Tags, or folksonomies are actually a lot simpler than much of the acedemic debate surrounding them. Put simply, they are a user defined method for organizing data. Im going to try to explain what they are, why they are important to marketers and web devs and suggest some ways you might use them. Follow the title link above for the full post.
First, Some Examples of Tags in Action
There are only a few good, working examples of tagging in operation right now. They include:
- del.icio.us - a social bookmarking system
- Flickr - a photo publishing / sharing site
- Technorati Tags - a recent feature added to the popular blog search engine
- MetaFilter Tags - another recently added feature to the original group blog.
- TagSurf - an experimental forum based on tags rather than the standard way of organizing topics
del.icio.us and flickr were the first systems to use tagging as far as im aware, at least to become popular because of it. They allow users to submit data, links with descriptions and photos respectively, and classify that data themselves.
So How does it Work? - Getting up to Speed
The easiest way to find out how tags work and get a handle on the whole folksonomy thing is to go use del.icio.us - Follow these steps and you'll soon be up to speed:
- Create an account
- Follow all the instructions, it's dead simple. Then check your email and follow the link
- Login to your account
- You'll arrive at the about page
- Where you will then be able to post a link
- Follow the forms instructions, it's not hard :)
Now, when you filled in the form you would have given your bookmark some space seperated tags right? You can see my bookmarks here - notice that some of the entries have 2 tags? That bookmark will fall under both of those tags - on the right, you can see the tags i've created or added to so far. The really, really neat thing about this site is that each tag, and each user have an RSS Feed - slap it in your aggregator and keep up with posts to specific topics, such as Search [rss feed]
So What Makes Tags Important?
Simply put, tags are important because they allow your users to generate content and classify that content in their own unique way. To illustrate this, let me tell you about a conversation I had with a TW member last week.
Imagine that you have a website about hobbies (the blandest example i could come up with heh..) and you have lots of users that like fishing. So, when users input data, be that blog posts, photos, reviews or anything you might dream up, they will invariably tag their posts with fishing right? Well, yes and no. Some of your users will tag thier posts with angling or yet others may use 2 or more tags such as fishing vacation or holiday fishing or fishing weekend with me?
So, imagine using that user generated metadata in the way that your info is organized and presented - think url's for one thing...
- Fishing - 300 posts
- Angling - 20 posts
- Fishing Vacation - 100 posts
- Holiday Fishing - 40 posts
- Fishing Weekend - 200 posts
and further imagine creating menus and pages based on those categories. By allowing the most popular tags to "float to the top" you can assign more importance, more link weight etc etc to the heaviest tags - just check out the side navigation on del.icio.us for a practical, if simple example. And don't forget the urls of course:
“Perhaps the most important strength of a folksonomy is that it directly reflects the vocabulary of users.”
Oh boy, starting to get the picture? The heavier tags directly reflect the heaviest searches, the most popular keywords people use to find subjects of interest! Now, if you can't see a value in that, your a lost cause :-)
Add to the above concept the fact that along with creating a grass roots, bottom up classification structure that can be used in many, many creative ways for search marketing you also have all of those wonderful misspeelings and mistakes - Not too many people search for "fising" - but it does happen doesn't it? - You get all of the benefits of genuine, bonafide human error, misconception and general weirdness that is soooo dificult, if not impossible to accurately generate by yourself.
Where Might you be able to Actually Use Tagging?
At present, tagging and folksonomies are brand spanking new. And they've not been used in any particularly comercial ways except for perhaps Flickr who appear to be grooming for a buy out - Right now these things are firmly in the hands of the academics and geeks, with not much to inspire the blood thirsty internet marketer other than the general idea. Use your imagination though, there are shit loads of ways to make this work.
Essentially, if you can solicit user input, you can most likely tag it - and in some scenarios that's going to pay off in a large way.
Some Further Reading
If you've discovered an appetite for information on tags and folksonomic classification then you may be interested in the larger academic debate (far beyond the scope of this simple introduction) and some of the commentary from around the web. If you have good links to add, please do so in the comments and i'll update this post.
Posts and Articles of an Academic Nature:
- Folksonomies - Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata
- Can social tagging overcome barriers to content classification?
- Wikipedia: Folksonomy
These 3 are related - listed in order:
- Social consequences of social tagging
- it's the social network, stupid!
- Folksonomies are a forced move: A response to Liz
as are these 2
- issues of culture in ethnoclassification/folksonomy
- Folksonomy is better for cultural values: A response to danah
- questions of classification (a response to Clay)
And Some General Blog Post and Speculation / Commentary
- Semantic Tagging
- By their tags shall ye know them
- Tag, you're it! - VC interest
- the difference between Technorati Tags and Del.icio.us and PubSub and google.
- A del.icio.us interview
- As Sites Add Tags, Tagtextual Advertising Will Follow
- Taggle - A Google for Tags?
- Tag me
- Tagging at Technorati, Flickr and Del.icio.us
- Big-time app uses the a/@rel attribute, boosting "folksonomy" development
- Technorati Takes Tags Global
- Technorati tags: Take 2
- Tapping into Tags
- Tap Into the Flickrgeist
- A Self-Referential Demonstration of the Power of the Del.icio.us Folksonomy
- Folksonomy — One Man’s Experiment
- Tags and Tagging
There, that should give you something to think about :)
I'll leave you with this snippet from Tim Bray which sums up the current situation on tags wonderfully:
I’m almost convinced that this new Technorati Tags thing is important, but I’m 100% convinced that I don’t understand where it’s going or what the implications are. Which is OK, because I suspect nobody else does either.
Questions and Comments
I dont claim to be any kind of authority on the subject of folksonomies and tags but like Tim, i do think that they're very important, and folks that stay ahead of the curve on this thing could reap some large rewards. If you have questions or general comments, post them. I'll try to answer and we can help eachother get to grips with this stuff FAST.