August 29, 2005

Tags (bottom up)


- Tags are not organizational innovation they are an interface innovation. The difference between a tag and a category is non existent except that the interface threshold to create a tag is so low that people actually do it regularly.

- How long before someone ads subtags to tags? You know like subcategories, like structured information... You know it might actually be useful.

- According to Clay Shirky tags are semi-structured data, but in reality all structured data is only semi-structured. And semi structured data by definition is of course structured. A distinction between highly structured data and semi structured data is workable, but the borderline between the two is murkier then the Mississippi delta in a hurricane.

- Clay seems intent on framing tags like its a war. But what is he warring against? Its a war on an idea, on an ideal, the vision of a unified and complete structure for data. Why someone would want to wage a war on such retarded and impossible idea is a bit beyond me, but I suppose Clay has spent a bit more time with librarians then is healthy.

- Is Clay's bold statement that "classification schemes are going to be largely displaced by tagging" is really, as he himself puts it, "unreasonable"? More like redundant, note the plural in "schemes". All that statement says is that "classification schemes are going to be largely displaced by more classification schemes".

- Make no mistake about it, every "tagger" is creating their own classification scheme, no matter how sloppy it may be.

- Similarly its a bit funny that main people in this debate seem to be Clay, Peter Merholz and Gene Smith, three of the bigger tag proponents around...

- There is clearly something getting lost in the noise here. Perhaps some clarity can come by looking at it not as an issue of how people add metadata to information, but as how people (and machines) navigate information. There is organized navigation, searching a card catalog for instance, and there is algorithmic navigation, say entering term in Google.

- Online this roughly corresponds with clicking on a link versus typing a term into a search box.

- The "I'm feeling lucky" at Google is about a pure an algorithmic navigation as there is. The standard Google results however use an algorithm to generate structured data, an ordered list of terms.

- Tags are structured data, but by lowering the threshold of creating structured data, that is increasing the shear amount of it, the utility of the structuring decreases. At the same time though the increased structured data increases the usefulness of algorithmic navigation.

- So if tags must be a war (and they don't) then it is the algorithm makers who stand to gain the most and the organizers who stand to lose the most.

- Tags are not a war not because algorithmic and organized navigation can peacefully coexist, but rather because their existences are inexplicably intermeshed together.

- Google is a great example, in some ways it is the triumph of the algorithm, yet it's very existence depends upon high structured data. Without the DNS system Google would be worthless. Without html standards Google would be worthless. Imagine if each web page had its own definition of the anchor tag, Google would be worthless. Or if there was no standard way to declare a language for each page. And lets not even get into the fact that the best results in Google are often pages that are directories or in other ways feature highly structured data.

- In light of this Clay's claim that "search has largely displaced directories for finding things" is a bit silly. The two just can't be separated with any neatness.

- And yeah someone should tell Clay "market populism" and "libertarianism" are the exact same thing, I'd send an email, but I think this piece has probably damaged my grades enough as is...

Posted by Abe at August 29, 2005 12:45 PM


I think you mean "inextricably" rather than "inexplicably", yes?

'All that statement says is that "classification schemes are going to be largely displaced by more classification schemes".'

If I seemed to say that, I wasn't speaking clearly enough.

Defending classification by expanding its definition to be co-valent with all forms of organization is pointless. For classification to be a meaningful category, there have to be some forms of organization that are not classification.

Not all forms of organization use labels, for example, as with the pile of papers on a desk organized by 'last touched on top.' Similarly, not all labels are classification schemes, as with alphabetical order. Tags are labels, but are not classification schemes, because there is no larger organizational framework that tags are required to fit into.

Some people tagging try to fit them into such schemes, but this is like drawing Venn diagrams without allowing any circles to overlap -- it's possible to add the additional constraint, but unnecessary.