I find myself many times organizing files into folders on my computer, but as time goes by, the data tend to get dispersed anyway. Then I end up procrastinating to clean up my files and directories on my hard drive again. On the other hand I'm using Delicious everyday to save and retrieve my bookmarks, without worrying about the structure.
We're not supposed to help computers into maintaining the data, but to put them to work. I wouldn't probably spend time creating folders on my hard drive, if retrieving the information by searching would be instantaneous.
I think that trying to maintain hierarchical structures turns us into some sort of data victims or as Patrick Mueller said, it makes us suffer from the Stockholm syndrome.
As I mentioned above, I keep my bookmarks on Delicious. I have about 1500 and the organization is based on tags. If I would've built a hierarchy for them I would be lost. It's easier to go to a tag and see other tags used in connection with that and so on. The same approach of archiving and searching is so liberating and it makes Gmail so easy to use.
Clay Shirky states the following in this interesting article about categories, links and tags:
One reason Google was adopted so quickly when it came along is that Google understood there is no shelf, and that there is no file system. Google can decide what goes with what after hearing from the user, rather than trying to predict in advance what it is you need to know.He mentions that categorizing is similar to predicting the future, which turns out to be hard:
Consider the following statements:
A: "This is a book about Dresden."
B: "This is a book about Dresden, and it goes in the category 'East Germany'."
That second sentence seems so obvious, but East Germany actually turned out to be an unstable category. Cities are real. They are real, physical facts. Countries are social fictions. It is much easier for a country to disappear than for a city to disappear, so when you're saying that the small thing is contained by the large thing, you're actually mixing radically different kinds of entities. We pretend that 'country' refers to a physical area the same way 'city' does, but it's not true, as we know from places like the former Yugoslavia.
What about you, do you feel more comfortable building hierarchical categories or tagging information? What tools do you use that offer each of these functions or maybe both?