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Creative Commons 2.5

Web 2.0: Tagging - The Numbstance of the Technological Idiot?

Warning - rant ahead. After reading the help page at I quickly realized that I was one of those people still saying, "Yeah, but I don't get it." Some relief came in the subsequent helpful sentences, "That's ok, you don't have to. It's pretty intuitive and takes a bit of practice to fully understand. Just try it and experiment a bit!" Frankly, it's well beyond my intuition and after a little bit of practice I still don't understand it. That is, I understand what it does, but I don't have any understanding of why we would want to use it. The whole experience reminded me of...

Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot.
- McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

Here's what I was able to create with my own account. To use my tagging system you'll find it too is intuitive and takes a bit of practice to understand.

If a tag is just a word that describes an item, then an item is just a word that describes a tag.

The life tag reveals 46,655 entries. Thanks. The most popular life tag (presently 1099 people) links us to a site about sleep deprivation (at first glance it looks well written). The second most popular tag (presently 956 people) links me to a site about creating iPhoto albums. The third most popular tag (presently 740 people) recommends that I SuperGlu my life together with a new RSS feed aggregator. So I sense that it must be quite popular to share life experiences with sleep deprivation via digital photography and an rss feed aggregator. This is indeed very intuitive. Actually, it's mystical.

In a weblog entry entitled A cognitive analysis of tagging I read the following conclusion:

To conclude, the beauty of tagging is that it taps into an existing cognitive process without adding add much cognitive cost. At the cognitive level, people already make local, conceptual observations. Tagging decouples these conceptual observations from concerns about the overall categorical scheme. The challenge for tagging systems is to then do what the brain does - intelligent computation to make sense of these local observations, and an efficient, predictable way to ensure findability

Ummmm... are you talking to me? I've never had my observations decoupled before, but if we can ensure findability in my intelligent computations then my local observations will be more congruent with tagging. Who just said that - stand up and be make yourself known! Ok - I get it now - my intuition is kicking in. Tagging is associated with beauty, so there just be a delicious tag... oh, sorry... cascading style sheets wins the beauty contest. Did that process just cost my cognition something? I was able to find sh*t though. Ok, my intuition is kicking out now. Uh - just a minute - oh - it's gone.

It seems to me that the challenge of tagging systems is not to do what the brain does. Instead, it seems to me that the challenge of tagging system is to invoke enough numb stance that we aren't aware of what we are doing with our brains - but if we do it well then that's all that matters.

And by the way, the second period is misplaced - it should be "del.ici.ous."

Now to go and explore more of those Technorati tags appearing at the bottom of blog entries. I wonder if the weblog author ever really looks at them. I think I'll Furl 'em and add completely nonsensical tags so I can decouple the categorization meta-fodder from my observations.

End rant.

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Hi Pearl - A delicious rant- who would have known. Info-finding games - sounds quite a bit better than clicking on tags.

lol. Yes, I find it a rabbit's warren to move though. And I can never remember where those periods go in delicious. Think I'll stay with teh random info-finding games I have for the time being.

Hi Jeremy,

Agreed. Your comment reminded me of mind-mapping. I still think that paper has many advantages over the screen - it has more flexibility, but it is also much harder to share.

I get completely lost in the all the findability. Perhaps we should introduce the idea of lostability?


What? Someone coughing up the tagging kool-aid we've all been drinking?

I've found that in Flickr, the tags are useful for casual browsing, following interesting rabbit trails of connections...but it's more like a game than a way of finding something you're looking for.

It seems to me that one of the problems with the connections created by tags is that they tend to be somewhat one-dimensional -- that is, you "pivot" on one tag, when what you want to do is find the most applicable constellation of tags that yield the most relevant information. Nobody seems to be doing that well yet. Flickr is trying with their clusters, but it still doesn't help much for findability.

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