August 21, 2009

Who is “Everybody”?

One of the most memorable quotes on the subject of ‘categorization’ and the formulation (or not) of ontologies and taxonomies in information-science (and in relation to web-bookmarking and/or tagging), came from Clay Shirky, when he said:

“The Only Group That Can Categorize Everything Is Everybody” – Clay Shirky

The statement is both simple and logical at the same time, and this message is reflected again in Shirky’s eminently worthy 2008 book: ‘Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations’ and previously explored in his July 2005 talk at Oxford, ‘Institutions vs Collaboration’ featured on TEDtalks, [link]. Shirky’s primary message in these publications has been about how the web has had the effect of increasing collaboration outside of institutional models by lowering ‘coordination-costs’, and in fact how the web has facilitated this by embedding ‘cooperation’ into it’s infrastructure. However, the quantum leap in cooperation enabled by the web is still subject to certain ‘bottle-neck’ effects by virtue of the client-server (provider-receiver) dichotomy upon which the web is based.

One of the great levelers on the web however, has been another of the areas of Shirky’s research, and that of course is ‘tagging’. Tagging is so simple to execute that literally ‘everybody’ can do it. However, generally, as far as most people are concerned, tagging is just about labelling stuff within what are still ultimatley web-silos, and the general web population don’t control those silos. However, the inherent tripartite stucture of a tag which potentially informs us a) about the resource being tagged, b) about the identity of the tagger and c) about the interests of the tagger, all combine to define the ternary relationship between them. When this is multiplied by ‘x’ number of tags in a given system, it opens a veritable pandora’s box of application options.

In his 2005 talks ‘Ontology is Overrated’ and ‘Folksonomies & Tags’ Shirky provocatively stated: “…there is no shelf. There is no file system. The links alone are enough.” [link] …and so began an ongoing debate between those who believe that it is the natural role and responsibility of ‘experts’ to classify and categorize information, (the top-downers) and those who believe that prescribing rules and ontologies interfere with a potentially more natural and egalitarian process, (the bottom-uppers).

The application of Shirky’s prophetic statement about the role of ‘everybody’ (which let me say, truly inspires me) in the real world is not only not straight forward, but (I personally believe) is effectively under challenge by (another group of top-downers) the exponents of the ever increasing number of ’standards’ that are being developed by an army of coders and ‘webocrats’, creating (what amounts to) so many endless firmware-updates to de-bug the truly massive virtual operating-system that our web has become.

At the centre (more or less) of this cornucopia of solutions and tweaks lies Tim Berners-Lee’s ‘Semantic-Web’ and its more recent incarnation as ‘Linked Data’. However, in this ecosystem of rules, and rules about rules, we also have: The ‘Resource Description Framework’ RDF (which grew from the ‘Meta Content Framework’ MCF, combined with XML, whereupon Microsoft created ‘Channel Definition Format’ CDF, to revolutionize “push” technology, only to be trumped when the WC3 backed RDF) then we got ‘Web Ontology Language’ OWL, which (according to some) can be trumped by ‘Extensible Stylesheet Language’ XSLT… and, just to be sure, now we’ve got RDFa, to help deal with issues with RDF. As Greg Boulten has opined on his Blog ’’ [link] :

“If you really needed the whole stack for Linked Data to work, you would have a bigger problem on your hands: now you’d have to explain to users that to try Linked Data you need to understand and use RDF, URIs, SPARQL, OWL, and the other pieces of the stack. Good luck with driving adoption that way… Oh, but wait, that’s what has been done so far, with the slow results we know of.” – Greg Boulten

So… how does this all relate to tagging and who is best to categorise ‘everything’? Well… Its ultimately about ‘prescriptive-solutions’ (and I’m thinking mainly of the ’semantic web’ movement here) that are conceived as potentially machine-readable conventions that will somehow help us, by removing dependencies on that unreliable faculty: ‘intuitive human decision making’. – This is where the polarity exists… There are those who believe in prescribing rules and systems to deal with the exponentially expanding web, and those that recognise that an evolutionary process is underway, both in new forms of language creation (emergent semantics) and in the need for alternative ways to deal with this unprecedented explosion of information.

