Thursday, May 18, 2006

Yet More on Tagging

Ever Since Beth started posting about Tags my brain has been on fire trying to figure out what we are really trying to accomplish (see a previous post on the topic). I sent two of my employees to Syndicate to try to uncover some more info - and they came back with a mish-mash of information. Most importantly, we had an interesting conversation about the value of tagging. Just like what they learned/didn't learn at Syndicate, it's not completely cohesive and does leave you with yet more questions...

The original goal for me when I started messing with Tags was to potentially be able to create and collaborate with patients and caregivers to create an "ultimate" reference source of information relating to leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma. In my theory, if we seeded tags with good links and content, then others could add to those tags, and over time we'd have created/sparked a phenomenal resource.

Since then, some significant issues have surfaced in my mind:

* Tagging vs. Search
* Link Fishing?
* Your tag or mine?

Tagging vs. Search
It's not quickly evident to me that finding content via tags is any easier than via a good search engine. Lots of factors play into this of course including available meta data and/or well-formed and thought out tags for example. When trying to explain tags to my boss for example, the question she asked was "Why bother with tags - just use search." I'm not discounting that question, I think it's a fair one. Right now, navigating via search isn't perfect, but it's a heck of a lot better than most or all the tag schemes I've seen.

Link Fishing
So let's say I have all these great tags... maybe hundreds of them. At that point, even a nicely formatted "tag cloud" would only serve up quantity, not quality of links - and from there I'd have to sift through perhaps tens or thousands of links in a much less efficient way than by just using Google from the start.

Your tag or mine?
Then there's the problem of naming your tags. Everyone has a slightly different way of thinking about things - I say Myeloma, you say Multiple Myeloma. Without a standard set of published, prompted tags, chaos could reign. Then again if you only allow pre-created tags, there's not flexibility for users to create their own world view within the tags. Trying to do both would result in "tag goo" (a term I literally just invented). Good post on this at NetSquared.

So I'm thinking that my original goal as stated above simply isn't on target. I may have been wrong (oh my god!)

But our conversation took a turn when we started talking about using tags for well defined areas of information; research for example. What if for example, we started to develop tags for specific disease and research information and allowed everyone/anyone to add to those tags. From there, researchers and professionals could potentially create on their own a very complete set of links, data and information that would service potential grant candidates, researchers and other professionals. Is it possible that by restricting the set of tags and content you are tagging, it would be a more valuable resource? I have no idea.

Tagging is interesting because of the collaborative nature of the act of tagging. But I'm still searching for examples of where it really works well.

For an example of where it works terribly, look no further than's tagging. I feel like I'm missing something here - I looked up a product (News Radio on DVD) and the tags where:

dvd (2), remember (2), news radio (1), newsradio (1), tcowned (1), tv dvd (1), wishlist (1)

So explain to me how this is valuable to anyone? I can't find on Amazon where I use tags to enhance my searching and I can't understand how "tv dvd" as tag would result in anything but a link fishing expedition. Please someone, tell me I'm wrong and that it is in fact a terrific solution to some problem that Amazon is trying to solve!

What's next for tagging - one idea...
I think that mashing up search engines and tagging could be a really neat innovation. For example, you could:

* Search text/meta data first, sort by tag or tag cloud next
* Navigate a tag cloud first, then search text/meta data next

(Does this exist anywhere already - I tried unsuccessfully to add some data in the notes field and then search for it in

Finally, it's going to take some time for the "general public" to get tagging if in fact it proves itself to be a surviving technology. Certainly us "geeks and freaks" understand blogging, RSS and Tivo, but to the general public, it's just noise.

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