I picked up a copy of The Wall Street Journal on Saturday and did something I hadn’t done in many years – look at the stock tables. I’d been on vacation for a week without my laptop and I wanted to know how IFN was doing.
The WSJ, like most papers, organizes their stock tables by exchange. I was pretty sure that IFN is traded on the NYSE. No luck. I looked through NASDAQ, AMEX, and a bunch of other tables. I gave up after 2 or 3 minutes.
The experience reminded me of the conflict between search and browse experiences. Think of “NYSE”, “Nasdaq”, and “AMEX” as tags or categories. I could browse through the categories, but why?
It requires me to think the same way as the person who assigned the tag or category. On most financial Web sites, I can just type in “IFN” and get the right answer without thinking about the appropriate classification.
I’ve written before about how local search forces people to think like computers. It’s easy to assign a ZIP code using rules that the post office has created. Unlike tagging, it’s also consistent. (Rich Skrenta has an excellent post on problems with tagging.) But it isn’t the best way for humans to find a place.
Classification systems force information seekers to think like the person who designed the system. In many cases, those designs are arbitrary and inconsistent. A former Yellow Pages salesman told me that if a potential advertiser didn’t agree with a category, he’d just create a new one to win the sale.
If I want to find the “Irish pub south of Grand Central” I should be able to do that without knowing how Irish pubs are categorized (are they nightlife? bars? restaurants? entertainment?) or what the ZIP code for the area is.
In the case of IFN, I’ve got money riding on it, and I still wasn’t 100% certain which tag would get me my answer.