I’ve got some projects on at the moment which are requiring me to think long and hard about tags, metadata and ‘folksonomies’ (of the Del.icio.us and Flickr kind). I’m getting nowhere fast in terms of user requirements for tags and was wondering if you could help me out.

For those who are unfamiliar with what I’m talking about here’s a brief description from wikipedia:

Folksonomy is a neologism for a practice of collaborative categorization using freely chosen keywords. More colloquially, this refers to a group of people cooperating spontaneously to organize information into categories. In contrast to formal classification methods, this phenomenon typically only arises in non-hierarchical communities, such as public websites, as opposed to multi-level teams. Since the organizers of the information are usually its primary users, advocates of folksonomy believe it produces results that reflect more accurately the population’s conceptual model of the information…

I like tags, but that’s not to say eveyone does, and I can see tagging content is useful from a content management point of view, but is it really useful from a user’s perspective?

From what I can see, from the likes of Flickr, is that content is organised by the user, by keywords. The information structure is then ‘created’ by this tagging which all very nice. What i’m really struggling with is, does the user then use this structure to navigate? and I’m coming round to the answer being ‘no’. Let me explain.

User tagging content is a submission process - If the user’s can be bothered or if they have to. User tagging content will of course have problems with users having to choose the same descriptive words for things (maybe the UI could benefit with contextual suggestions here from previously submitted content). So, I’ve got a few questions and I’m not sure where to get informed answers (what I mean by this is based on research) Here’s some questions:

  1. Do users navigate by these keywords?
  2. Does folksonomy tagging facilitate task based navigation?
  3. How does the UI affect this navigation.

I guess the beauty of tagging in this way (and presenting it in a good UI, like a ‘tag-cloud’) is that it helps facilitate browsing rather than finding, two very different types of navigation. Anyway, I’m really rambling now.

What I’m after is usability reports and the like on metadata and user generated tagging. If you know of any can you point me the right direction? Thanks.

So, what do you think? Are user generated tags good? How can the UI be changed in user generated tags to help facilitate task, rather than browse, based navigation?