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08 JANUARY 2013

Ethnoclassification: adapting formal classification schemes

"Ethnoclassification in the broadest sense refers to 'how people classify and categorize the world around them (Merholz 2004).' Star (1996) used the term ethnoclassification in reference to the work of her research group who were exploring the convergence of the sociology of science and the sociology of work with digital libraries. Their work, as ethnographers in a way, involved tracing the web backwards by observing how readers and writers routinely adopt and adapt formal classification schemes with their own personal everyday classification systems in their local work spaces, filing cabinets, computer desktops, web browsers, and group–level software (Star 1996)."

(Maureen Flynn–Burhoe, 16 June 2007, Speechless)


categorisationclassification schemes • classification systems • classify • digital ethnographydigital libraries • ethnoclassification • ethnographers • everyday classification systems • formal classification schemes • personal classification systems • Peter Merholz • Susan Leigh Star
15 MAY 2011

Multimedia's peculiar nature challenges traditional categories; this in itself is an aspect of its radical character

"In the wake of post–modernist practice, computer–based media has resisted definition –– and for good reason: definitions are confining. They reduce the range of potential in the object defined by drawing attention away from what lies outside the wall of definition. This is a particular concern with new media, because one of its attractions is its fluid, multifarious character, its permeable walls. Digital media's peculiar nature challenges traditional categories; this in itself is an aspect of its radical character. But there is value in proposing and discussing alternative definitions of digital media –– even if these definitions are contingent, bracketed by circumstances. In fact, it may be best to regard them as contingent, because our experience with digital media is so fresh, and where it leads so unclear. The definitions of today will inevitably be replaced tomorrow, as new applications for digital media emerge over time. Definitions are meant to establish a shared vocabulary that can focus argument –– and often, covertly, to achieve a politically motivated purpose. The purpose of our project is overt: If, as Marshall McLuhan suggests, we literally construct the world we inhabit through the design and deployment of our media technologies –– because they enable certain behaviors while discouraging others –– then the social and political ramifications of how we define and address the emerging digital media are undeniable. By identifying a subject's key characteristics, we begin to say what it is and what it is not. For digital media this is particularly critical; if the digital arts community does not lead the discussion about how to define digital multimedia, and the types of behaviors it should or shouldn't encourage, other interests, like governments and corporations, will force a definition upon us."

(Ken Jordan, 2002)

Fig.1 'The Apple–1 Computer customised with an after–market wooden enclosure with carved name and keyboard'

2). Ken Jordan (2002). 'Defining Multimedia'



2002 • alternative definitions • Apple • bracketed by circumstances • categorisationcomputer-based mediacontingentcultural technologydefinitionsdesigndigital arts • digital arts community • digital mediadigital multimedia • emergence • emerging digital mediaenabling behaviours • fluidity • hybrid form • Ken Jordan • Marshall McLuhanmedia technologiesmedium • multi-media • multifarious character • multimediamutable • Nettime • new digital media applications • new media • permeable • post-modernist practice • Postmodern • radical character • Randall Packer • reductionism • shared vocabulary


Simon Perkins
09 MARCH 2009

Categories and Tags on Document Sharing Websites

"I usually hate being forced to choose a category from a drop down menu. It smacks of technocracy where the system designer is unnecessarily imposing, subtly or not, a narrow view of how data should be described. This clumsily reasserts the unequal relationship between the developer and user. Instead of being empowered to input your own stuff and personalise your profile, a poor uploading experience can leave you feeling like a patronised data entry clerk. I'm also convinced that it's not the cleverest way to organise content
Categories are only descriptions, they are not empty containers compelling somebody to fill them. If there isn't a perfect category available, which is nearly all of the time, you just have to choose the nearest. It's annoying, but common experience."
(Andy Roberts)


categories • categorisationcollectdatadocument sharingedocrfolksonomynormalisationorganisationPDF • social objects • tagstaxonomy • technocracy


Simon Perkins

TagSchema: free-form content and data categorisation

"Tagging' is a form of content and data categorisation that is evolving with modern web applications. It is characterised by free–form text (words or small phrases) that is 'attached' or 'tagged' to an item. The item could be anything –– a blog post, a bookmark, a product, another user, etc. A tag schema is a database schema which attempts to facilitate the storage and retrieval of tag data, and to allow for increasingly complex data analysis of the relationships formed by linked tags and items.

One of the advantages that tagging offers over rigid categorisation of content is exactly that: it is free–form and allows users to categorise the content and data the way they want, as opposed to the way the content 'owners' want. This enables the user–driven aspect of content production in much the way that the wiki editing style has enabled user contributions to content.

This advantage however also has its downsides, in that the free–form nature of tagging can lead to an explosion in the amount of data used to categorise content. Tags must be successfully de–duplicated and maintained in order to best represent the categories of data."
(MySQL Forge)



categorisation • evolutionary • free-form text • free-listing data • tag schema • tagginguser-driven


Simon Perkins
15 APRIL 2005

Parole: dictionary of the contemporary city

"parole is a dynamic dictionary of the contemporary city, or at least this was the intention when it was launched in June 2000 in occasion of the 7th International Exhibition of Architecture at the Biennale in Venice, Italy.

Since then parole has become a vast, loose, heterogeneous website, probably less easily defined with such a stringent term as 'dictionary'.

Currently about 900 words, related to the transformation of the urban landscape, are organised in a hypermedia database, along with more than 1000 links to & from the Internet.

Images, texts, quotations, comments, fragments of text, links to external websites, videos, sounds, webcams are some of the scattered elements which constitute its fragmented mosaic.

parole acts as an open platform for information, discussion, archive, gathering of data, it is a place where much of the material included is directly provided by its users. As in a type of 'Borgesian' dream it establishes a permanently fluid and unstable mapping of the actual urban condition throughout the world, looking at the variations and alterations in language and in the discourse of several different disciplines. Neologisms, slang terms, theories, utopic projects, nicknames attributed to specific sites, urbanism, architecture, anthropology, contemporary art are some of the multiple material included in parole.

As its nature is permanently unstable and deprived of any hierarchy, parole is subject to shifts and alterations towards directions which are actually unpredictable.

In occasion of its different presentations within localised conditions, such as a museum or a gallery space, we have tried to accomplish a certain degree of interaction with the context, in order to allow the project to present a direct vision of the condition of the contemporary city in its permanent state of change."

(Gruppo A12, Udo Noll and Peter Scupelli)



2000anthropologyarchitecture • architecture biennale • categorisationcityclassificationdictionaryhypertextItalyJorge Luis Borgeslangue and paroleneologism • nicknames • orderingparoleslangtaxonomythesaurusurbanismutopia • Venice

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