Folksonomies and Tagging hit the Mainstream Press

Thread Title:
Tagging the Internet
Thread Description:

Earlier this week i wrote a "folksonomies 101": Tags & Folksonomies - What they are and why should you care? - now the WSJ have picked up on this fast moving trend in grass roots classification. Jermemy Wagstaff again uses Flickr and as examples - he has too, there's not much else out there right now, but i did list a few more in above linked post.

Now, all this remains small-scale, and fragile. First off, how can we be sure everyone is adding the same tags to things -- marzipan, and not almond paste, say? Second: This is just two Web sites, a tiny fraction of the whole Web. True, but this is just the beginning. This month, a search engine called Technorati started using tags from Flickr and to categorize the millions of blogs, or online journals, that it indexes. That turns Technorati into a kind of homepage of every conceivable topic you can imagine people writing about: Check out, for example, its Web page on the notebooks I wrote about in the "Loose Wire" column a few weeks back, at

Most important, this social tagging thing, if it takes off, could make finding information much easier. Instead of relying on search engines, we can rely on other surfers submitting interesting sites as they find them. A bit like having some seriously fast, smart speed-readers running around the Internet on our behalf armed with piles of index cards.


Yes, but ...

Ooh, folksonomies! How, exactly, is this radically different from the meta keywords field of old? The one that Altavista used to use that quickly became the target of word spammers, to the point that today's main search engine ignores it completely? How long before somebody tries to game Technorati or Flickr that way?

Just sign me,

Old and bitter and cynical :-).


Hi agaffin, welcome to Threadwatch! do introduce yourself here

How, exactly, is this radically different from the meta keywords field of old?

Well, you're rather assuming that my point (or the articles) is to integrate this stuff as meta keywords once were. That's not really the case - i just posted this to highlight the fact that tagging was getting some mainstream attention.

Google themselves have pretty much ruled this out - Peter Norvig, Googles director for search quality recently said this, among many other things, when talking about semantic web ontologies

You can't trust what people are going to say. In general, search engines have turned away from metadata, and they try to hone in more on what's exactly perceivable to the user. For the most part we throw away the meta tags, unless there's a good reason to believe them, because they tend to be more deceptive than they are helpful. And the more there's a marketplace in which people can make money off of this deception, the more it's going to happen.

But that's not to say that they can't be useful in all manner of situations - the mistake here is thinking, as people tend to do, that if you just provide folks with the tools you can throw out any kind of publisher responsibility - which leads me to your next point.

How long before somebody tries to game Technorati or Flickr that way?

The already have of course - not a matter of when so much as to what degree - again we go back to publisher responsibility. You can't wish spam away, people are people and will exploit opportunities where they find them but you can apply a degree of monitoring and quality control to automated systems - or at least you should :) is spammed out in some categories already - as far as im aware they have no system in place to monitor for relevance or quality, they just hope people will play nice. The guy who owns it has a full time job and just gets to work on it at weekends and evenings so at this stage, as it starts to get larger, it's becoming a bit messy. Technorati on the otherhand is harder to game by hand (as you have to actually write posts and publish them) but very easy to game progmatically, and what's more, i know several poeple doing it already. As they get bigger, and more relevant, they will have the same promblems. Especially considering that their tags pages show up in Google and they dont as yet use the ghastly noSense tag.

However, take a system such as Threadwatch where by the very nature of the site there is a high degree of monitoring - tags would work here really well i think - there are hundreds of situations where they could only be of benefit i think, but we're going to have to wait some time i think untill we start to see more mainstream apps using folksonomies and more importantly, be able to judge their effects and true usefulness.

Phew.. now i need a cup of tea! heh..

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