Pew Study: 28% of Online Americans are Taggers

In a Tagging Report released just yesterday, this number from the Pew Internet and American Life Project is astounding.

28% of online folks have tagged content (U.S)

At first glance this number seems extremely high. Over 1/4 of online Americans have tagged content? This is way more than the single digit %s (or lower) that have been reported previously (Dave Weinberger reports seeing 0.5%).

However, there may be more merit to the number than it may seem…

In a Tagging Report released just yesterday, this number from the Pew Internet and American Life Project is astounding.

28% of online folks have tagged content (U.S)

At first glance this number seems extremely high. Over 1/4 of online Americans have tagged content? This is way more than the single digit %s (or lower) that have been reported previously (Dave Weinberger reports seeing 0.5%).

However, there may be more merit to the number than it may seem.

The study asked people “Please tell me if you ever use the internet to categorize or tag online content like a photo, news story, or a blog post.” Now, Pew asked not just about the activity of tagging, but also the activity of categorization. That’s a big difference.

Categorization is something we’re all familiar with. We categorize things all the time: it’s a familiar term and activity. We’re used to categorizing things, both offline and online. It’s not a new activity. My guess is that if someone were to ask you about categorization the answer might be much different than if they asked you about tagging.

The funny thing is, that tagging is a special form of categorization by users. It’s nothing more. But it might be entirely possible to categorize things without tagging them, especially if the categories already exist. Alternatively, it is entirely possible to tag things without categorizing them.

To categorize means to place in a category. (it can also mean to create a new category and place in that). To tag means to apply a tag.

Take the site webshots.com, for example. For every picture you upload (or more specifically, every album) you have to place it in a category. This isn’t tagging, per se, because you’re not associating one of your own words with the picture. But you are associating one of the site’s categories with the picture. So that’s an example of categorization but not tagging. There is no tag here.

In addition, the study asked people about their behavior. This should always raise a red flag, because of a user’s inability to report accurately on their own behavior. This is a clear bias that exists, and affects every study done of this sort.

So right now I would take the number with a grain of salt. However, it does suggest a strong role for self-categorization, it’s just not clear what self-categorization means. Does it mean categorizing according to someone else categories? Or categorizing in a folksonomy using one’s own tags?

My guess is that the people answering the question didn’t sweat this distinction all that much.

So, what are your thoughts? Do you think that 28% of people are tagging?

Published: February 1st, 2007

The What to Wear Daily Report. A simple daily email with clothing recommendations and other info based on the weather. Remarkably useful. It's free to sign up.