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.
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:
- Tagging has no vendor plus buyer relationships that create two-directional stake holder bonds
- Tagging makes no attempt to colonize new territory in the enterprise
- Tagging does not seek to displace existing technologies or entrenched vendors
- Tagging is not a category of large-scale speculative / competitive software development investment
- Tagging supports no quasi-parasitic community of system integrators who thrive on complexity
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!