Poll Tags

When I read about Technorati tags, I was excited. In fact, I knew to be excited about it because Kevin messaged me, and first thing I read about them online was David Weinberger’s encomium, and when Kevin and David are excited about something, I know enough to realize that it’s good. And when it involves searching (Kevin’s area) and epistemological taxonomy (David’s area of concentration), somebody who respects those guys as much as I do simply must get excited. So I did.

But I should pause to say that I’m not a natural for “tags.” I’ve hardly ever used deli.cio.us tags. I didn’t begin tagging my pictures for flickr for ages; even now I’m liable to tag pretty cursorily (no, I don’t mean “with a computer pointing device”). I don’t use categories in my own Moveable Type posts, although the Seabury site that used to be (and may someday live again) integrated categories into its architectural rationale. And once I started thinking about tags, I felt chagrined; the folksonomized Web that David envisioned, that Kevin and Stewart and all had begun to implement, presents such a tremendous opportunity — but here I was, too lazy to tag. I had worked on my to care about valid mark-up, and I emphasized this aspect of the Seabury site. But I just wasn’t sure I had the determination to add Technorati tags to my posts. You’re too polite to complain, but I get long-winded — how would I tag my monologues without repeating most of the words? I was going to be a stick between the spokes of the organic semantic Web, when my friends were building and turning the wheels.

So I didn’t blog about tags at all. I thought they were a great idea, but I didn’t have the energy to implement them here, and I didn’t want to be a party pooper. Who knows? Maybe if the haphazard-HTML writer I once was can become a CSS ascetic, even lazy AKMA could become a tags-onomist.

But now Shelley has spoken up and even illustrated her wise words, and I think I have to agree with her (I didn’t implement “nofollow” either, so she’s my official Webby Oracle this week). It’s not so much the vulnerability to spam; it’s not so much the imprecision; it’s not so much the bother tagging; but the cumulative effect of a number of “it’s-not-the”s tarnishes the luster of this really great idea.

Brilliance still peeks out from beneath the tarnish. The idea excited me at first, and it still does in a murky way. I expect that the fantastic organic semantic webbiness of the idea will come to expression in more spam-resistant, more precise, less cumbersome ways, and I expect that I’ll get on board in a while (no doubt before it’s really easy and an obvious thing to do); that far, I share David’s ultimate confidence in a grassroots taxonomic web. For now, though, I remain unconvinced about this step toward the Web of .

14 thoughts on “Poll Tags

  1. I thought that it was just my innate reluctance to get excited about What Everyone’s Getting Excited About that left me less than enthralled about Technorati Tags. But when I read Shelley’s post, I realized that, as you suggest, the brilliance is somewhat tarnished.

    I’ll happily clamber on board when it’s more spam-resistant, more precise, and less cumbersome. I trust you’ll let us know when it’s time for the late adopters to start tagging.

  2. Your comments make sense – people will generally be too lazy to tag if there isn’t any fairly immediate obvious benefit. But there are other aspects to this. For a start the tags, like any other form of metadata don’t necessary have to come from the person posting the content (blog post, photo, whatever). If the infrastructure supports the metadata then it can from other people or be auto-generated by machines. The answer to spam is more metadata, not less (particularly relating to trust relationships).

    The machine sounds a bit sci-fi when it comes to tags, but RSS feeds are essentially content with machine-generated metadata.

    The benefits of metadata might not be obvious or clear-cut, but a whole new type of tool (the aggregator) has been enabled by RSS’s simple metadata, and Google use of LinkRank is basically mining metadata to improve results.

    I do think tagging approach is exciting, but big benefits are only likely to kick in through the network effect working on smarter data.

    Personally I like tags, especially there’s a direct path from them to sophisticated personal vocabularies. If you factor in the person using the tags (e.g. via FOAF) they can be considered a lot more precise. Morten Frederikson’s FOAF output plugin follows this path automatically, creating formally defined ontologies from the human labels.

  3. I don’t think it’s possible. Just as soon as there is an attempt to codify in any way, someone, most likely an artist, will violate that code. It’s just the way we are. For instance, I read Shelly’s post, and what I added to my blog was her comment about pictures. Most likely that’s not what she would have intended, but it not only was what I intended, it also illustrates this point: you can’t define the experience of another. I should have thought such an attempt would be “essentially” anti-web, surely?

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  6. I don’t understand the guilt. We tag for two reasons: 1) to find stuff later and 2) so our stuff will find other like stuff. The first reason is less important now that we have good searches. The second reason is just now becomming possible. Tagging could become like putting a little stickeyness on a meme in the hopes that it will automatically find likeness of mind. It is a way for memes to self organize 🙂 Shades of StickeyCyberMolecules.

  7. “Tags mean love” == I got a kick out of that.

    AKMA, you’ve inspired me to a follow-up post, which I hope to finish tomorrow. But I did want to drop in a personal thank you for the kind words.

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