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!

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.

October 16, 2006

Jason Toal’s survey results

Hmm, I meant to blog this over a month ago. Jason Toal posted some results of a tagging study I participated in. Apparently SurveyMonkey is a security risk, so he can’t include his results in his academic work. Still, the results provide an interesting snapshot of one small group of people’s use of tags.

In the same email message where he announced the above blog post, Toal also pointed to the My Cassettes project which makes interesting use of tags through its Flickr group and Delicious id.

July 31, 2006

Review of physical tagging practices at this year’s IA Summit

You’re It contributor Gene Smith posted a fascinating study of physical tagging habits from this year’s IA Summit (A micro-study of tagging) on his Atomiq blog.

Not surprisingly, a few of the contributors to this blog (Don, Peter, myself) are found to have conceivably “overthought” things a bit, presenting variations on the tag cloud concept that people find as confusing with ink on paper as they do in the sidebar of many a website.

July 12, 2006

Blogoforum mashes up web 2.0 concepts

I’ve been meaning to post a link to Blogoforum since founder Denis Krukovsky alerted me to it. The site describes itself as a “Web 2.0 tag-based folksonomy blog+forum” so it’s fully buzzword compliant.

The site also uses the tagline “Employ the power of many.” (That’s one way to get my attention: refer directly to the title of my book in your conceptual branding.)

Denis suggests that his tag-based approach to a forum eliminates the need for subforums.

Other interesting features include the fact that any comment can be treated as a discussion starting point and the creation for each contributor an author-centric stream of their posts in the form of a blog, as an attempt to leverage the sense of ownership and responsibility that inhere more closely to traditional blog posts than to scattered forum participation.

May 31, 2006

Tagging 2.0 panel at SXSW2006 now a podcast

The Tagging 2.0 panel I organized at South by SouthWest 2006 in March is now a Tagging 2.0 podcast among the many SXSW 2006 podcasts you can download.The Tagging 2.0 panel was one of the “highly-rated panels” this year, tied for first place with a number of other entertaining and informative panels too so check out their podcasts as they become available as well.

Taglines – tag visualization from Yahoo! research

Taglines is a visualization tool prototyped at Yahoo! research labs to see tags with floating thumbnails along a primary axis of time. It’s quite a neat zeitgeist kind of interface.

Taglines tool from Yahoo! Research

Among other things, you can click and hold on tags or thumbnails and of course, change the speed which you “move” through them over time. This project was discussed at the excellent tagging workshop at the WWW2006 conference last week in Edinburgh, Scotland. The paper describing the system: Visualizing Tags over Time by these authors: Micah Dubinko, Ravi Kumar, Joseph Magnani, Jasmine Novak, Prabhakar Raghavan and Andrew Tomkins – all from Yahoo! Research, USA.

May 24, 2006

Collaborative Tagging Workshop

Our own Don Turnbull posted from the Collaborative Tagging Workshop at WWW2006 in Edinburg, mentioned in Christian’s last post. Don includes a link to a rich set of 16 papers on collaborative tagging. Fire up your Adobe Readers! (Posted by Jon L. as Admin)

May 16, 2006

Social bookmarking in the enterprise

Stacy Surla, an information architect at MITRE Corp., posted the IA Institude mailing list last week about a social bookmarking system they’ve implemented on their intranet.

She also plugs an upcoming (next week!) Collaborative Web Tagging Workshop in Edinburgh.

In a followup to that same post, Cody Burleson from IBM mentioned that in addition to the Dogear application they use internally at IBM for “delicious-style” page tagging, they’ve also implmented a collaborative “people tagging” tool called Fringe tied to their BluePages corporate directory.