Selfish Tagging

Thomas Vander Wal makes some great comments on my latest post: Technorati Tags: What Are They Really?. He points to something that has been nagging at me, that the most useful tagging being done is selfish… It’s not nagging me because it’s selfish. I’m not sure selfish is even the word, because it implies a […]

Thomas Vander Wal makes some great comments on my latest post: Technorati Tags: What Are They Really?. He points to something that has been nagging at me, that the most useful tagging being done is selfish…

It’s not nagging me because it’s selfish. I’m not sure selfish is even the word, because it implies a choice of self over others. Instead, it’s more about tagging for personal use first, then letting systems aggregate those tags for community benefit. It’s nagging at me because I don’t know what to call it.

But I think that it is becoming more clear that this is important. Let’s take a look at three services that are supporting tagging in this way:

  • Del.icio.us: people bookmark items for their own use and add optional tags. Those tags are then aggregated to show what is popular, what is seemingly related, and what is recommended.
  • Flickr: people upload photos for their own use and can add optional tags. Others can tag them, too, which is interesting because it doesn’t seem like it’s for personal use…more to help describe the image for others. Flickr aggregates all this into features like clustering.
  • Technorati Category Tags: people tag their own posts (by placing them into their blog software categories) for their own use. Technorati picks up on the tags and creates search results out of them. Note that this isn’t Technorati tags as embedded links, because those are not done for people’s own use.

The obvious difference between tags for your own use and tagging for other purposes is that people don’t spam themselves. If people are tagging for their own use, then the quality of the tagging tends to be higher and more accurate. In general, applying metadata (tags) for one’s own use is better than for describing it for others. Perhaps we’re just more honest with ourselves.

Published: August 18th, 2005

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