Is tagging an obligation?

With us now living in the midst of the so-called Web 2.0, social networking and tagging, tagging, tagging, I’ve come to question, or rather ponder, some of the things that goes with this. These are:

  • Can we trust people to add valid tags to their content?
  • Has tagging become an obligation?

Tagging of content

Naturally, I’m all for tags and I understand that, by using tags, cross-referencing and finding content genuinely benefits from it; we need a good way to add metadata to a lot of information. The fear I have, though, is that it will become the equivalent of what the meta tags with an endless number of keywords were in the beginning of search engines. People would add Pamela Anderson as well as names of various body parts just so they would match as many possible search scenarios possible, no matter what the content of their actual site were.

And now it seems like people tend to over-tag their content, be it pictures, social bookmarks, blog posts etc, with 15 to 20 tags for every item, with the mindset of “better safe than sorry”. You ask them about it, and they say they did it “just in case”. Just the other day I was talking to a well-known blogger and he told me:

I always add 5 tags to everything I publish.

In this case, him I trust that the tags are valid and should be there, but what about other people who aren’t as deadly serious? Who just want to be found, no matter the price?

Forcing people to tag?

Another thing that might kill off, or at the very least discourage, tagging on the web is people lecturing each others what tags should be added to their stuff. The other day I was browsing through my friend Chris Mills’ pictures on Flickr, when I came across the Hot topics panel – the final chapter one. There’s a comment on it from Tantek and it looks like this:

A picture of Tantek's comment on Flickr, reading 'tags: molly jon jeremy eric tantek'

First, let me say that, as far as I know, Tantek is a nice and polite guy, so this is not meant as something personal against him. I believe (read: hope) he had the best of intentions with his comment, and it’s just mentioned here as an example of a more and more occurring phenomenon. However, reading that comment, the implication of it got me annoyed as hell! For social services, like Flickr, and their likes, I’m of the strong belief that it is up to each and everyone to choose the tags they seem fit, if they want to have any tags at all.

If you want to be nice to someone and help them add the correct meta information, don’t do it publicly. Send them an e-mail and humbly explain why they should use tags and which tags are suiting in the current scenario. Most people aren’t interested in tags one bit, they just want to share their things online with other people. I don’t think we should force them to tag their content, it’s their loss if they don’t want to. Tagging should be an option, not an obligation.


My questions

What do you think? Can tagging be used moderately and in proper ways, or will it run overboard? And is tagging an obligation, or is it optional?


  • Kalle says:

    That's a hard question. I think that tags should be allowed to some extent but as you wrote it can be misused. Adding 5 tags to everything you publish just to get it out there seems quite weird.

  • Chris says:

    I think it is no problem if someone misuses tags (it's his/her loss, as you wrote).

    It is common that in systems with many users some data is not correct. But if only 2% of the data is not correct (or not correct tagged) this means that 98% is correct.

    The System has to be this error-tolerant.

    Apart from this I think it's not a goog idea to force someone to tag because this would tempt users to use tags like asdf or myname etc.

  • It should be optional. I agree it's up to each person to choose their own tags and how many. My tags represent my view. And when I add a link to I can see how others has tagged the same link. That's the beauty of it. Maybe Flickr should have a feature where the users can add tags to your images. So you would have two sets of tags, by the user and by others.

  • Jesse says:

    It should be optional but I also understand that in order for the semantic web to work effectively folksonomies might need to become closer to taxonomies. Trusting the tag names would be difficult if you can't validate the data to ensure the tag is an accurate representation of the data.

    I suppose the whole idea of XML namespaces comes into the discussion at some point as well. You could define a namespace for your stuff but goodness that would be tedious. Only the geeks would do it…

    When you look at facebook or myspace you see how consistant naming helps people connect. For example I am from Sault Ste Marie but in facebook if I put the local term 'the Soo' or the US spelling, Sault Sainte Marie, I would be less likely to find people. The same goes for Flickr or anything else that uses tags.

    But the issue of tagging and the application of it seems to degrade to standardista like discussion about the *correct* way. I think that is counter productive. Sure there are issues with tagging but having the average person tag their data is far better than they not do it because they are afraid of doing it *wrong*.

  • Sea Fraser says:

    It will run overbaord.

    Technorati is a search engine. Technorati identifies articles with multiple tags in multiple "categories". Tantek's precise use of tags is accurate and informative; they allow for exhaustive searches. Folksonomies or taxonomies regardless. Other search engines, e.g., Yahoo, have taken an interest in the future of social bookmarking tags. SEO companies, too. Tags are another element that has begun to be subverted by knowledgable SEO companies. It's just a small matter of time before shyster companies understand the significance of tags and use them.

    And, once shyster SEO companies get involved, bookmarking tags are bound to become the next meta:keywords element. That's running overboard, isn't it.

  • Triple Johan says:

    what about duplicate tags

    Should our tags be a description of the

    image (eg that plant, that bridge, that person) or (plants, bridges, persons) or (picture taken where? = geo-location, picture taken in that weather condition) … When we add favorites folders for browsing convenience, we use categories. But categories can be vague as singletons when not related?

  • Kalle Wibeck says:

    I read an interesting article about tags a while ago at BetaAlfa, a swedish blog. The writer dreamed about user provided tags in true W2.0 spirit.

    Maybe that could solve some of the issues here – at least if we spice it up with a "diggish" rating system?!

  • Tagging, like everyone has been saying, is very powerful. But I can't see any justification for making it obligatory. You have to consider the context. For example, on Flickr I post pictures for my friends. So, the tags that I put on them are meaningful in that context. "me" and "SST" and tags like that would not be meaningful outside of the group. However, on deviantART, I use tags like "sunset" or "downtown Portland", which would make the pictures more accessible to anyone. If you made tagging obligatory, you would also imply that they should add the universal tags like "sunset" in any context, regardless of the audience. And I would call that absurd.

  • asdf says:

    Another question could be: Internet before meaningless blog entries – better or worse?

  • Mr T says:

    read this scientific approach:

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Thanks everyone for very valid comments, and good suggestions! Also, thanks for the link, Mr T.


    Not probably what you expected, but I'm going to dignify your comment with a reply (it's just too bad that you feel the need to be anonymous here).

    Internet is definitely full of meaningless blog entries, but what might be extremely dull to one person might be the most interesting read in a long time for another.

  • […] ios possible, no matter what the content of their actual site where. Robert’s talk – […]

  • Meble says:

    Enjoyed browsing through the site. Keep up the good work. Greetings nad thanks from Poland

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