In Folksonomies we have become used to the counter hierarchical process of selection that are displayed in tag-clouds, but being part of this evolution, we are still in the early stages of this change process. As was discussed on AllPeers blog (before their VCs pulled the plug)

“…folksonomies work because they leverage a very efficient natural language processing tool: the human brain. By offloading the task of disambiguation onto the user, folksonomies reduce the need for all of those fiddly niceties like hierarchy that ontologists have traditionally considered necessary.” [link]

So, ‘Who is Everybody?’… and how will ‘everybody’ maintain the promise and power of Clay Shirky’s beautifully simple and self evidently true statement? – I do believe there definitely is a role for technolgy, protocols and systems to help ‘everybody’ do this, but we have to make sure that a clear distinction is drawn between ‘top-down’ prescriptive solutions vs ‘bottom-up’ models which would allow ‘everybody’ to not just be part of the process, but in fact to BE the process.

November 1, 2008

Inline tags at LibraryThing

LibraryThing improves forums

Tim Spalding has taken discussion forums a big step forward over at LibraryThing. The concept is simple but could make a real difference because it allows forum msgs to be aggregated in multiple ways. When you’re entering a msg at a forum, you can put a title or author in brackets and LibraryThing will take a stab at identifying what you have in mind. Think of it as in-place tagging. You can thus easily find all the posts about a book. And all the references to a book or author will be lilsted on that book or author’s page.

Because LibraryThing knows which books you own (because you’ve told it), it can feed you msgs about any of them. And, as Tim points out, this unhiding of msgs will change the temporality of posts: Rather than msgs fading into obscurity a few days or weeks after they’re posted, they’ll be easily findable and reply-able.

Very cool.

September 8, 2007

Tagging: A Comparison With Three Characteristics Of Disruptive Innovations

In his comments on Is Tagging A Disruptive Innovation, Simon Edhouse raises a good point that merits some further discussion. Simon says,

“Many different technologies, platforms or applications may be ‘potential’ disruptions, but may fall by the wayside, change, or join forces with other forces and be transformed and possibly end up ‘disrupting’. But I think we all know that a real ‘disruptive innovation’ needs to not cause a little disruption, but rather have a seismic affect on industries, in the “IT ecosystem” as Joe noted.”

Theories and models describing innovation, the diffusion of innovation, technology change, and technology adoption abound. But I think there are three characteristics of disruptive innovations that bear on the question of tagging.

First, *innovations are only disruptive when they change an existing ecosystem.* The retractable cup holder in cars is a good example of an innovation that wasn’t disruptive. Did anyone – besides the dashboard cup tray people (and how many of them were there anyway…?) – go out of business after cup holders became standard in cars?

Contrast this with the introduction of the personal computer. To millions of individuals and small businesses, the personal computer was simply new: it was a new opportunity to purchase computing capability for a class of needs and situations not addressed by mainframes and minicomputers. But to Data General, Digital Equipment Corporation, and the other leaders of the thriving minicomputer ecosystem, the PC was a genuinely disruptive innovation.

Second, *disruptive innovations become visible only in retrospect*. Three separate events are necessary: first, a change in ecosystem; second, recognition of that change by the parties affected; finally, a change in the framing used to understand that ecosystem by all parties. Clayton’s description of packet switching [great example!] fully supports this understanding, so I’ll share it again.

…Packet-switching is a great example of an innovation whose value / impact / disruptive nature became apparent over time. In fact, most of the telecom industry regarded packet-switch based things as irrelevant because of the low quality. But low quality also often simply means “low cost” when judged by a different standard of reference.

Third, *a disruptive innovation is often something transposed or transplanted from another frame of reference*. Cubism, Fauvism and other Modernist styles and movements reflected the influence of transplanted Asian, African and other newly recognized art cultures on Western artists and their work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Similarly, the Dada and Surrealist movements have roots in the literary and artistic exploration of concepts and ideas from the field of Psychology.

How does this bear on tagging?

