Monday, August 20, 2007

The Point of Tags

I'm not going to launch a discussion of folksonomy and collective intelligence; look at this webcast from MiT5 for more on all that web 2.0 stuff. (not that I don't take and interest). But, a few people have written about tagging in more concrete and useful ways (for me). One is Ulises Mejias who has written about tag literacy and says (brace for big blockquote):

Tags are very efficient ways of allocating attention in the face of informational overabundance. It takes very little time to bookmark and tag a resource. Because users are the first ones to benefit from classifying the resources that interest them, there is a very high motivation to tag. Thus, what people are doing in reviewing tags is capitalizing on attention allocated by others, specially on aggregated attention (what happens when large groups of people allocate attention to the same tag or resource, as seen in the 'Most Popular' tag or resource feeds in a DCS).

In short, Google yields search results that represent attention allocated by computers, while DCSs yield search results that represent attention allocated by humans. The former method (computer attention) is cheap, and hence ideal for indexing large amounts of information quickly; the latter method (human attention) is not so cheap, and not so quick, but it can yield more socially valuable information because it means a human being has made the association between a resource and a particular tag. Hence, this method is ideal for qualitative indexing. Furthermore, this method can be made cheaper and quicker by distributing the process across large communities and tying it to the individual interest of the user, which is exactly what a DCS does.

Mirko Schäfer takes this builds on this idea in a discussion of "micro-learning" in his article RTFM! Teach-yourself Culture in Open-Source Software Projects. (scroll down to section 6). He elaborates on how tagging can, in addition to making information easier to navigate, also offers users/contributors a framework for thinking about their own contributions.

Maintaining the database would entail correcting and improving the stored information by adding or changing tags. Instead of constantly expanding the given documentation material into countless directions, this approach forces the reader/writer to thoroughly re-think the context of the material, shaping it according to its possible connections.

So I feel somewhat obliged to tag, not just for my own convenience, but to help others. But, while I agree with Trebor Scholz (and others) that people have lots of motives for this kind of effort, and admit that I do as well, I still contend that an important possible (and for me actual) motive has been largely overlooked; care for family. There are people, some close friends, some not so close, that I (for whatever reason) think of as family in the sense that I care about their well-being and want them to be happy and successful. If I think they are benefiting from something I do, like tagging, then I will damn well take the trouble. --And I do know that few of these people are checking because they joined my network on, so there it is.

Now I can't even remember why I felt I needed to go into this. Tick Tick Tick.

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