Posts Tagged ‘tags’

My Favorite iMedia Idea? The Tag Is It

February 7, 2010

Functional and unobtrusive, it’s everything that itchy thing in the back of your shirt is not. So simple, so flexible, the organizational tag is a staple of the social Web and one of the most efficient tools users have for forming communities and cutting through informational clutter.

The tag is an influential interactive media tool less for what it is than for who creates it. What it is is a hyperlinked adaptation (pdf) of the database keyword librarians have used for years. Who creates it is anybody. Not a librarian. Not a scholar. Not an editor. Absolutely anybody. And that’s what makes it such a great idea.

The bottom-up organizational power of the tag lets dozens of strangers, with remarkably minimal effort, accomplish what would be a gargantuan, prohibitively expensive task for even the best-resourced, best-run organizations. Clay Shirky explains this concept in-depth in his 2008 bestseller “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.”

Delicious founder Joshua Schachter is widely credited with introducing the Web 2.0 tag, and his popular social bookmarking site is as good a place as any to get a feel for what it can do.

Yahoo!, which purchased Delicious in 2005, was one of the first companies to try to organize the information explosion that is the World Wide Web. Its initial solution, still online, was a hierarchical , professionally edited directory. It’s well organized and well annotated, but can never overcome the limitations and biases of its editors. The editors cannot possibly know about as many sites Yahoo!’s users collectively know about, and, even if they could, they could never catalog them as quickly as the users themselves could. Moreover, as logical as the directory’s categories are, there are any number of other groupings that are equally logical, and to any given user, more logical, as the ones the editors came up with.

The user-generated tag frees databases from these limitations and biases. I can go on Delicious and share a friend’s freshly pressed blog post on how to make the perfect crab cake, tag it “recipes,” “crab cake” and “seafood,” while a grandmother in Louisiana does the same thing with her friend’s new crab cake post. No way an edited directory would have indexed our friends’ amateur posts this quickly.

Then say other users bookmark the recipes and they add tags like “maryland cooking,” “louisiana cooking,” “how to” and “shellfish.” All classifications that would help users who would appreciate the crab cake recipes find them. Such secondary classifications would be more difficult to incorporate into a rigid hierarchical system, assuming its editors could even think of as many classifications as a diverse group of users.

An additional benefit of tagging — which, in the context of the social Web cannot be overstated — is that it connects not only ideas, but also people. Seafood fans can see who’s been doing the tagging and discover users with similar culinary interests. Every day online communities, and sometimes offline communities, are born this way. Nice for cooking clubs, yes, but potentially revolutionary for social and political movements.