December 7, 2005

Tagging Up

Posted in Technology at 11:18 pm by antonello

John Battelle asks an interesting question in this blog entry. Also peaking my tech interest is Jakob Nielsen’s anti-Ajax rant.

These are both things I have wondered about a lot especially in the last year or two as those all-so-exciting “Web 2.0” innovations begin to infiltrate our work online.  The changes that are on the horizon for the web, or more accurately already implemented but long for an audience, could hypothetically change how people use the Internet.

Podcasting, and to some extent blogging, both seem like trends slightly ahead of the curve for most internet casual users.  Survey is still out on podcasting; 6 million seems way out of line to me, even with the caveat that the survey terms were very broad and the audience was very small.

It takes a lot for people to change how they interact – google, I think is an excellent example of something whose simplicity made it an exception to this rule.  del.icio.us is a tremendous tool, and makes for much more fun surfing, but explaining to some of my friends I have been met with blank stares.  Or as Battelle puts it: “But I just can’t see my mom tagging much else [beyond videos and photos].”

Nielsen makes some other viable points when talking about:  AJAX isn’t available in all browsers, sometimes there are printing problems.  Straightforward things like cutting and pasting URL into a window may not work.  And more importantly, as he also points, it does fundamentally change how users use a webpage.  No longer does one page lead to necessarily another: steps can be compressed onto one page without any performance loss.

However, a revolution is afoot.
As the number of web pages proliferated in the late 90s, Google replaced Yahoo because it provided a more straightforward solution for a user to find what he or she needs.  Now, there are simply too much information for an average user to sift through even with Google the Indispensable at his/her side.

In this gap there have been a number of solutions.  Many blogs, I think, essentially serve as filters, pointing their audiences to sites that they would find interesting. del.icio.us is another example, aggregating users’ favorites into a common pool in addition to giving users the ability to send links to each other or subscribe to each other’s feeds. This trend will continue – users will find more ways to cut the Internet down into bite-sized pieces.
I am intrigued by new models of allowing a user to create an organizational system that is independent of the site’s.  Take for example Amazon’s recent addition “Your Tags” allows users to classify products by their own tags.  Introducing tagging in places like Amazon will allow users to “browse” and keep track of items that are interesting without resorting to bulky bookmarks or the constantly growing, out-of-date wishlist (I wanted that?).  I think something like this could also work in something like email – imagine GMail’s labels with even more flexibility.  [Wait for more on things like RawSugar – Don’t know where I stand on those just yet]

Ajax is a little different than tags – it isn’t providing a way of breaking down the internet, but it does provide the potential to do things more efficiently than previously.  The web is evolving, growing, mutating and for that reason, what signifies a page will inevitably have to change along with it.  AJAX improves usability of certain activites on the web: to have errors corrected when filling out a form on the spot rather than refreshing the screen, for example, is a good use for AJAX.  Fly-out menus are another thing that works very well – dashboard of wordpress.com I’m looking at you.

I grant that Ajax could stymie filtering URLs socially, but it’s up to individual site owners to be alert to this possibility, but I think to avoid using Ajax for that reason is silly.  The web is changing why try to freeze how users interact with it?  But when the users will catch up?  Ay there’s the rub.

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