Tagging for discovery and community


Tagging: People-powered metadata for the social web.
Gene Smith.
New Riders Voices That Matter. 2008.
208 pp.

If you use the Web a lot, the stream of information you navigate sometimes seems like a tsunami. Besides emails and RSS feeds, your digital stream can include social networking sites, photos from your friends, links from Del.icio.us, and Twitter tweets.

Tagging these online resources can help you make sense of your stream. If you use tags now, this book will show you ways to juice your game, and will likely point you to new resources. If you don’t use tags, this book explains how tagging can help, and how to get started.

And if you’re a web architect, Gene Smith walks you through the things you should consider when designing tagging system.

A tag is a kind of indexing tool. When someone posts a photo on Flickr or posts a blog entry, she adds a keyword, or tag, which describes the subject matter, its location, or its intended use.

When we store information on our computer hard drive, we use a “folders” metaphor: A files goes in a folder. Smith points out that tags are the first significant change from that metaphor: With tags, your files or photos can be in two, three, or more “places” at once.

Tags connect objects together and can help people with common interest find each other. Users can have a social experience on a site without actually knowing each other because they share a common interest in a video or photo that has been tagged. Media-sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube allow users to share photos, music, videos, and other kinds of digital media with each other.

The tags you share become part of a community pool of tags. Smith says tagging creates a bridge between personal and community knowledge: Your tags act like little hooks that can be used to pull together information from sites like Technorati, Flickr, or Del.icio.us.

Participating in a community, sharing our interests, and contributing to the collective good are all fundamentally human motivations, Smith says, and social tagging systems tap into these. Sure, it’s fun, and useful for individuals. But Smith goes beyond that to discuss potential benefits for organizations that adopt tagging. These benefits include facilitating collaboration, obtaining descriptive metadata, enhancing findability, increasing participation, identifying patterns, augmenting existing classification efforts, and sparking innovation.


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