Friday, February 11, 2005

And the Tags Go On...

Burningbird Shelley Powers continues her insightful conversation on folksonomies and tagging by integrating the contributions of others. If you're interested in the subject, this is a must-read. Some pull-quotes that I found provocative:
  • Tags by themselves aren't useful for anything; it's how they're used in support of other services that makes them more interesting.

  • [N]o one knows exactly what are the rules related to these objects and their aggregations. We're making all this stuff up as we go along.

  • The aggregations that result in tags, then, may not arise from a true representation of the people forming these aggregations. In other words, rather than represent a collective intelligence, folksonomies may reflect the tag equivalent of young guys, who don't give a shit.
You'll need the context to understand that last one one. Two more:
  • It is the aggregation of tags that gives folksonomies their power. Yet aggregations of tags are based on certain understandings of language, and there is a great deal of imprecision with language—even after discounting culture and focusing primarily on English.

  • [A] hundred million people randomly assigning tags to objects [are] not going to create the semantic web. I still believe this—the semantic web will never arise spontaneously from random acts on random data. But I think that tags and folksonomies can be useful, all the same. If we stop jumping up and down about what they'll do in the future, and focus on making them work, now.
I love that conclusion. There's a tendency among the Weborati to enthusiastically jump on the latest innovations as solutions to the challenge of creating the new world on the Web that we so desire. We saw it in the social network frenzy. Blogging has been there. Now we're in a lather about folksonomies and tags.

Don't get me wrong; I think tagging is an important breakthrough. It will definitely play a role in helping us corral the infinitude of information on the Web. But Shelley raises excellent questions that we are a long way from answering. Perhaps if we saw the Web and folksonomies not as a finished product, but as prototypes on the way to as-yet unknown futures, we could relax a bit and better participate in the serious play that sparks deeper collaboration and greater innovation.

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