Today I want to talk about categorization, and I want to convince you that a lot of what we think we know about categorization is wrong. In particular, I want to convince you that many of the ways we’re attempting to apply categorization to the electronic world are actually a bad fit, because we’ve adopted habits of mind that are left over from earlier strategies.
I also want to convince you that what we’re seeing when we see the Web is actually a radical break with previous categorization strategies, rather than an extension of them. The second part of the talk is more speculative, because it is often the case that old systems get broken before people know what’s going to take their place. (Anyone watching the music industry can see this at work today.) That’s what I think is happening with categorization.
What I think is coming instead are much more organic ways of organizing information than our current categorization schemes allow, based on two units — the link, which can point to anything, and the tag, which is a way of attaching labels to links. The strategy of tagging — free-form labeling, without regard to categorical constraints — seems like a recipe for disaster, but as the Web has shown us, you can extract a surprising amount of value from big messy data sets.