Lazy Sheep considered harmful?

Rashmi just posted some thoughts about the Lazy Sheep bookmarklet.

From the Lazy Sheep page:

Using the tags and descriptions shared by other del.icio.us users, Lazy Sheep makes tagging a page a one-click operation. In order to best suit any user, Lazy Sheep also includes a comprehensive set of options that can be configured to your exact specifications.

Rashmi’s comments:

It makes some sense at the individual level – I can gain from the wisdom of the others, without doing any work. But even at the individual level, there are disadvantages. First, the auto-tags might not capture my idiosyncratic associations (reducing findability when I look for the article later on). Second, it replaces the self-knowledge with social knowledge. Instead of a moment of reflection on my current interests, I simply find out how others think about the topic. Social knowledge in the context of self-knowledge is a beautiful thing, mere social knowledge just encourages the sheep mentality (which is the point of the bookmarklet I guess).

At the social level (which is what worries me more), if enough people started doing this, the value of del.icio.us would be diluted. We would loose some of the richness of the longtail, and just reinforce what the majority is saying. The first few people who tagged the article would set the trend – others would merely follow.

I seem to be having a lot of conversations with people lately about tagging and group search. I think of the auto tagging embodied in Lazy Sheep as an amplifier for the biases of the first few taggers. A less problematic solution would be to only use your own tags as input to the Lazy Sheep, or perhaps to select some “similar-thinking” taggers as a starting point.

I’ve been thinking about something like the latter for building a better personal search and tagging system. I’d like to be able to bias the search results based on the attention choices of people I think might be relevant, not the entire world. On the other hand, I don’t want to give up my entire clickstream for public consumption.

An aside on the tagging bias issue: Hal Abelson mentioned to me the other day that “IRC” and “Mouse” are closely related in some tag relatedness searches, because “IRC” associated with “Chat”, and “Chat” in French is “Cat”, which related to “Mouse”.

In my case, I consciously tend not to look at what tags have already been applied, because I’m hoping in the future to apply some sort of clustering or other relatedness filters on my own bookmarks to improve searches if I eventually accumulate enough data and motivation.

I think auto tagging can be very helpful, but it might be like using PowerPoint templates: after a while everything starts turning out the same way if you’re not careful.

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