Joho the Blog » Authors tags and topics

Authors tags and topics

I find it interesting that I haven’t seen a new age tagging app that gives special social weight to the tags the authors of works create. Obviously authors get to sort their resources by the tags they’ve assigned, but when it comes to make sense of the aggregation of tags, authors’ tags have no special weight.

This isn’t a criticism. Rather, it’s an observation about how reader-centric we’re becoming.

It also is another signal that we are shifting from topics to interests. Topics get declared by authorities and have authority. They are assumed to have some independent, trans-generational longevity. Topics can even have ontological status: A topic is what a resource is about. In the tagging world, though, a tag expresses what something means to me, the reader. It can say what something is about, but it can just as easily denote its genre (“humor”, “disclosure statements”), significance (“must read,” “nitpicking”) or its language. And if the tag expresses the resource’s topic, it’s the topic in its relevance to my interests: I might tag a custard pie recipe as “ballistic object.”

Now, along comes folksonomy, the emergence of taxonomy from the bottom up. It can occur if people get some feedback about how others are tagging resources: If I see that 500 people tag photos of San Francisco as “SanFran” and only three tag them “SF,” I will go with “SanFran” if I want my photos to be found, thus adding to that tag’s momentum.

Does this mean that folksonomies will encourage the re-emergence of topics, bottom up? Are we going to be double-minded, applying one tag for the folksonomy so the resource can be found and others that reflect our own interests? ? (If we also start tagging for local folksonomies — our social networks — we may become multi-minded in our tagging.) Are topics dead or are we rebuilding them in our images? [Technorati tags: ]

7 Responses to “Authors tags and topics”

  1. The value of interaction in business communities

    Interaction is required to get common understanding. Common understanding is what will drive searchers to your site. A lot of seemingly academic debate around achieving common understanding through folksonomies, wikis, etc. relates to things which dr…

  2. The content owner generated tags/categories have been problematic for many. I sit in a fair amount of user test each year. In the past two or three years the trend of users are changing their patterns of following site centric navigation and relying more on external search and other methods of finding information.

    Take Technorati I find far more relevance from keywords than I do their tags. Tags are hard, metadata is tougher, people (as a whole) think in very different ways, and people consuming are dealing with even more of a flood of information to sift through. Keeping track of information that was/is helpful is a tough task for people, particularly if the information is not in a vocabulary that is easy for them to remember.

    For the publishers of content it gets tougher to be sitting in the mainstream, but in a niche with it own distinct vocabulary the information can stand out, but reputation of content in these niches is more susceptible to criticism if the vocabulary is not on mark. Take your SanFran tag, your content is now sitting in with the thick flood of information that is tagged SanFran, but if it was in the thinner stream of SF or even more distinct tagged material such as Mission, BART, SoMa, China Basin, Haight, etc. would it find a more appropriate audience? This could be seen as splintering, or it could be seen as properly connecting with the consumer of the content.

    Taking things out to a broad folksonomy we let the markets, as it were, segment the content into their perceived niches. Hmm, people complain that information is difficult to find as it does not fit their expected vocabulary and we give them tools to narrow the chasm. Sounds like a winning solution.

    The difficulty is getting people to tag for themselves. I know of a handful of places that working to implement a folksonomy inside a company on an intranet, but people are reticent to tag. As tagging moves out of the realm of purely early adopters how will it play in Peoria?

  3. Arguably, Technorati does weight the authors’ tags more, at least visually – they show up in the bigger central column as blog posts. However, as Dorothea pointed out, if you always blog on library issues, you aren’t going to tag your posts ‘Library’.

  4. When I studied at the University there was a very prolonged discussion going on in academic circles – regarding the “where” and “what” and “when” of meaning. The postmodernists claimed that meaning was in the reading and not inherent to the text.
    So the author would not be the authority of meaning – the reader would.
    Naturally the postmodernist would tend to “relativize” this to the extend where meaning was meaningless – or just a matter of power.
    Now we have the tecnological means to test it.
    Who decides – the author or the reader?
    I think I’ll bet on both!

  5. Bottom up topics

    David Weinberger: Authors tags and topics : Does this mean that folksonomies will encourage the re-emergence of topics, bottom up? Are we going to be double-minded, applying one tag for the folksonomy so the resource can be found and others that reflect o

  6. “Does this mean that folksonomies will encourage the re-emergence of topics, bottom up?”

    That’s pretty much how topics (genres, etc.) have come to be in the first place. Of course, the “folk” were often not *all* folk, in any sense, and it was thus more usual that topics would go askew from folk labels.

    (btw, in the field of information architecture, there is a prominent place for bottom-up design. Many “topic” systems are created by a society of folk–IA encompasses a number of practices that help folk who need/want to turn their own ad hoc labels into formal “topics”.)

    “Are topics dead or are we rebuilding them in our images?”

    What you are saying is that, in the past, “topics” have been built *not* in our images.

    But, essentially, they were built in someone’s image, or some groups’ image. (Remember my example about the Yahoo! topic directory–it was built to correspond with Yahoo’s org chart.)

    Today’s SanFran tag to you becomes tomorrow’s SanFran topic to someone else (i.e., to someone who didn’t get to build that tag, but feels compelled to use it to be part of the “society” that values that label like a topic).

    What’s interesting to me personally are ways to better allow the transition from ad hoc tags to formal “topics” and back to tags, etc. The traditional approach is usually to go from ad hoc to formal to more/better formal, e.g., once you have a system which doesn’t work good enough, to try to improve the system–almost always by making the system larger and more complex.

    Tagging is interesting in its support for non-systematic approaches (in general), and I think it has been undervalued in cases where systematic approaches already exist (i.e., the bias-delusion: a system is always better than no system; and then: a big system is going to be better).

  7. The value of interaction in business communities

    Interaction is required to get common understanding. Common understanding is what will drive searchers to your site. A lot of seemingly academic debate around achieving common understanding through folksonomies, wikis, etc. relates to things which dr…

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