Tagging – Humans versus Robots

Are tags any more than street art?

Tagging seems to be on everyone’s lips. Applying tags to web pages seems as ubiquitous as those street art tags you will find on any empty downtown wall. Technorati has been doing it for some time as a way of bringing some order to the Blogosphere. Now the movement seems to be spreading like wildfire. MyBlogLog, a popular social hangout for serious bloggers, has now adopted this. Even dev.mobi, a heavy-duty website for mobile web developers, is jumping on the bandwagon.

Tagging is said to be part of the social media movement. Perhaps it is no more serious than the street art tags. Like any other social phenomena that appeals to the buzz factor it will disappear in due course.

However it is interesting to see why this activity has any traction at all. Surely if you want to find something, Google is the way. They have invested huge sums of money and resources in producing the most relevant item for any keyword query. Their robots absorb the total content of any webpage in order to determine its relevance. If I use that key word as a tag on any given website where tagging applies, what will I be shown. Hopefully it is a random entry for that tag and not just the preferred webpage of the owner of the website.

With this perspective, clearly one only uses tags if you’re looking for random associations. As everything gets tagged, then tags become less and less useful. Like the street art tags, they will be seen as mindless graffiti that serve no useful purpose. One can only hope that Technorati will not be overwhelmed in this rising flood of tags.

Related: All About Tags by Robyn Tippins

2 thoughts on “Tagging – Humans versus Robots”

  1. I see Tagging as somewhat similar to the old Metatag model of user-implemented categorization of WebPages.

    The initial value of Metatags was high, because the SERPs had not matured to a point that they could analyze keywords, density, deception and user-dumbness effectively. Now that the SERPs can index and assign value without ambiguous human input, Metatags are mostly useless.

    Tagging will have a similar trajectory to it. In part because Tagging is just Metatags extended past WebPages and into files and data objects of many types. Eventually the SERPs will be able to do most of it for us.

    But the lessening of value over time will be much longer term for Tagging, because it has at least three mitigating differences:

    1) Tagging has an intrinsic value to users: an easy way to categorize free-form digital information. Wow, is this powerful. Having a database and info architecture background, I am amazed how easily Tagging lets me assign relationships and then search for items – all without putting everything into a strict file system or naming convention. And importantly, the solution is accessible to the non-tech masses that.

    2) Tagging has personal value – even when the SERPs lose interest, it still helps me organize my personal information in ways that are effective for me.

    3) Machine Tagging of non-textual information isn’t here yet. When the SERPs can grab my image/video/audio files, scan them for objects and concepts, and then machine-tag this information, they will be part of the way there.

    As it is, I think Tagging will be here for a while, because of its value in enhancing search (both direct and tangential) and its accessibility to users.


  2. You’re right, Jeff. It’s somewhat similar to what Winston Churchill said about democracy. It doesn’t work very well but it’s the best we’ve got. 🙂

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