Tag Archives: Links

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 del.icio.us, so there it is.

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

The Rhetoric of Tagging in Blogs

I’ve spent about an hour this morning editing the tags on my entries, and I’m not nearly finished! I feel a bit foolish because I’ve read many blogs and yet when I started this one I forgot about tagging the entries for about a month, so now I’m slowly going back and adding tags. But in doing that I’ve realized that choosing tags that are really useful actually takes some though, otherwise I end up with a ridiculous number of tags that each have just a couple of entries, which defeats a lot of the purpose.

Of course I could be like Neil Gaiman who has made tagging into another creative practice that serves not so much to organize individual entries into broader categories as to make them even more distinct from each other, but since this is a research blog (mostly) I think I would drive myself crazy, and maybe my readers as well (if there are any!).

But now that I am trying to tag entries when I write them, I realize that sometimes it’s not easy to identify what the most dominant categories will really be, so it may have worked out better that I went a month before starting. Looking back at the summer’s entries, I can actually see the major themes and pick those as tags, which should also make it clearer to passersby what I’m writing about here. And I think this works differently in blogs than at sites like Del.icio.us–I’ll write about that kind of tagging later.

This is a really pragmatic approach and it’s in tension with another impulse (of mine, at least) to use tags that will intrigue readers and make me look more interesting. So for example, instead of just tagging posts about particular people as “friends” or “scholars” or something like that, it’s tempting to say “academic rock stars” which is silly, but sounds fun, or “people I wish acknowledged my presence” which makes me sound completely neurotic, but still my be more interesting. Over on the nettime list our discussion of ex/including the personal from/in academic writing has made me think in a more organized way about how much I constantly and keenly feel this tension. It seems at least some others feel it too, but it’s hard to talk about even when we sort of give ourselves permission as we have in this particular thread, because I can’t help but feel that my normal levels of enthusiasm and whimsy, which I usually filter out of my academic work, are going to cost me the respect of serious scholars…now I really sound neurotic!

Anyway, I think that by and large it’s worth the risk. The pleasure of scholarly work is so much greater when combined with friendship, for example and/or ethical conviction is so much greater than simple intellectual interest, that the chance of increasing my chances of having more of it far outweighs any anxiety.

Link Thingy

I’m experimenting with having a daily post of my new Del.icio.us links; we’ll see how that goes; it’s in beta right now… Ok, apparently it didn’t work… maybe I’ll just do the link roll for now.