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April 3, 2011

Social tagging games ‘n research

The GiveALink link-sharing site has posted two games thaty are actually research studies.

The first game is GiveALink Slider which the site says “is an interesting online tagging game in which you must annotate webpages with related tags and choose new webpages. You can accumulate points and win badges by accomplishing tasks and building links with other players.” They are giving iPods to the winners. It’s actually a study called “Social Annotations through Game Play” conducted by the Networks and Agents Network in the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research of the Indiana University School of Informatics
Here’s the description of the second game:

Great Minds Think Alike is a word association game that lets users build semantic concept networks and explore similarity relations.

Players form a chain of semantically related words, which comes from the GiveALink knowledge base. Users can browse through nine different social media, e.g. Flickr and Youtube, and earn points.

Words are geo-tagged, which helps to analyze the geographical distribution of terms. Players can also connect with other players via Facebook as suggested by the game.

Data from the game is collected by GiveALink.org to make the game more fun, support other social tagging applications, and for study purposes.

No, I don’t actually understand how either game works, and I haven’t signed up for them because the first one is a study that I don’t want to commit to and the second requires an iPhone. But, the GiveALink service is interesting. It’s an open bookmark-sharing service that also feeds a research program. [Hat tip to Julianne Chatelain.]

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August 9, 2009

Twitterelevancy

With it’s new Fresh view, Delicious builds on the TweetNews idea of using links in Tweets (and other measures) as a way to find what’s newest and most interesting. As the blog post about it says:

Underneath the hood, Fresh factors several features into the ranking like related bookmark and tweet counts, “eats our own dogfood”  by leveraging BOSS to filter for high quality results, as well as stitches tweets to related articles even if the tweets do not provide matching URLs (as ~81% of tweets do not contain URLs). Try clicking the ‘x Related Tweets’ link for any given story to see the Twitter conversation appear instantly inline.

It’s a welcome reslicing, not a whole new beast, but it seems useful.

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August 7, 2009

Tags again

Jeez, it would save me a lot of time if Keynote (or Powerpoint, if you insist) let me tag slides and objects in slides (especially images). I spend way too much time looking for that slide of a “smart room” or the one that shows business vs. end-user use of Web 2.0, or that photo of an old broadcast tower. (Later that day: Maybe I should add, having just rewritten the Wikipedia entry on Interleaf, that back in the early 1990s, Interleaf gave us exactly that capability.)

Instead, I have two hacks, both a pain in the butt. First, I keep a humungous file of slides I think I’ll want to use again. Second, I’ve started putting tags into the speaker notes by putting the tags in brackets. But I use the speaker notes to speak from, so larding them up with tags is sub-optimal.

And especially if you save Keynote files in the pre-2009 multi-file formats, then it’d be a snap for third parties to build tools that extract the tags and manage them. (I have a fussy home-made utility that extracts the text from the speaker notes and builds an editable file of them. If you want it, let me know.)

Tags are easy! Tags are useful! Let tags be tags!

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March 10, 2009

Future of News: The Tag

To encourage people to start using the FutureOfNews tag at Delicious.com, The Knight Foundation is giving away an entrance badge to the SxSW conference to someone who uses that tag today or tomorrow. Knight hopes that we’ll keep using the tag forever after on pages of interest to those who care about the FutureOfNews.

The winner will be announced on their site, KnightPulse.org at 5pm EDT, Wed.

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January 9, 2009

Analysis of a folksonomic protest

Eugenio Tisselli Vélez has posted an analysis of a tag used in Germany to protest a restriction Flickr placed on photos tagged as unsafe. Among its conclusions:

The analysis of the data shows that protestors most likely disseminated the use of strategic tagging among their contacts, rather than within a particular specific-interest group. A list of contacts is much closer to a hand-picked ensemble of friends than one of such groups, and therefore represents a bigger influence for the list’s owner.

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January 5, 2009

Tags made smarter, easier

Sarah Perez at Read Write Web has a good post about a service that “understands” the meaning of of your tags (Zigtag) and another that suggests tags based on its analysis of Wikipedia (faviki). These services — I haven’t tried them — promise to making tagging yet more important by making it easier to apply tags and by letting us get more value from them.

