Sunday, April 10, 2005

Questioning tags

Ubergeek Tim Bray asks:
    Are tags useful? Are there any questions you want to ask, or jobs you want to do, where tags are part of the solution, and clearly work better than old-fashioned search?

    I really want to believe that tagging is big, a game-changer, but the longer I go on asking this question and not getting an answer, the more nervous I get.
Tags, for those of you not paying attention to all of this, are a social software feature where random people mark various types of content with keywords., the popular social bookmarking tool, is one of the early experiments with tagging. More details at Wikipedia.

Update: Danny Sullivan and Gary Price also question tags.

Update: Stephen Green (Principal Investigator of Advanced Search Technologies at Sun) has an interesting discussion of tagging. At one point, he says, "[Tagging is] not really a new way of indexing documents, it's actually an old way that didn't work very well," but he balances that by later saying, "I'm wondering whether we couldn't get some of the benefits of a controlled vocabulary."

Update: John Dvorak at PC Magazine savages tagging, saying that "nobody outside the groupthink community really cares about any of this" and that "the 'folksonomy' notion ... is doomed to failure" because it will succumb to "vandalism and spam." [via Loose Wire]

Update: A couple months later, Tim Bray says, "It's looking like the answers are: Yes, tagging is useful; No, it's not a replacement for full-text search, even partially."


Tony Gentile said...

Greg, did I sufficiently answer your question on my post about automatic tag creation, or, were you less interested in the approach and purpose, and more focused on the plain and simple value of tags? Lemme know!

Greg Linden said...

Hi, Tony. Thanks for following up!

My comment on your blog was more about automated tag creation. Automated tag creation eliminates the social part of this social software tool, so I'm trying to figure out what that leaves us with and whether it still is useful.

Tim Bray in his post was questioning tags more generally. Though I think the success of and Flickr is evidence that tags are useful and valuable, I think Tim is right that it's worthwhile to contrast tags with search and think carefully about when tags will be more useful than search.

Marshall Kirkpatrick said...

I find Technorati tags very useful for narrowing search results in the blogosphere. Searching by tag is effectively a means of thematic, as opposed to full text, searching.

Likewise, I like adding tag rss feeds to my blog to provide a window for my readers into what other people are reading, writing and tagging about various topics.

Re spam, it's a part of life, isn't it? Blacklist or ignore functions can help, perhaps a function that bars more than 10 tags on a site. I don't know for sure, but I'm not willing to miss out on a great tool because of a bump in the road.

Thanks for brining together some of the positions in the debate.

brownstudy said...

On Windows, I use a URL bookmarking software called PowerMarks that relies on you assigning keywords (ie, tags). I much prefer it over the hierarchical bookmark tools. Very simple, very quick searching. I sometimes use multiple tags as synonyms (ie, mozilla and firefox), which increases my chances to locate what I'm searching for.

Now, whether anyone else would get as much out of my tags as I do, I cannot say. For myself, tags save me the agony of categorizing things into a once and for all taxonomy.

Anonymous said...

I think everyone is missing the point of tags.
I don't tag for others, I tag for myself.
It is simply a better means of organizing than a plain old heirarchy. For one thing it is much easier to morph over time.

The fact that I can share my tags on is icing and the social aspects are definatly not the cake.