How I tag
First of all, what are tags (which some people call ‘labels’, others ‘keywords’)? Here’s an example from the 2007 report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project:
“Tagging is the process of creating labels for online content. The mechanics are simple on most tag-centered websites and there is an Appendix to this report that links to some sites that cover more fully the mechanics of tagging. After creating an account on a site like flickr.com you can upload your photos to the site and then apply labels to the pictures that make sense to you – for instance, labeling a photo of a sunset as “sunset.” Once the labels are applied, anyone using Flickr’s search bar who types in “sunset” can find yours among the other pictures that are similarly named. You can also search the site using keywords and when you find photos posted by others that you like enough to want to retrieve later, you can apply your own tags to them. That might mean that you call someone else’s picture “sunset” even though he originally labeled it “clouds.”
Then, from any internet-connected computer you go back to the search box on flickr.com and type in the labels you created and find all the material you have tagged – both yours and the material from others that you have labeled your own way. Thus, typing in “sunset” will yield search results that take you to the pictures you tagged that way.
Not only can tags be personally useful to people who want easier ways to retrieve information that appealed to them, but tags also have a social dimension. Your tags on flickr are added to the millions of other labels on the site and that allows flickr to organize information better for other searchers who use those keywords – making this a classic example of bottom-up building of categories instead of top-down imposition of categories.
Your tags also allow flickr to highlight the most popular listings. These “tag clouds” illustrate the material that was tagged by others and tag sites usually showcase the most popular tags by increasing the font size and boldness of the type as flickr does here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/”
Among many other places, I tag my photos in Flickr, my bookmarks in Diigo and del.icio.us, and stuff I author in WordPress (here) among many other places. I soon realised that despite tagging thousands of pages in Diigo, I still couldn’t go to Diigo and easily find what I needed when I needed it.
This made me realise that my tagging could improve.
Next, here are some tagging considerations – my own – which have emerged from long experience of tagging web resources for personal and professional use.
What are my aims in tagging?
- Sometimes I’m keeping a record of a phenomenon over time
- Sometimes I’m collecting examples of something
- Sometimes I’m collecting ephemera which I won’t need after a certain date
- I always want to find resources again – I need my tags to be sensitive and specific
- Sometimes I want to share my tags, or build a repository of resources with somebody – then I want my tags to be meaningful to more than just me. I want them to be intuitive. In learning technology parlance, this is a collabulary rather than a folksonomy.
- Sometimes I want to generate a quick list of resources (e.g. a reading list) and circulate that.
What I no longer do:
- I never use tags like ‘e-learning’ any more. My entire job is to do with e-learning – that term is not going to help me find anything. Being general, it applies to too much to be useful. It’s a millstone – I have to waste time to use it consistently, but it doesn’t help me narrow down a search. Ditto tags like ‘racism’, ‘work’ or ‘news’ don’t work for people who are researching racism, work or news. They aren’t particular enough.
- I no longer worry that I have ‘too many’ tags, because it started to seem like worrying that I had too many thoughts.
What I do:
- I always tag with the year in which the given resource was created. If the topic is highly time sensitive, I may also tag with the month. This means that I can narrow down my search if I can vaguely remember the date. It also fulfils a historical function – it allows me to follow different phenomena over time.
- I try to tag consistently. I know that if I go searching by tag 6 months down the line, I will hope to myself that my search results are complete.
- I’ve begun to tag with media type, or document type. Again, this helps me narrow down my search to stuff like guidance, briefing, report, video, audio, satire, opinion, cartoon and so on – and any combination of these.
- For opinion pieces I use names in my tags – I tag with the author’s name, or (if it seems important) the names of the people mentioned.
- When tagging, I go with my first associations – assuming that they are the strongest ones.
- I try to anticipate in advance how I might go about finding a given resource in the future – what would it help me with, and what search terms might I use?
- If the web-thing in question has triggered a powerful reaction in me, that’s likely to be memorable. So I might tag with a word like ‘disgusting’ or ‘ludicrous’.
- I sometimes incorporate analysis – tags like ‘utopian’ or ‘libertarian paternalism’
- If I want to generate lists, I will tag with everything I’d usually tag with, but also a tag for that particular list. For example, our new web site (which is currently under development by the Web Team) will link to groups of our del.icio.us bookmarks, rather than hard-coding lists of links which we’d have to keep updated by making repeated requests to the Web Team.
- I have tags to denote web things I most value – one of mine is ‘key argument’, which I use to tag blog posts which have a particularly illuminating conversation in the comments.
- I periodically review my tags (and I have hundreds) to see if I can merge any, or if I’ve duplicated any concepts using different terms.
Basically, my tags are principally for me and/or colleagues. Realising that I cannot confidently anticipate my 6-months-later me, I try to anticipate my future needs and tag so that I can find my stuff again long after I’ve forgotten why I tagged it in the first place, and so that other people can find things too.
We’d really like to hear how you are tagging, and what you have learnt about tagging from experience.