Tags do work (for me, at least)
For the "too long; didn't read" crowd:
- I've been using a lot of tags on Delicious over a relatively long time, so they seem very useful to me.
- Delicious encourages the use of tags through UI convention and tool usage patterns, whereas Flickr presents no particular bias toward collecting tags from users.
- Since title and description attract more contribution effort from users on Flickr than on Delicious, it's natural that search over those fields will be more productive than for tags.
- Search on Delicious doesn't have access to the complete text of the bookmarked resource, and often tags will contain information missing from the supplied title or description.
- All told, tags on Delicious are more essential than tags on Flickr.
- In conclusion, I think Do Tags Work? misses the value of tags, as I know them, by focusing on Flickr.
Of course, I don't really care what this means for folksonomy and the rest of Web 2.0—tags work for me on Delicious. So, I suspect this means I'm not entirely opposed to the sentiment in Do Tags Work?, because I don't think tags work everywhere their use is attempted.
The rest of this entry elaborates on the above.
From Cathy Marshall's Do Tags Work?:
Have I convinced you that tags aren't all they've cracked up to be? I hope I have, but nonetheless there's a lingering fascination. Surely there's something to be done about tags: we don't want to just turn up our noses at Mr. Weinberger's argument.
From Mark Bernstein's In TEKKA: Tags:
The study could be repeated on more images, and in additional contexts. It might be bad luck. But if it’s a repeatable result — and I think we all know it is — then we’re going to have to rethink a lot of our Web 2.0 rhetoric. Folksonomy is an illusion.
From my bookmark on Delicious:
If you can get past the rambling paragraphs of awkward fun-poking at tags interspersed with library science / web 2.0 / cultural references—as well as a discovery of what, you know, Flickr is all about—there's a well-embellished and obsessively-assembled statistical analysis of tags vs title vs notes in finding photos featuring tourist heel-spinning on the testicles of a bull mosaic in Milan. My impression is that she's missed the point of tags, but I'm having trouble reducing the impression to a critique.
It might be that I'm intimidated by the writing in Do Tags Work? or by the fact that a lot of work was done to produce numbers I can't dispute. Either way, I have neither the time to produce a counter-study nor the wherewithal to extract and refute points in that article with precision. So, I'm just going to throw my impressions out there and hope they coalesce.
- Tags are extremely useful to me.
- I've been using tags on Delicious since shortly after the site was created.
- To date, I've saved 11825 bookmarks and spawned 6069 tags. (More on that ratio later.)
- Tags have worked very well for me, both in later finding my own saved resources and in finding aggregates of others'.
- Flickr is not the poster child of tagging—Delicious is.
- On Flickr, I've found tags occasionally interesting, but not incredibly so. More a curiosity than a killer feature, really. (More on that in a bit, too.)
- To be honest, I've not found a great deal of use for tags around Web 2.0 properties beyond Delicious, folksonomy hype notwithstanding.
- Fun fact: When I worked on Delicious, we disliked the term "folksonomy" and tried never to use it in serious discussion.
- The places where I've found tags useful are text-heavy, where the full text is either not indexed or not displayed in results when using search.
- Consider magazine articles or blog posts bookmarked on Delicious.
- Those bookmarks are subject to the character limits of title or description fields.
- Far more often than on Flickr, there is information in tags not present in a bookmark's title or description.
- On Delicious, the use of bookmarklets and extensions is the primary source of new bookmarks.
- These tools tend to produce a title based on the original bookmarked page and, when present, a description summarized from the page contents by way of highlighted text.
- With this in mind, consider that tags often make up the sole intentional contribution made to the bookmark by the person saving it.
- Beyond the choice to save the bookmark in the first place, that is.
- Whereas on Flickr, the effort is spent on title and, sometimes, the description. Beyond that point, tags are an afterthought, at best.
- The user interface of tagging is near effortless versus, say, formal taxonomies or nested folders.
- Even the much-debated choice of the big, fat space bar as a delimiter supports minimal effort.
- Minimal effort lowers mental cost, which promotes more noise, but also encourages more input (or any input) and thus more signal overall.
- People have limited attention span budgets from which useful metadata can be solicited. Tagging lowers the budget requirement.
- The reason why I have generated a ratio of 1 new tag for every 2 bookmarks is that I use tags in a way akin to free association, made possible by the low cost of tagging.
- This is a feature, not a bug.
- I have many, many tags used only once and never again—some of them are, in fact, jokes.
- But, I have generated some tags that I've come to adopt more heavily, most of which proved surprisingly useful over months or years of recurrence.
- As for those tags I've never used again: They cost nothing, can be hidden below visibility thresholds, and can be merged later into more appropriate tags if I care to do so.
And, there's where I run out of steam. For the conclusion, go back to the beginning of this entry. Biased though I might be, I think Delicious is the place to study tagging, and there they're of great use. This is where I think Do Tags Work? misses the value, despite the volume of writing and data.