If you’ve used services such as Del.icio.us to share bookmarks or Flickr to share photos then you will have come across the idea of tags.
The idea behind tags is that you can add metadata for a bookmark, a photo, or in fact anything else. A tag acts as a label or a keyword. Metadata is information which describes other information.
For example, I took a photo of the Whale Tail sculpture on Oriental Parade in Wellington.
The photo shows a bronze whale’s tail and some indistinct city in the background. Adding tags such as Wellington, Oriental Parade, art and sculpture allows people to find the photo by searching on or gathering together items with those words.
Tags make powerful relationships possible. Groups can set up around a particular tag and build community. For example, see the wheelchair clusters on Flickr. Then take a look at the Del.icio.us items tagged with wheelchair:
This kind of tagging is called folksonomy, which Wikipedia says is “a portmanteau word that combines “folk” and “taxonomy,” [and] refers to the on-the-fly classifications (called tags or keywords) that Internet users freely invent to categorize the objects with which they interact online”. Tags create informal social categories.
Tagging versus keywords.
This may all seem no different from using keywords in your work so that search engines such as Google can index it. Keywords though are more neutral and scientific, while tags allow us as human beings to add an emotional element which can describe our response to the world around us.
Neutrality versus meaning.
What’s more, others can generally add tags to items they find, allowing for a broader commentary on items. It’s a trivial example, but in the Whale Tail photo a viewer may be intrigued by the hills, cranes, sea or buildings and add those as tags. Or the photo may symbolise for a viewer notions of conservation, loneliness, connectedness or some other concept which may never occur to me as creator of the image. If they add relevant tags the photo’s worth and meaning are enhanced.
What’s more keywords are generally included in text attached to the item and can really only describe what is actually there, rather than what is implied. I can add half a dozen tags to my Whale Tail photo to include otherwise ‘invisible’ information, such as the location, and that it belongs to the category of ‘art’. It would be annoying and difficult to construct headings and sentences which would be useful and meaningful and incorporate all the relevant ideas.
There’s much much more to the Internet than email and web pages. As a medium for both information storage and communication we are starting to create new ways to form and strengthen community. Tags are one powerful tool in the process.
This article was written by Miraz for the December 2005 issue of Communitynet Aotearoa Panui and is republished here with permission.