lighter the link the more well-traveled the connection. There is also a 'chaos' view which sizes links according to how well-travelled they are, and shows everything associated with the article in question.
Softlinks are great because they allow anyone to link to relevant articles within Everything2, and illustrate what people are actually thinking about after reading an article. They're bad because they can easily be abused to cause offence, and mean ones tend to hang around once they're there - a sure sign that first arrivals get an unfair advantage and that positive feedback is tiliting the odds in favour of the already-popular.
Note I'm not saying that rich-get-richer systems are always undesirable. They certainly promote stability, but positive feedback on lists isn't a great way to promote new-ness and I think that's a trap that some site designers fall into when using charts as an entry point for discovering content.
Over at Adaptive Path, Peter Merholz is talking about bottom-up classification systems like the tags used to organise data on del.icio.us and Flickr. If you're not familiar with these sites - they deal with internet bookmarks and photos, respectively - one of the main features is the ability to add multiple tags (like keywords), to your data, so that you can find things easily. The tags are entered as free text, so there's very little effort involved in adding them, and they aren't intended to be complete or unique.
In his article, Merholz brings the term ethnoclassification to our attention - defined as "how people classify and categorise the world around them" - and compares the use of free tagging systems to the landscape designer's use of "desire lines" to place paving (see On The Beaten Path for a good look at emergent paths) .
He also speculates about where these bottom-up classifications are headed next,
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.” You can also align these tags with more formal schemes, thus enhancing the utility of both.
This raises some interesting issues, not least of which is the fact that Joshua Schachter over at del.icio.us and Stuart Butterfield over at Flickr seem hostile towards anything which might be seen as an attempt to standardise tagging systems. Merholz isn't suggesting standardisation here, but it's easy to get onto a slippery slope. Once we realise "nyc", "newyork", and "newyorkcity" are similar then the temptation is to merge them, but for all we know, the distinction may be important to some users. The solution is to offer browsing of multiple tags as if they were one (a union of tags) as an optional view of the data.
This is why the emergent paths comparison is a good one, especially in the case of del.icio.us where it's easy to see how similar tags could be suggested through usage, because different people will be adding and tagging the same URLs. In the case of Flickr though, tag consensus will be harder to reach unless tagging is opened up to everyone, perhaps to tag their collections of favourites. That way, when people search for a particular tag, Flickr could use the favourites tags to offer related tag suggestions. Because it is an optional query refinement rather than a unification of terms, it then becomes an interface issue and not a complex and unwanted database normalisation task. Over at del.icio.us, Joshua is already experimenting with user/tag similarity suggestions, hopefully Flickr will soon.
A quick attempt to visualise the relationship between my posts and tags at del.icio.us