Tagging is one of the key features of Web 2.0, but sometimes it seems to be getting out of control.
The idea is just great – no need for an authority defining categories, no need for standardised metadata structures – just let users make up their own keywords and share them. As well as being simple and spontaneous, a kind of order can naturally emerge – as people see each other’s tag clouds, the keywords they choose will gradually converge. Folksonomies and all that.
I’ve seen two snags recently. The first is that people can use puzzling and even bizarre tags. This was the origin of my strange brush with the world of mystic rectangles, as desribed in this recent post. Kristina filed her post, about finding Golden Rectangles in Leonardo’s pictures, as follows :
It then appeared on the WordPress FrontPage under “Whats Happening in Science” – otherwise I would never have discovered this strange parallel universe. The appearance of the tag “Quantum Physics” kinda threw me as well. Anyway, I don’t want to go on about Kristina and her chums as I already sullied the purity of their Mysterium by introducing a sceptical note. (Not only has she stopped accepting my comments, some of them have even been deleted now…. )
However we can also see the second problem – too many tags !! This morning I found a nice wee blog, 1000 petals, with a good short post about how misleading map projections can be, and the political implications. Very nice. But its filed under :
Why ? whats all that for ? It looks like a good summary of what the whole blog tends to be about, but only two of those tags describe the post.
So why does this happen ? It could be a market thing. Everybody can see, but maybe nobody’s looking. You want to put out lots of hooks in case they catch fish. It could be a worry about matching others. Do I use “Astronomy” or “Astrophysics” ? Better use both. It could be a need to capture the feeling that every post is in a context. I am writing this post about foot and mouth in cows, but its really part of a grand series about farming, society, and mammals in general, and its very important that its seen in a context of evolution and the immune system. (I think this is the reason that hits the spot for Kristina’s blog and 1000 petals).
Does it matter ? Maybe not. And maybe Web 2.0 is still young, and we are learning how to do this stuff. Is there a really good tag-browser tool out there ?
Partly I am musing on this because of recent Virtual Observatory work. A lot of thought and effort has gone on world-wide, through the IVOA, into agreeing a standardised set of metadata for describing astronomical resources, services, datasets, column descriptors etc, so that they can be published in a Registry, and so found, browsed, and used. I have been working with one of our ace engineers, Noel Winstanley, who has been developing a browser for VO Registries. (Its called VOExplorer and is still in alpha, but coming up to beta soon).
Its such hard work getting data centres to publish compliant registry entries, with all the metadata entries nicely filled in, that you start to wonder whether its better just to let people make up free form tags and let a useful Registry gradually emerge…
But now I am not so sure…