Why do People Tag?

Gene Smith has a nice cheat sheet of this important article on tagging systems. He quotes the article (which I had read quite some time back, but now with renewed interest) “The motivations to tag can be categorized into two high-level practices: organizational and social. The first arises from the use of tagging as an […]

Gene Smith has a nice cheat sheet of this important article on tagging systems.

He quotes the article (which I had read quite some time back, but now with renewed interest)

“The motivations to tag can be categorized into two high-level practices: organizational and social. The first arises from the use of tagging as an alternative to structured filing; users motivated by this task may attempt to develop a personal standard and use common tags created by others. The latter expresses the communicative nature of tagging, wherein users attempt to express themselves, their opinions, and specific qualities of the resources through the tags they choose.”

It should be noted that some folks have much more strict rules governing their own organizational needs than others. For example, some spend hours organizing their del.icio.us tags into hierarchies, while others don’t. (I don’t). Some tag each and every one of their photos on Flickr, while others do when it suits them. (like me)

This, to me, is a very powerful benefit of tagging. You can do how much you want, when you want, according to any rules you want (or don’t want). And, because of the effects of scale in tagging, it’s still OK, and there will still be social value even if you aren’t comprehensive in your tagging.

So, why do people tag? Well, part of the reason might be that there isn’t a penalty for not tagging. Tell me I have to do something, and I won’t do it. Give me a choice, and perhaps some positive reinforcement, and I just might do it.

That’s how software should work. User first. System second.

Published: December 19th, 2006

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