December 30, 2005

Tagging Up, continued

Posted in Technology at 11:49 am by antonello

A couple weeks back, I wrote in response to John Battelle’s question “will tagging ever work?” I was thinking of this question when I read on Daily Kos a couple days ago this entry that the big man had some words about tagging best practices.
Now, a digression for some background: a while back, dailykos introduced tagging as a way of simplifying the process to find something on the gargantuan site. For a political site, this makes a lot of sense. An example, a user will often want to see what people are saying about a particular topic. Let’s take Jack Abramoff as an example. First the tagging is going to improve the effectiveness of the search. Secondly, if a user is looking for posts on “Jack Abramoff” they can pick out the term on the All Tag page or click on a tag at the bottom of a post. Clicking on the tag “Abramoff” brings up all the posts filed under this tag. The user is presented the most recent discussion where Abrahamoff is mentioned. A section on the right sidebar highlights similar tags.

Back to the discussion at hand: kos had this to say about best practices for tagging:

A reminder, since many people are misusing the tags. The big thing to keep in mind when tagging — they are a search tool. What do people search for? Issues, people, and races. Tags should ALWAYS address one of those three.

Looking at the All Tags page, one can sympathize with Kos’ dilemma. The number of tags has proliferated, many are very similar to one other, others are not descriptive and then there is the simple problem of too many. Kos’ encourages people to adhere to some simple rules to make tagging more effective.

Inherent in his statement is a major problem with tagging: try as we may tagging can and does spin out of control. The sheer volume of people on kos has made this user-generated taxonomy unwieldy. People tend to be flippant with tags (the number of times I’ve used “fuckhead” as a tag is a sad reflection on my inner fury). An editor can go someway to making tagging simpler and less redundant, but it is a massive scheme for a site of this size. There is also room for automated aggregating solutions, like del.icio.us, to give a snapshot of a community’s online zeitgeist, but you’ll always have the problem of people who don’t participate.

I am skeptical of the effectiveness of tagging on dailykos because the number of people make it extremely difficult to ensure that tags are legible, standard and descriptive. Kos needs users to police themselves, which is always a sketchy propostion . A buddy of mine was saying to me yesterday, users are only going to do things which they see an immediate benefit.

I’ll be interested to see what Kos does next to deal with this problem
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