Sunday, January 30th, 2005
Over on Burningbird, Shelley has written a great summary/analysis of the current thinking on Technorati’s tags. It is beautifully written, sports some wonderful photographs, and is well worth reading. I’m not even going to attempt to summarise it here, because to do so would be to be like reinventing the wheel in triangular shape - pointless and nowhere near as good as the original.
The thoughts that follow are an elaboration of the comment I left on Shelley’s post, so if you read that then some of this may seem eerily familiar.
As I said on my previous post about Technorati tags, I can’t help feeling that we’re really only at the very beginning of the creation of meaningful tagsonomies and tagsonomical tools. Technorati’s implementation of tags is one step on a long road, but until we can sort by what Technorati calls ‘authority’ (but which is really a sort of popularity), pull the search results in to our aggregators by RSS, search using Boolean operands on multiple tags and do all sorts of complicated bespoke filtering, tags will remain a bit of a kludge.
Tags are, at the moment, at the ’sledgehammer to crack a walnut’ stage, and there’s a lot of work to be done before we get it refined down to the toffee hammer stage.
A big issue is obviously implementation. People are lazy - I certainly am and I am sure I am not alone. Until we have a way to automatically tag or create tag suggestions that can be approved or disapproved by the user, we are going to have to rely on people bothering to tag their posts, and we’re going to have to put up with the way that the variable quality of their metadata affects this metadata-reliant system.
Of course, we have movement in that direction in terms of the various tagging tools which have sprung up with impressive rapidity. Ecto supports tags using the Custom Tag facility - just create a custom HTML tag with the code below and it will automatically create a tag from the selected text.
<a href="http://technorati.com/tag/%*" rel="tag"></a>
Stephanie Booth has created a plug-in for Wordpress, and there is of course the Oddiophile bookmarklet I have mentioned previously. All good starts, but they still require the blogger to bother using them and think clearly about which tags are relevant. As Shelley and others have noted, people are not necessarily very good at creating accurate tags - even people knowledgeable in the area of taxonomy and metadata don’t always create good tags for their own work.
That said, I think there are a few uses for which tags, even as they stand, beat every other system hands down, and one of those is classifying posts by language. At the moment, there really isn’t a consistent way to mark blogs or blog posts by language and that makes it very difficult if one is interested in finding blogs in a given tongue.
If I wanted to find blogs written in Welsh, then I have a bit of a challenge ahead of me. I can search in Google for ‘blog cymraeg’ but all that gives me are blog posts which use the word ‘cymraeg’, so if the post is in Welsh but doesn’t mention the word ‘cymraeg’ it’s not going to show up. For more popular languages, I can choose which language Google should search in, but that still means I need to pick some keywords to search on.
There is a similar problem even with specialised blog search engines, including the keyword search on Technorati - they all search content. I’m no metadata expert, but I see a clear difference between metadata that describes the contents of a post, i.e. what it is about, and metadata that describes the format of the post, such as what language it is in.
By allowing people to add format metadata, tags give bloggers the power to describe aspects of their posts that would not be accurately reflected by keywords selected from the content. Tagging all Welsh posts with ‘Cymraeg‘, for example, allows anyone interested in Welsh blogging to locate the most recent posts in that language, regardless of what those posts might be about.
Using tags to make up for this shortfall in existing blog metadata, we can then use Technorati as an engine for discovery (as opposed to search) within a set of given criteria. At the moment there is just no other way to do this.
Tags may be a bit kludgy at the moment, but because they are capable of filling a gap in the way we locate blog posts that may be of interest, I think they are going to be with us for the long haul.