First, is the growth of tagging disrupting any existing ecosystems? Specifically, has tagging seismically affected the established IT or information management realms, the two existing ecosystems currently seen as the most likely candidates for disruption by tagging?

The consensus from the tagging community of interest is “No, but stay tuned.” Gene smith noted recently that the good people of LibraryThing are innovating their product / service offerings in ways that could directly impact the business of library catalog management, and the customer experience of a library catalog. While LibraryThing is clearly innovative, it’s not yet disrupted the information management ecosystem. Likewise, the new social bookmarking offerings from leading enterprise portal vendors reflect incremental incorporation of new capabilities, rather than wholesale shifts in the portal landscape. Flickr isn’t showing pictures of crowds of unemployed metadata management professionals standing on sidewalks outside former workplaces, holding signs that read, “Noteconomicallyviable“.

Second, is tagging disruptive in retrospect, in a way that indicates changing frames of reference? I think the answer to this is a qualified “Yes”. Tagging is in retrospect disruptive, but only for a small community. For David Weinberger and other early adopters who propose frames for a living, tagging has already passed through the two stages of disruption and recognition, and is in the midst of the third stage where it becomes part of a new or revised frame of reference.

However, for the rest of the world, though many people now tag on a daily basis (at least in limited contexts), tagging is not part of a new frame of reference. Tagging remains ‘below the cultural waterline’ in this stage of it’s growth curve.As Simon says, “To speculate whether ‘tagging’ by itself is a ‘disruptive innovation’ is, I’m sure, premature.”

Third, is tagging genuinely new, or is tagging a transplant from an existing frame? I believe social tagging is new to most frames of reference, and not a transplant. Tagging in the sense of applying labels meant to serve as some sort of metadata to a collection of resources – for a group or individual – is a very old idea. But explicitly social tagging that results in the collective creation of clouds of tags seems definitively new*.

That makes approximately one and one-half matches out of three. Hitting .500 is outstanding in baseball, but I don’t believe it is enough to qualify tagging as a disruptive innovation.

*If you consider social tagging as a straightforward transplanting of social media mechanisms and concepts to the established realms of metadata and information management, then you’re clearly a member of the small community of people that thinks about both social media and information management on a regular basis. Compared to the number of people who think about major league sports on a regular basis, this is not a large group, which takes us back to the idea that tagging is disruptive only retrospectively, and for a select community.

September 5, 2007

A Response to Comments on “The Tagging Growth Curve”

Before I reply to comments from KatB & Simon Edhouse on The Tagging Growth Curve, a quick reminder that this series of postings has as it’s primary point of departure the idea that the smoothly drawn analyst’s curve for describing technology growth misrepresents the noisy and unpredictable fluctuations of reality. The outcome is that this conversation is as much about the models currently in use in the technology industry for framing how technologies grow, change, and spread, as about the specifics of tagging.

At some point, it may be necessary to branch these topics in pursuit of further clarity; on either, or both in relation.

@Simon: Incremental growth along these two paths is what we’re seeing at the moment. The apparently slow increase in the size of the total population of people and organizations who’ve adopted tagging is consistent with the idea that innovation happens during those periods when the rate of diffusion is slowed, due to the increased requirements of crossing a community boundary.

A partial list of those requirements would be:

* lower cost
* rising user experience quality
* social facilitators: advocates, ambassadors, evangelists
* conceptual bridges – like ‘horseless carriage’ – to overcome the increased friction of reconciling the new and different with an old frame of reference lagging in terms of awareness and understanding of tagging

The graph charting the curve for the rate of innovation – if it’s possible to chart something as slippery as innovation – would likely appear as the inverse of the growth curve. A curve for innovation would show spikes (for quality of innovation, quantity of innovation, or both…?) during the intervals when the spread of tagging is slower.

Anyone who wants to understand the mechanisms, rates, trajectories, etc. of technology growth should really look at diffusion and innovation as they inter-relate. Doing otherwise seems like trying to understand population sizes based only on the single factor of births or deaths, but not both working together.

@KatB: Technology innovation is definitely a social process – good of you to surface that angle explicitly. Social tagging is – well – inherently social. Taking that for granted (which says a lot about my initial frame of reference), I brought in the biological model without mentioning this given.

