September 28, 2005

Tagging for Self, Tagging for Others

Rashmi Sinha posted an article on a cognitive analysis of tagging that's being yakked about around the web right now.

I read it, and thought, nope, that doesn't quite describe what tagging is about, for me at least.

At one point, she writes, "In the digital world, we don't just categorize an object, we also optimize its future findability."

I agree with that. What I disagree with is why we do it. At least, why I do it.

I don't tag stuff for my own benefit. I couldn't care less about tags that way. I don't use them as mnemonics, I don't use them to organize my own pile of digital "stuff". I explicitly use them to help others find things.

In my own experience, tagging is about consciously optimizing an object's future findability... by others. When I go to Flickr, I'll tag things not so I can find them again. I tag them so other people will find them. I consciously think about, hmm, what words or phrases best describe and categorize this item and make it most findable by other people? I think about how other people are most likely to be thinking about tags too: how would they most likely search for something like this object? What tag(s) would they most likely apply to this object? Do I agree with what tags I think folks would most likely ascribe to this object? Are those tags already ascribed? If not, I add 'em.

This is what I do on Flickr. This is what I do on Eventful.

Another thing she talks about that I have to disagree with. She says, "Another observation about tagging - it provides immediate self and social feedback. Each tag tells you a little about what you are interested in." I think that is a dangerous assumption, to believe that each tag indicates interest. Systems built upon such an assumption will result in frustrated users wondering why they're receiving recommendations for items that mean nothing to them. Think Amazon: you go look at a book -- maybe someone's showing you something, maybe you heard about this book, or item, or whatever. You go look at its detail page. You have no interest in this type of book (say, it's a book about childcare and you have no kids, or a book about gardening when you don't have a garden). Suddenly you get recommendations for this type of book on your personalized Amazon home page. Irrelevance.

I tag items with words and phrases to help others find this item -- doesn't mean I like this item, or that I prefer or have an interest in these tags.

Maybe it's the librarian in me: just doing my job to make more stuff discoverable. Doesn't mean I have an interest in the stuff. What I have an interest in is discoverability. By others.

Posted by brian at September 28, 2005 08:36 AM


The fact that you think that discovery based on your tagspace is irrelevant to you is likely because you use your tagspace _for the benefit of others_. In Eventful and Flickr to an extent, this makes sense. But what about your own data? What about Here there is both the concern of personal searchability/accesibility (i.e., I would like to find all links pertaining to my addiction to "golf", etc.), as well as the accesibility of others to your content. Both are acceptable uses. In any case, it's good to see that people are thinking about the use of a tagspace as metadata, and thinking about how to value it. I blogged about this too, in case you're interested:

Posted by: Bosko at September 28, 2005 11:35 AM

Well that's the thing.... I don't tag my own data. :-)

For instance, I don't use to store my bookmarks. I use to see what bookmarks OTHERS are using. Particularly competitors or would-be competitors.

Posted by: Brian Dear at September 28, 2005 11:48 AM

Trackbacks don't work and it won't let me post a response :(

Oh well, I put it in my blog,

I've been interested in bottom-up topologies of discourse for a bit and did research in complexity and connectionism as a part of it.

Posted by: ethan at September 28, 2005 03:02 PM

I use it for my own purposes. As well as to see what others are bookmarking.

Posted by: Peter Caputa at September 30, 2005 12:43 PM

Discoverability is good. What do you use for retrieval (i.e. finding what you've visited/read) then, if not tags?

Posted by: Joseph O'Connell at October 1, 2005 10:51 PM

Bookmarks. Organized in folders. They work fine, thank you. :-)

Posted by: Brian Dear at October 2, 2005 06:16 PM

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