Tagsology: an information system built with tags, but with an ontologist and some technology moving quietly in the background holding the fort together.

    1. Start with a low barrier to entry: tags
    2. Mix in some structure, e.g. narrower terms, broader terms and related terms: ontologist
    3. Layer on some clever indexing, algorithms, clustering, auto-classification, content classifiers, etc: technology

The key is to keep the tags coming en masse. The ontologist should never change people’s tags, the ontologist should simply make sure the tags are communicating with each other. It’ll take a light touch. Also, everyone should be allowed to contribute to the ontology. Rather than centralized control there will be centralized oversight (again, light touch).

Same with technology: tag co-occurence and other neat little tricks will group similar concepts together, but only when the user wants that (so again, the light touch). There will be no forced structure.

This is where I see Flickr, Furl, YouTube, del.icio.us, Yahoo!’s My Web, Wikipedia, etc. heading. Tagging by itself allows too much information to fall through the cracks for searchers, while controlled ontologies miss the benefit of group knowledge. By mixing the two together you get individual expression that is easier to navigate. Easy creation, easy navigation: a tagsology.

One last thought: in the long term all the various tagging platforms need to communicate with each other. Imagine how much more powerful it will be when my tags stretch across all tagging systems and search engines know how to handle those tags.

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About Chris

I'm Chris and I've worked in the search engine industry since the late '90s.

5 Thoughts on “Tagsology

  1. Dave Jansik on March 8, 2006 at 3:06 am said:

    i agree chris. tags can be unruly and often need a little discipline – a bit of structure, if you will – to contribute to society. the tagger usually has no use to think like anyone else and how they may perceive the items in their account. content management systems with natural language processing can certainly flesh out the meanings of saved items and the tags, but people sorting through the other vagueness and misspelled tags will be necessary to really make them pop.

  2. I’m fixating on your final thought. You’re kind of like Jerry Springer. The idea that every person can carry their personal tagsology with them from site to site is pretty exciting. The books I buy, the searches I make, and the things I write about are all interrelated. Having a web of tags that reflect the way I like to organize my personal library of knowledge could be damn useful.

  3. I like the main argument presented here, but I’m fuzzy on what easy, practical implementations of what ‘light touch’ would be. I think the main opportunity of offering tag hints would be on occasions where only a few tags were assigned. Assuming power law, likely most docs have few or no tags so the hints may be welcomed (and used). Even still, I posit that the creation of tags feel ‘about right’ in terms of what they demand of people who tag (i.e. anything goes), but we need much improved search/navigation behind the scenes. I’d like to see ontologists working more closely with the later effort than say building hinting systems for end users. Doing both well also requires better UI than we have today.

  4. Billy M on March 15, 2006 at 12:33 am said:

    This reminds me of the Semantic Web. You and Tim Berners Lee should get together. http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/

  5. Anonymous on March 17, 2006 at 1:49 am said:

    Tags are flagrantly abused. Good tagging is altruistic. The altruism that generates useful connections creates tag-term popularity, and once there is popularity associated with a particular term, it’s tempting to tag bits with misleading associations. Or worse, personal transitive associations that aren’t useful to general users.

    That said, it’s very powerful with particular communities, intranets, etc. My perception is that oversite is needed until that critical mass is hit where individual abusers can’t do much damage. But wikipedia has tremendous oversight to maintain quality – but they’re volunteers instead of paid guardians.

    So while the utopian in me loves tagging (I do it a lot), the realist in me is highly skeptical of the things that people do for free.

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