Freedom to Tag

As I’ve finally got this site up and running, I’ve been thinking about how I tag. I’m a promiscuous tagger. I try to be exhaustive in my efforts to describe that which is being tagged. I am both thorough and sloppy at the same time. Inconsistent and careless for sure, because, to be honest, I don’t care. I tag stuff for my own entertainment and consumption and I’m not too bothered about how my tagging affects others.

Personal & Public

At the moment, I have two outlets for my trigger-happy tag vandalism; Flickr and Delicious (and now this site, thanks to Movabletype’s new tagging system ). There is a scale of focus between the personal and the public use of tags, and these sites sit at different places on that scale.

For me, tags in delicious are primarily for personal use. Although there are public aggregations such as the hotlist, popular and recent pages, these seem to be peripheral to the main function for tags; searching for bookmarks within my own account. I rarely use other peoples’ tags as a basis for finding new content. This personal focus for tagging shapes the words and phrases I use (and don’t use).

I tend to go through bookmarking binges when I’m interested in a new subject. My recent interest in photography over the last few months led me to tag a number of websites. At first I was tagging them all with “photography”, along with other relevant words. Eventually, as I got more sucked into the subject I dropped the general subject area “photography” because to me, interested as I was in that one thing, it was self-evident and superfluous. Now I’ve detached the bookmark from its main subject area, a sort of hierarchical link has been broken in what others might first search for. Also, when my interest wanes, will the future me find it difficult to resurrect these bookmarks? Maybe, but I’ve not had a problem so far.

Flickr tagging is further toward the public end of the scale. A recent trip to London for the @media 2006 conference reminded me that there is an expectation that tags should be used responsibly. I’ve heard it before, people tagging their entire collection of holiday snaps from a visit to Britain with the tag “London”, so you end up with pictures of Edinburgh’s Prince Street along with shots of Trafalgar Square. I’m hesitant to blame the taggers for this, especially when the uploading tools encourage mass tagging. If tagging were to become a chore then who would bother? The whole point of a quick, flexible (and fun) system for describing content would be lost. If there is a problem with the way content is discovered via tags I’d suggest it is up to the tools to sort the mess out by providing smarter searching options, and better focused upload tools.

Ironically it was at @media that Jeffrey Veen discussed the personal benefits of tagging during a talk about *cough* Web2.0 *cough* and social software. He made the point that seemingly obscure tag phrases carry meaning to the individual over and above any perceived public benefit.

It seems I’m not the only one who disagrees with controlled tagging.