Born in Bristol in 1974, Banksy started his career at 14 as a standard-issue spray-paint vandal before switching to stencils. "I wasn't good at freehand graffiti," he says. "I was too slow." Soon Banksy had made a (fake) name for himself with wry images like schoolgirls cradling atom bombs, British bobbies caught snogging, and Mona Lisa shouldering a rocket launcher. These paintings contrast sharply with the usual all-but-unreadable scrawls. "Most graffiti is like modern art, isn't it?" he says. "People are like, What does it mean?"
Banksy's messages are far more accessible. He once painted a thought bubble on the wall of the elephant pen at the London Zoo: "I want out. This place is too cold. Keeper smells. Boring, boring, boring." The difficulty of that job gained the respect of the graffiti community but, more than that, it caught the imagination of the public, which was happy to empathize with the elephants.
Banksy has a thing for animals. In much of his graffiti they serve as thinly veiled stand-ins for humans. Rats, that other species struggling to subsist in our dirty, dangerous cities, show up a lot. Armed with radio transmitters, personal flying devices, and, natch, paintbrushes, many seem to be waging a covert war against some unidentified authority. One image depicts a rat swept up in the melody of its own violin-playing, trying, it seems, to carve a bit of art out of a sterile environment.
Which is pretty much Banksy's mission, too. Noting that he's not without altruistic impulses - "I always wanted to be a fireman, do something good for the world" - Banksy says he wants to "show that money hasn't crushed the humanity out of everything."
I saw a woman dead on the post mortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tatooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity. Banksy Manifesto
We need more people like Banksy, so get off your backside and do something instead of just thinking about it.
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".
For anyone who want to do some analysis on the 10,000 bloglines categories that contain 10 or more items then you can download this tab delimited data file that contains the name of each category and the number of subscriptions that have been placed in a folder of that name.
A few weeks ago Louise Ferguson wrote about how her City Of Bits feed was being categorised by bloglines users.
This got me thinking. It wouldn't be too hard to write a scraper that took all of the publicly available subscription and folder information from bloglines, do some analysis on it and produce some reports on how people were categorising feeds on bloglines. This would fit in well with my other data liberation projects.
Four weeks later, after a few late nights I have got the first results from my analysis, and I have made a very important discovery.
Bloglines users appear to like knitting!
After producing a list of the top 100 folder names subscribed to on bloglines I found the usual suspects at the top "Blogs, news, tech, people, politics" etc. etc. But then at number 37, I found a folder called "Knitting" that had been used for 2,085 feeds.
This is only the first delivery of bloglines stats and I will be producing a lot more stuff in the future.
The data I have scraped covers the period from 1st July 2003 to 8th April 2004.
I have got data on 32,415 public subscribers and their 1,059,140 public subscriptions.
I have looked at the data on subscriber activity as well. The chart below shows how many days subscribers are active for. I am defining activity as being the process of subscribing to feeds.
6,880 (21%) of all public subscribers were only active for one day. This means that these people subscribed to one or more feeds on a specific day and then never subscribed to any more feeds again. Of course they may have been reading those feeds since, but I can't get any data on reading activity.
324,319 (30%) of public subscriptions not in a folder. 734,821 (70%) of public subscriptions are in a folder.
Users have created 29,279 differently named folders.
This chart shows the relationship between number of subscriptions and number of folders.
And of course, don't forget to look at the list of the top 100 folders. (I have still got to do something with the other 29,179 folders).
I will be producing charts that show what subscriptions are in a particular folder, so the chart for the "Knitting" folder will look a bit like this:
There will also be reports for specific feeds showing which folders they appear in:
Here is one for Louise Ferguson (City Of Bits): (The top entry is for people who have subscribed to it without categorising it. The number is the number of times it has been categorised in that folder.)
And just in case anyone is still reading, I have come up with an alternative to "Folksonomy", as I really don't like the term very much. After a few weeks thought the alternative I have come up with is "Usersaurus". It works for me on many levels.
(Oh, and I also need to sort out the 'duplicated' feed issue of more than one bloglines ID for one site feed).