Folder versus tag preference in personal information management

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Abstract

Users’ preferences for folders versus tags was studied in 2 working environments where both options were available to them. In the Gmail study, we informed 75 participants about both folder-labeling and tag-labeling, observed their storage behavior after 1 month, and asked them to estimate the proportions of different retrieval options in their behavior. In the Windows 7 study, we informed 23 participants about tags and asked them to tag all their files for 2 weeks, followed by a period of 5 weeks of free choice between the 2 methods. Their storage and retrieval habits were tested prior to the learning session and, after 7 weeks, using special classification recording software and a retrieval-habits questionnaire. A controlled retrieval task and an in-depth interview were conducted. Results of both studies show a strong preference for folders over tags for both storage and retrieval. In the minority of cases where tags were used for storage, participants typically used a single tag per information item. Moreover, when multiple classification was used for storage, it was only marginally used for retrieval. The controlled retrieval task showed lower success rates and slower retrieval speeds for tag use. Possible reasons for participants’ preferences are discussed.

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