in information architecture

I’m terrible at tagging. How about you?

Tags in Kyoto

I don’t know about you, but when i look at my Flickr and Del.icio.us tags and even the categories for my blog, it makes me realise that folksonomies are not so simple.

Particularly my Del.icio.us account is now so completely out of control that I frequently can’t find things that I *know* I saved and tagged… and I’m supposed to know a thing or two about how to label things!

Where are the main problems? Plurals and abbreviations are my biggest foes. Sometimes I pluralise, sometimes I don’t. Generally I use the full word or term, but occasionally I’ll use an abbreviation, or both! If a term has two words to it, the way that I join the words to make a term varies.

It’s a complete mess.

Why did this happen? Because I didn’t make any rules when I first started, and my ‘rules’ have evolved over time as I see different ways that other people use tags, and as I succumb to using ‘suggested tags’ that break my ‘rules’.

Not only that, but usually I tag in haste, often times because I want to come back and look at the page/site at leisure but I don’t want to lose the link. I’m not really thinking too much about whatever my latest tagging rules might be, and there’s nothing to remind me of what rules I’d decided on.

And, most of all. The system doesn’t care how I tag and doesn’t keep me in line!

it drives me crazy. I feel like a plumber with a dripping tap. But will I ever go back and tidy it up? Probably not. I have a whole lot of links there now – it would take a serious investment of time to tidy up now… and what’s to stop it from ending up in the same state of disrepair in six months time?

If I’m having these kinds of troubles with tagging, then surely others are having even more troubles. And the value of the tagging must surely be diminished because other people are getting less rich results due to my haphazard tagging.

I do love the freedom and flexibility of tagging… but more and more I find myself wanting some rules, and some compulsion to stick to the rules or knowingly break them. And I want a smarter system that realises I’m being silly when I randomly choose to make a tag a plural for no good reason at all.

I want some structure to my tagging.

Do you? Or do you think I’m taking all the fun out of folksonomy?

Photo Credit: AnnDeeScraps @ Flickr

  1. I’m with Blinklist and at least kept that somewhat in order. Although… I’ve about 1500 ‘bookmarks’ there and the ones I care for I can find without hassle, but the others?

    I often make the mistake of being too generalistic and serious like ‘reference’ and ‘geography’ whereas I should just say ‘cool pics of Africa’ or whatever.

    My blog categories, technorati tags and music tags (Winamp and Lastfm) are just a mess of vagueness and incompleteness. (A tag like ‘nice things’ for instance? Duh.)

  2. Leisa, I’m with you. I’m so concerned about the lack of structure in tagging that I have trouble even getting started. I always end up falling back on my hierarchy of bookmarks to find things, and that usually works pretty well for me. I’m a linguist by training, and I’ve been thinking about how to do a more structured kind of tagging using natural language processing. I’ve even started a business to pursue this!

  3. That would be a ‘hell yes’ from me – I put all the effort into writing my headlines, writing my posts, replying to comments, visiting other blogs – and not two seconds into tagging. Honestly though, I think people place too much emphasis on their importance.

  4. “But will I ever go back and tidy it up? Probably not. I have a whole lot of links there now – it would take a serious investment of time to tidy up now… ”

    1. as an IA, you do remember you don’t need to clean up the whole lot, just the top 20% or so, right?

    “and what’s to stop it from ending up in the same state of disrepair in six months time?”

    2. the very act of getting in and doing a bit of weeding will help to reinforce in your mind your preferred set of tags and rules, that’s what. Now, if you were talking about cleaning up someone else’s tag cloud, you’d have a point ;-)

  5. I usually tag with singular and plural forms, but that’s not a solution, it is a patch. Actually in my case is worst, because I I need to do “translated tags” because I am not sure if I will be searching in spanish or english.

    Tags are all about interface: Applications should help us to keep “order” in our tags by simple methods like:

    - Text analysis: Considering your previous tags, and the text you are tagging we recommend this tags.

    - History: Usually you tag articles from this site with the following tags.

    (These are just ideas) But the next level of tagging would mean a evolution of the metadata formats, and IA for the maases

  6. Leisa: I tag a lot! Interface design might help, like how I various del.icio.us clients show you previous tags so you can continue using them. One way for me to “not lose” my bookmarks is to really tag a lot. This gives the highest hit rate for anything when I search for them.

  7. I can identify with the plural/singular thing. What I find worse is the fact that I am bi-lingual, so some of my tags are in English, some in Hebrew, some are singular and some plural.
    Now try to remember in what language and what form did I tag that thing…

    I also tag my post in my blog for the benefit of my readers, and here it gets worse- they are bi-lingual too. So- which language would they be using to search for something? which format?

    IMO part of the solution would be a smarter system. I should be able to tell the system that “בלוג”, “בלוגים”, “blog” and “blogs” are all the same thing, so if I look for one, pull up the other as well. On the other hand, it should only match up what I tell it, so I’ll be able to keep “blogs” and “blogging” as two uniq tags.

  8. Leisa, great post! (Kevin pointed me here…) I have just been thinking/blogging about this myself. Overall, I think for the average user this is a great movement. The wonderful thing is we are all evolving together in many ways. I agree with Kevin about del.icio.us…. they show you what others have used for a page.

    But of course I am the PRIMARY user for certain collections, so I get to have the fun of coming up with how I tag my items. (examples: flickr, my own blog posts). In moving to larger audiences surely controlled vocabulary has its place. Still, with faults as they are, I much prefer being ABLE to tag and use my own categories to organize things that I intend to come back to or use later. But you’re so right… I have to also remember to go back later and edit. :)

    Which actually reminds me that so does the Library of Congress, for example. Though controlled vocab is their specialty, they too must evolve and change terms. I am sure we can all think of cultural terms for example, that at one time were ok but now are out of place. Well, folksonomy is kind of like that process on a micro level…. a tag such as “music” that fit when I first started all this should perhaps be broken down now into “classical”, “pop”, etc. But for others perhaps “music” suits them just fine. The curse of folksonomy is perhaps also its joy: it revolves first and foremost around each user.

    Thanks for the cool post and letting me visit and comment.

  9. hey guys, great feedback – thanks for that!

    there’s still plenty to be learned about making tags work, isn’t there!

    there’s definitely a place for interface design to help support *good* tagging, but there’s probably also a place for starting to work out guidelines that we can communicate to the tagging masses about how to tag well.

    The plural thing is a mess…. I think we just need to decide and discipline ourselves to use only singular form. Would that work? (I bet there are a million examples where that won’t work, and it takes a lot of the ‘naturalness’ out of the language, doesn’t it).

    The multi-lingual issue is also a really interesting one… I’m not even going to get into trying to solve that one… I will add though that even though I speak only one language (well, to the extent that someone else can actually understand me), I still run into these issues, thanks to the Z situation. If I’m tagging content about Internationalisation, then that’s how I want to tag it, because that’s how I spell. But if I do tag that way, then anyone in the US is not going to benefit from my tagging because they’ll spell it with a Z instead of an S. So, what do I do? At the moment I tag both ways. Not very efficient.

    A smarter system that can manage multi-lingual tags, plurals, maybe even synonyms, not to mention spelling mistakes…. that would be good. But then, would we end up designing a search engine?

    Interesting, interesting.

    (oh, and Eric… yes, I know. I really should go back and weed the tag-mess… particularly the tag mess that is my del.icio.us account… but the incentives are very low…. We’ve talked about incentives for tagging before…. what about incentives for re-tagging?!)

Comments are closed.