We are in the process of studying our information architecture and challenging the way we have currently built the site.
We started out in November of 2005 by matching music instructors and students. There were basically 25-30 musical instruments that covered the majority of searches. Over time, we’ve added dance, art, drama, and other creative outlets, most of which I am a novice in. Our instructors, however, are the experts at their craft. We found that many of them were requesting new areas of study to be added to our ever-growing list of categories. We shot up from 25 categories to over 130 now.
Chris Anderson’s Long Tail is definitely at work here, and every day there are student searches for off-the-wall things, or new genres (such as krump, or pop and lock, burlesque exotic dance, east coast ballroom dancing, bag pipes, and tons more). We realized that as we continue to grow, the rigid hierarchical taxonomy that was in place was not going to scale with us.
Being a fan of social bookmarking, I’ve been studying the genesis of tagging and folksonomy, which allows users to identify and relate a piece of content (whether it be a profile, video, article, comment, etc.) to a series of words that help them identify the content on their own terms. The de facto world leader and president of the United States of Folksonomy is a dude named Thomas Vanderwal. He’s the bomb. If you are the least bit interested in the benefits of tagging, I recommend that you read his papers and web site.
Over the next few months, we are going to be a living experiment in converting a hierarchical site to a more circular tagging site. We realize that we cannot possibly keep up with the ever-changing creative outlets that our users want to learn about. What we believe is that over time, our users (who are the experts) will tell us how things should be organized, and we will use that data to develop tighter social graphs, more relevant search results, and a more fluid overall experience.
social networking picture sourced from Wikipedia