My knowledge of the Technology Acceptance Model is limited. What makes it a good model for the new explicitly social technologies? As opposed to the previous (non-social) technologies prevalent when TAM was formulated?

My goal in suggesting punctuated equilibrium as a better model than the Gartner Hype Cycle was to explore the fit of a different way of looking at tagging than is customary for the broad IT frame of reference. That does not discounting any other kind of model directly. There may be fundamental conflicts between one or more of the various models on the table that I’m unaware of at the moment, but then I’m unaware of them :)

Another question to ask in testing how well punctuated equilibrium fits as a model for diffusion is “Does punctuated equilibrium apply to open source technologies?”

Ravi of Luinuxhelp posted a mind map of the lineage of linux distributions in April of 2006 that surfaced in the open source and linux communities. The updated version of that map looks like this:

And these two images (from Patterns and Rates of Species Evolution by Michael J. Benton) illustrate speciation as it appears under punctuated equilibrium; first in general, and then specifically for bryozoans in the Caribbean.

We should keep two things in mind while considering these evolutionary charts: the illustrations come from completely different frames of reference; and apparent similarity – visual or otherwise – is no guarantee of genuine similarity on any level. But there is still compelling likeness in these renderings of the lineage of an open source OS, and “tiny colonial animals that generally build stony skeletons of calcium carbonate, superficially similar to coral”. Clearly, in the real world, linux distros and bryozoans are wildly unlike. Yet their evolutionary trajectories may show some of the same patterns at this level of abstraction.

Which means that punctuated equilibrium as a model might have something to say about open source software in general. [Here I have to say that informed contributions from the linux community are welcome, as I'm not qualified to discuss it's workings in any detail.] And if such is the case, then punctuated equilibrium seems to correspond to the known patterns of diffusion and evolution in the two major spaces in which software technologies evolve at the moment (until another production model arises) – commercial, and open source.

And just in case there’s any question about my professional qualifications for discussing evolutionary mechanisms, it should be clear I am in no way a sociobiologist, ethologist, geneticist, evolutionary biologist, morphologist, etc. So I’m borrowing freely from other fields to seek a new model, which means I run the risk of borrowing concepts from either (or both) in ways that don’t make sense in their original contexts.

September 1, 2007

The Tagging Growth Curve

A recent flurry of postings from the tagerati on the state of tagging follows up on the idea broached by Phillip Kelleher, and then addressed here in previous posts; to wit, tagging is in a bit of a lull, if not an authentic spate of the doldrums.

A quick listing of postings from the thread:

I’ll assume you’ve read all these worthwhile pieces, and move on to discuss what seems most interesting about both the state of tagging, and what the above interpretations of that state imply about how we think of the intertwined phenomena of technology and culture change in general.

The apparently irregular growth and spread of tagging is simply example of the real nature of how innovations spread. Professional analysts and other meaning makers tend to draw smooth graphs to depict these things. But in reality, natural systems (and the tagging / technology landscape is a legitimate ecosystem) are noisy, cyclical, chaotic, complex, fuzzy, non-linear, and unpredictable. They only appear to follow smooth curves at a high level of abstraction, or a low level of resolution.

When the subject is growth, adoption, and change for tagging, a better comparison to use when gauging status (and thus implied progress) is punctuated equilibrium, the idea “that evolution jumps between stability and relative rapidity”. [Yes, this is also only an approximate frame for tagging. With that noted, I still believe it is better than those frames in current use.]

To set the stage for a look at how this maps to the growth of tagging, I’ll quote Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldrige on punctuated equilibrium:

In summarizing the impact of recent theories upon human concepts of nature’s order, we cannot yet know whether we have witnessed a mighty gain in insight about the natural world (against anthropocentric hopes and biases that always hold us down), or just another transient blip in the history of correspondence between misperceptions of nature and prevailing social realities of war and uncertainty. Nonetheless, contemporary science has massively substituted notions of indeterminacy, historical contingency, chaos and punctuation for previous convictions about gradual, progressive, predictable determinism.

