I spend a lot of my time studying the tracks and discarded waste of passing users. I pore over intranet searches that didn't return any results, I also analyse click patterns to see if there is a relationship between the position in a menu and its popularity. I scrape thousands of web pages in my quest to unearth hidden meaning in the electronic grafitti left by virtual nomads.
A bloke with a famous beard once said "the philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it".
You can spend as much time as you want analysing how people tag links and pages, how many words they type into a search box, or looking for evidence of the popluarity of knitting. All of this analysis will help you to see what people have done, but it won't help you to understand anything about their motivations and desires.
If you want to be more than a passive observer you have to take some risks and try to change behaviours by offering solutions that are based on experience, expertise, intuition and inspiration.
Social tagging and mass card sorting exercises are not an answer. By all means we should understand what is happening now as well as learning from our histories. But we cannot abdicate our responsibility for designing robust information architectures that enrich and enliven the user experience by pretending that mob tagging is much more useful that the rubbish left behind in the cow fields after the Glastonbury Festival.
I love studing the footprints and fossilised excrement of passing users, but it only helps me to understand what has gone on in the past, it doesn't help me to change the future.
Because I liken my research to the work of a fossil hunter, I would like to offer the term "Usersaurus" as an alternative to "folksonomy".
What's a usersaurus?
This is a usersaurus:
as is this:
as well as this:
See Also: del.icio.us references