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December 15, 2008

Twalala for Twitterflittering

Mamamusings points to Twalala, which shows you your Twitter stream on your iPhone (of which I don’t have), but includes what look to be some useful filters. For example, you can “mute” someone who perhaps is twittering some event excessively (= me). You can use Twalala in your Web browser, too.

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December 13, 2008

Tagging the Twittersphere

Tweetag automatically creates tags for tweets and shows you the tag cloud for any term you’re looking for. At the moment, it only looks at the past 24 hours’ tags, a limitation the Belgian folks behind this hope to remove if they get a little money coming in.

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November 30, 2008

Philosophical problems with folksonomies

[Note from the next day: This is a little embarrassing. I just noticed that this was first published in 2006. It came through my inbox on Saturday, and I carelessly thought it had just come out.]

Elaine Peterson, associate professor at Montana State University, has an article in D-Lib Magazine called “Beneath the Metadata: Some Philosophical Problems with Folksonomy.” It’s good to see the issues taken seriously, and many of her premises strike me as true. But, I disagree with her pragmatic conclusion that “A traditional classification scheme will consistently provide better results to information seekers.” And I think I disagree with her philosophical critique, although I am not confident that I’m understanding it as she intends.

I read the article two different ways. At first I thought it was a critique of folksonomies on the grounds that they contradict traditional philosophical premises. The next time I read it, I thought it was simply pointing out the differences. Now I’m tending toward my first reading, in part because her section on the traditional defends it against some objections while about half of the section on folksonomies is critical of them.

Her philosophical criticism seems to be rooted in what she presents as the Aristotelian approach to classification: Things are lumped with other things like them, and simultaneously distinguished from them. Most important, she says, is the idea that “A is not B,” which means that A cannot be truthfully classified also as a B. But what about digital items that “can reside in more than one place”? That is “irrelevant,” she says, “since one is talking about a classification scheme, not about the items themselves.” I have to admit I don’t understand this. What is the philosophical basis for restricting things to one category if not that that restriction reflects the metaphysical truth that A cannot also be B? So, I think she’s saying we are to reject multiple classifications because such classifications are untrue metaphysically.

This reading is supported by the section on folksonomy, where she identifies philosophical relativism as “the underlying philosophy behind folksonomies,” and pretty clearly intends this as a criticism. (I personally am no fan of philosophical relativism, although there’s a longer story there.) The problem with relativism, she writes, is that it means classification escapes from the demand that A be A and not be B. I take this as indicating that, in her section on traditional classification, she is agreeing with the 1930 textbook she cites that recommends that classifiers give “emphasis to what the author intended to describe.” If you’re arguing that, on metaphysical grounds, things should only be classified in a single category, I guess looking for the author’s intention gives you a way forward…even though categorizing only by the author’s intent is to me like insisting that readers only underline passages that the author considers significant.

And this highlights what I think is my root disagreement with Elaine’s piece (if I’m understanding it correctly). It’s fine to raise pragmatic problems with folksonomies, as she does. But Elaine is pointing at philosophical problems. And those problems require assuming that folksonomists are trying to do what Aristotelian categorizers are trying to do. But they’re not. Aristotelians (I’m using this sloppily as shorthand, so pardon my “tagging”) are trying to find the one true and right category for each thing, creating a well-ordered system free of contradictions. Folksonomies are trying to help us find stuff.

Inconsistencies in tags actually make a folksonomy useful; a folksonomy that consists of 1,000 instances of a single tag isn’t worth the folksonomizing. But these inconsistencies are a problem for Elaine because she is thinking of a folksonomic classification as a philosophical statement rather than as a mere tool. She says that “perhaps … the strongest criticism one could make of folksonomies” is that because tags can be true for one group and false for another,

a folksonomy universe allows both true and false statements to coexist. Because tags are relativized, personal, idiosyncratic views can coexist and thrive in the form of tags, in spite of their inconsistencies. Readers of texts on the Internet become individual interpreters, despite the document author’s intent.