These transitions have occurred in field after field; Kuhn’s celebrated notion of scientific revolutions is, for example, a punctuational theory for the history of scientific ideas. Punctuated equilibrium, in this light, is only palaeontology’s contribution to a Zeitgeist, and Zeitgeists, as (literally) transient ghosts of time, should never be trusted. Thus, in developing punctuated equilibrium, we have either been toadies and panderers to fashion, and therefore destined for history’s ashheap, or we had a spark of insight about nature’s constitution. Only the punctuational and unpredictable future can tell.

From Punctuated Equilibrium Comes of Age by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge
Applying the frame of punctuated equilibrium to the growth of tagging implies a very differently shaped growth curve.

Tagging Growth Curve

This illustration shows a growth curve with several stages of rapid growth, followed by plateaus of comparative stability. Each stage is a complete cycle of diffusion throughout a community: Pioneers, Enthusiasts, Commercial Innovators, the Commercial Market. Technologies begin “below the cultural waterline”, meaning that they are not part of the generally known or accepted constellation of how things work, and move “above the waterline” to awareness and acceptance.

Boundaries formed by common interests, goals, levels of expertise, or expected investment separate the communities from one another. Each successive community is larger in size. The criteria for successful adoption and diffusion change with each community. Generally, the entry cost thresholds for members of a given community to adopt the technology will become lower, meaning less need for specialized knowledge, or substantial time or or money investments. Of course, this simply means that different actors within successive communities bear investment costs in different proportions. In the pioneer days, everyone “pitches in”. As adoption proceeds across community boundaries, relative equality of participation in innovation – and thus cost sharing – declines.

If you have a commercial perspective – meaning you either want to make money on tagging, or you want someone else to figure out the difficult bits for you and just what they come up with – the goal is to bring the technology “above the cultural waterline”. Crossing this threshold means successful commercialization and profit for those who invest to lower barriers for as successive communities.

Note, it is during the plateaus that innovation occurs. These intervals that sometimes feel like doldrums are the periods when serious minded people are quietly tinkering, building things, and circulating half-complete alphas to friends, colleagues, and thought leaders within their respective communities.

It is during the spikes that the members of the next and larger community adopt the new, refined technology.

What does this mean for tagging? More specifically, how should we understand the state of tagging with this model as a guide?

First, tagging is definitely past the Pioneer stage, when only a few even knew or heard of it. The burst of tag mania that began a few years ago (and is now, in retrospect, clearly over) marked the close of this phase, and the beginning of visible experimentation amongst Enthusiasts. Yes, thanks to vastly lowered design and development costs, organizations are often enthusiasts. Think of the ever-multiplying menagerie of social bookmarking tools that debuted in 2005 and 2006.

Second, tagging is in transition from the stage of experimental exploration by the Enthusiasts, to being legitimately productized, or transformed by money-making organizations – the Commercial Innovators – into something that can be sold for a profit. The recent eWeek demo of not one but *four* enterprise tagging tools from leading vendors BEA, Cogenz, Connectbeam, and IBM, shows this quite clearly.

As long as our current models of adoption and change hold true (and there are good reasons to think these fundamental modes of production are changing), tagging will follow two paths to varying degrees. The first path leads tagging to become commercialized as a recognized part of the technology ecosystem, in which case we can expect to see all the customary signs of productization and the Commercial Market such as packages, vendors, integrators, public release schedules, service tiers, big-ticket invoices, etc. The second path leads tagging to open source legitimacy, with ongoing commitment from a hybrid community of developers and users, and a permanent place in the open source infrastructure. A quick survey of the open source community shows several tagging projects underway, at varying levels of activity.

My current prediction is that tagging will progress along both paths for the next 12 months, pursuing commercialization under the aegis of existing enterprise solutions, while the open source community comes to some sort of consensus on the level of effort tagging needs or warrants. Looking at things from the macroscale, we should check in about a year…

July 21, 2007

Is Tagging A Disruptive Innovation?

Regarding my post Tagging and the Hype Cycle, Xian said:

…You write: “Tagging does not seek to displace existing technologies or entrenched vendors” but are there not automated taxonomy generating tools that might be disrupted by the widespread adoption of tagging?

