Hierarchies versus labels

I have been using gmail as a replacement for my outlook based private mail for a couple of months now. It has taken me some time to get organized, being new to the concept of labels.

My work mail is still organized in a hierarchy of folders, I am pretty good at remembering where I stored a particular piece of email. So I rarely need to use the Find feature, which I do not like. What do you mean search only in the subject off course I want to search everything.

Google gmail takes a different approach, you attach labels to a mail which allows you to easily find all mails with the same label. In fact the Inbox itself is a label attached to mails in the Inbox. On top of that a search feature that does not ask any questions just searches everything and orders the way I would it to be ordered subject is more relevant, compared to the body.

Turns out this a whole industry war is going on: Google’s War on Hierarchy, and the Death of Hierarchical Folders. Gmail does it, Flickr does it, apple does it on its Macs.

I have no doubt that hierarchical folders are loosing to tags and labels, just like LDAP is loosing to RDMBS.

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2 Responses to “Hierarchies versus labels”

  1. Peet Says:

    As with all ideas on storing and classifying stuff a good idea is (according theorists) to store and classify stuff unambiguously, thus finding is no problem (on route to every item).
    Neither storing hierarchically nor classifying ambiguously will solve any problem. Problem with storing and/ or classifying unambiguously is natural language and lossy detail level of the human memory. Natural language is ambiguous by nature and therefore open for interpretation and unsuitable for hierarchical storage and classification. To add to that, humans are notoriously not suited to put things in the right place, remember where they left something, lazy and forgetful on how they described stuff.
    Tagging might be a ‘raw power over detailed classification’ solution, but is very very inaccurate because it’s a (in the best cases statistically driven) interpretation of any ones ‘you know what I mean’-factor.
    Only two things might solve this to some degree: classification with unambiguous terms: location, date, vector, source, links. Another is contextual semantically weighted tagging, so tags get weight and meaning by the presence of other tags. Combined it might be possible to actually find the stuff you tried searching for.

  2. The wish and ability to organize information « Arnoud on Software Development Says:

    […] further reading see my Hierarchies versus Labels post on a different way to organize […]

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