To this many of us will say “Hallelujah!” because we disagree with Elaine’s opening claim that all classification is about answering the philosophical question, “What is it?” Indeed, she’s a hard-liner: An inconsistency to Elaine is any multiple classification, not simply one that contradicts others. Classifying a dissertation about “Moby-Dick” under “ecology” as well as under “novels: 19th Century” would introduce an insupportable inconsistency (in Elaine’s terms). She seems to assume that tags are Aristotelian judgments in which we say that A is a B. But, when I tag a photo of my wife as “ann,” “birthday,” “2008,” and “family events,” I am not saying the essence of Ann (or her photo) is any of those things. Even if I believed in essentialism (I pretty much don’t), we could make use of Aristotle’s idea of “accidental properties” (non-essential but true) to explain what I’m doing. And if I tag Oliver Stone’s “Alexander” as “Angelina Jolie” or “tripe” knowing full well that I am not staying true to the author’s intent, well, tough on Oliver. Tags are not always truth claims, and a folksonomy is not intended to mirror nature. Indeed, a folksonomy can reveal the most appalling areas of ignorance and prejudice in a populace — and, pragmatically, we may well want to address those popular errors, especially since a folksonomy can indeed reinforce them

But, Elaine is right to point to the philosophical implications of folksonomies. An individual folksonomy may make no claim to providing the real truth about how the world is ordered, but the use of folksonomies generally carries some philosophical implications. Elaine sees relativism underneath them while I see a form of pragmatism. But folksonomies didn’t arise out of philosophy. They are a “found” ordering: Hey, we have all these tags, so why don’t we make use of them in a more systematic way? So, I think Elaine is mislocating the philosophical moment in folksonomies. Philosophy isn’t underneath them or behind them. It’s after them, in their effect. Folksonomies reinforce our move away from the essentialist view that every thing has a single category that reflects its single and real essence. We’ve been moving away from that view for a long time as a culture. The success of folksonomies as a tool reveals that we accepted the traditional Aristotelian scheme in part because it was useful. If its utility has been undercut, then we have to ask for the other reasons we should believe in an Aristotelian metaphysics.

The ball is in Aristotle’s court.

* * *

Most of Elaine’s outright criticisms of folksonomies are actually practical, not philosophic. She makes them without empirical evidence. She has not convinced me that she’s right. For example, her final paragraph says:

A traditional classification scheme based on Aristotelian categories yields search results that are more exact. Traditional cataloging can be more time consuming, and is by definition more limiting, but it does result in consistency within its scheme. Folksonomy allows for disparate opinions and the display of multicultural views; however, in the networked world of information retrieval, a display of all views can also lead to a breakdown of the system… Most information seekers want the most relevant hits when keying in a search query.

By “exact” she apparently means the results include fewer false results (where a result is false if the search term doesn’t really apply to the result, as when you search for “fish” and get back posts about dolphins). And that seems correct: A professionally constructed index should have fewer of those sorts of mistakes. But the second criterion in her concluding paragraph is relevancy, and there folksonomies well may beat a professionally constructed index. Not only might a folksonomy retrieve results more relevant to me personally or to my cultural sub-group, but it constructs a semantic system that can retrieve results the narrow and carefully categorizing by experts might miss. So, I disagree with her last sentence: “A traditional classification scheme will consistently provide better results to information seekers.” Traditional classification is best for certain types of searches — ones where you want precision over recall and relevancy, and especially where there is a confined domain of contents that you have to be sure you’ve searched thoroughly — but is not as good as a folksonomy for other types of searches.

In short, neither traditional nor folksonomic classifications are best. Each is best for something.

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November 27, 2008

LibraryThing vs. Library of Congress

Vincent Sterken has posted his master’s thesis, which examines LibraryThing.com to understand the dynamics and utility of social tagging. It begins with an exceptionally clear backgrounder on tagging and taxonomies, and then moves to a fascinating exploration of LibraryThing’s folksonomy, including a comparison of how LibraryThing’s community and the Library of Congress classify books.

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