More broadly, isn’t tagging something of a threat to top-down ontology and taxonomy approaches?

Great to see some chatter here to dispell the “trough” idea.

Indeed there are classes of existing metadata management tools which may suffer a decline as the practice of social / distributed tagging spreads. And tagging can also be seen as a challenge to top-down approaches, with the corollary of it being a challenge to the software tools / services / hardware connected to those approaches. Good points, both.

I should make clear that I’m drawing boundaries for the conversation at this first step, looking at tagging as it compares to and contrasts with the other common candidates for the Hype Cycle style analysis Keller offered. That means comparing tagging to the broad class of IT solutions tracked by the (now myriad) Hype Cycles, and, amongst other analyst offerings, their close cousins the Forrester Waves (there must be almost 200 of each by now…). These solutions are themselves parts of the larger IT ecosystem which includes well defined roles (a bit like niches) for all the parties involved; vendor, buyer, partner, competitor, regulator, etc.

In these terms, it is difficult to identify direct market actors (business or otherwise) associated with tagging. To date, there are few potential or actual agents trying to take on any of the above roles available in the IT ecosystem. There are some recently available tagging solutions – in the traditional style of software you lease / install / subscribe to – offered for purchase. Does anyone know how well they are selling…?

Thus, I don’t think the Hype Cycle comparison holds. In simple financial terms, I’m not aware of anyone making or losing substantial amounts of money specifically in relation to tagging. For many reasons, tagging has not yet emerged – and may never emerge – as a category of technology investment and activity for businesses.

Moving forward, Xian’s done good work reframing the conversation to address another level. Xian’s questions shift the discussion outside the tight boundaries I drew, to consider the impact of tagging on existing solutions for metadata management and related parties. And underlying this impact assessment is the larger question of whether tagging is a disruptive innovation: will tagging change the shape of the metadata management ecosystem? Will tagging lead to new niches?

In comparison to established metadata management solutions, tagging shows several of the characteristics of disruptive innovations:

  • tagging is cheaper
  • tagging has low entry barriers
  • tagging is self-service

Not coincidentally, these attributes are the centerpieces of Clay Shirky’s earlier arguments in favor of tagging, and there is no need to revisit them in depth.

But there is still debate about the specifics of these attributes. For example, in what ways is tagging cheaper? And in what contexts (maybe not for me)? Or does tagging simply distribute costs differently; perhaps over time (pay now, or pay later…), or across actors (is free really free for *you*?), or by manifesting costs in different ways (time is often money. so is quality. so are mistakes)?

The conversations playing out around these questions indicate progress in how well tagging is understood. But they also demonstrate that the major cultural and organizational shifts in thinking – shifts that pave the way for people to invest, build, buy, and do all the other things that drive changes in the ecosystem – are still underway.

Though it’s been a few years since tagging became visible, it seems too early to understand what kind of changes – if any – will occur in the metadata management ecosystem as a result of tagging’s emergence. In the meantime, insights and examples of tagging’s impact from those better-informed (or more insightful) are welcome.

July 18, 2007

The Tagging Hype Cycle

In Tag history and gartners hype cycles, Philipp Keller, riffing on Gartner’s ‘Hype Cycles’, has put together a brief history capturing his view of the major developments in tagging, and mapped this chronological listing of events to the five stages of the common Gartner Technology Hype Cycle.

Tagging Hype Cycle

In support of this comparison, Keller cites Gartner’s definition of the Trough of disillusionment:

“The point at which the technology becomes unfashionable and the press abandons the topic, because the technology did not live up to its overinflated expectations.”

Keller then continues:

This is the phase we’re in now. There are no blog posts any more. Tagging is not really unfashionable but the topic is “done” à la «if that’s all what’s tagging adds to the web experience, I’m not interested in this technology any more». There isn’t much thinking and innovation going on.

Philipp’s retrospective is useful, if not complete. But from a quick scan of the many streams related to tagging, it is clear that tagging is the subject of a considerable amount of activity across a variety of fronts ranging from conceptual understanding, to tools, to best practices. (Time allowing, I’ll revisit the current activity around tagging at a later date.)

