July 24, 2005
Tagging is not particularly new, in internet time at least. This is tagging as a digital process we are talking about, not the far more exciting (from a participants viewpoint) process of graffiti tagging. The hype has been building for over a year, and I've been holding back comment mainly because I was never sure what to make of it. It works ok at say organizing your own information, ala del.icio.us, one of the main inventors/innovators of tagging, but would still work once spammers got into it? In other words, can tagging scale?
Now a year after tagging got hype enough to have a hideous jargon term attached to it, the future potential of tagging is finally starting to clarify. Remember keywords? Those magic things you where supposed to embed into webpages to make your site show up in search engines. That's what tags are, rebranded keywords. Remember how bad the search engines that relied on keywords, the search engines before Google that is, remember how bad they were? If you remember then you can why I'm a bit skeptical about tags.
The results are about as bad as a pre-Google search engine aren't they? Maybe that's why I can't remember a single tag article I've read talking about actually using the tags...
That's a bit harsh of course. Tags are a variant of keywords, but they are not identical. The main difference is in the interface. Flickr and del.icio.us in particular have produced interfaces that make tagging ridiculously simple. Which means they've made generating metadata an extremely simple act, something of a holy grail among information theorists hence the hype surrounding the concept. In contrast adding keywords to a website was an annoying process that required you modify the source code of a web page. The difference between a keyword and a tag is primarily a difference in the posting threshold, a shift in how much work it takes to create the metadata.
Keywords were a failure in a large part because the posting threshold fell at a particular point where it was worth it for spammers and search engine optimizers to do the work, but not most people creating legitimate and useful information. The big question for tagging becomes, has the posting threshold shifted enough that meaningful tags will significantly outweigh the spam tags?
If the threshold shift is large enough then yes, tagging can scale. But if it can't its use lies mainly at the individual and small network level. Its a nice interface for adding metadata to your own information ala del.icio.us and perhaps to your personal network, ala Flickr, but its larger use ala Technorati is still up in the air. Does tagging add signal, or does it add noise?Posted by Abe at July 24, 2005 09:07 PM