The more important issue to address is that Keller is wrong to apply the Hype Cycle frame to tagging in the first place. Since framing substantially dictates the terms and tone of the conversation possible around a subject, getting it right is important; think here of Thank You For Smoking’s pithy distinction between the likely outcomes of arguments vs. negotiations.

Tagging in fact shows few characteristics of the enterprise technologies that Gartner’s Hype Cycle is built around. In no particular order, some of the key differences distinguishing tagging from a Hype Cycle candidate technology are:

Which leads to the inevitable question, “What is a good frame for tagging?” Is tagging a a technology (a construct defined more by the conflict around it’s meaning than by agreement)?

Or is tagging an essential social capability, i.e. an attribute of a healthy social entity of some kind? These entities may be either exclusively virtual (as with the social bookmarking and other virtual object sharing services); or they may be “virtureal”, representing existing objects / networks in the virtual realm, thereby blurring the boundaries between realspace and infospace.

Andrew McAfee of HBS includes tags as one of the key elements of Enterprise 2.0 (see Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration). This framing advocates for tagging as a cultural component, one of the larger set of characteristics that defines the new social and collaborative enterprise.

Some exploratory ecological framings consider tags as a constituent element of information ecologies of various kinds, subject to the dynamics of complex systems, thus implicitly positioning them as defacto environmental subsystems, which approaches the notion of tagging as an ecological service akin to pollination, and presumably the byproduct of agents within the ecosystem.

Because the core notions of [the new, social] tagging [paradigm] reject the validity of exclusionary single-point-of-reference framing as a practice, it is quite likely that effective frames for tagging will reflect elements or aspects of these existing frames, and also include other forms we haven’t yet conceived or articulated. These new frames will surely emerge with time, from better understanding of the new world ahead – what Dr. David Weinberger (a sometime contributor to this blog) describes as the Third order of order.

Or maybe Gene Smith’s (also a contributor to You’re It!) upcoming tagging book will explain everything – go Gene!

July 5, 2007

Introduction: Joe Lamantia

Hello, world! Joe Lamantia here, as the most recent addition to the Tag Team, with greetings and salutations for one and all. Readers of and contributors to this blog may know some of my writing on tagging and tag clouds, which is what brings me to this semi-structured thought collective.

I’ve been active in the user experience, information architecture, and internet technology communities for ten years, before the emergence of tagging as it’s now known, in the era when metadata of any sort was never mentioned in Business Week or the New York Times. Ironically, this history also places me nearer the ‘new’ end of the professional spectrum amongst the posters here at You’re It! It is a group I am privileged to join.

When not thinking about tagging, tagclouds, folksonomies, and social metadata, I enjoy crafting essays about enterprise information architecture, user experience, the design and structure of complex systems, mental models, organizational culture, and the like at

January 31, 2007

Pew Internet and American Life: New Report on Tagging

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has just released a report on Tagging with some very interesting statistics (”28% of internet users have tagged or categorized content online such as photos, news stories or blog posts. On a typical day online, 7% of internet users say they tag or categorize online content.”)  There’s also an interview with Tagsonomy blogger David Weinberger:

Q: Why do you think Internet users are drawn to tagging?

Weinberger: It’s really useful. Compare your traditional computer system to organize your digital photos to using a tagging system. Instead of having to stick a photo into a single folder — say, “trips 2006” — you can easily tag it as “Italy,” “anniversary,” “sunset,” “mountains,” and “no kids.” You can assemble instant virtual albums of all your anniversary photos, or all your photos of all your trips to Italy, etc.

There’s an altruistic appeal to tagging as well. Tagging at public sites can give you a sense that you’re adding to a shared stream of knowledge. At, or other such sites, tag a page “robotics” and you know that it’s automatically added to the list of pages tagged that way, so anyone else interested in that topic can find it.

January 17, 2007

Comparing Jobs’ and Gates’ tag clouds

Will Parker on the sigia-l mailing list sent around a link to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs: Keynote text analysis from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which compares tag clouds generated from recent keynote speeches from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.