Tag Spam / Tag Mud — Way Down Here in the Long Tail of Social Software

Tagging is in. You’re It!

From tagging web sites to bookmarks, to photos it is changing the way we look at and organize large globs of information. It is spreading to other content, like news, music, movies, heck, maybe even learning content… Yes, folksonomy is hip and happening, eveolving and causing disruption. However, it thrives in the examples above where there is a large base of users to add to the tag pile, to self-correct, to make it come alive. Tagging down in the tail is another story.

Yes, tagging it is not a magic bullet and may not be an instant success. But I believe in what it might offer.

I set up an experiment a few weeks ago. A colleague has asked for a recommended list of “online professional development” opportunities for faculty, and rather than just cooking up a list and emailing or posting as a static web page (“Oh, that is so web 1.0”), I decided to try setting up a special del.icio.us tag of edponline and invite others to add to the list. Collective intelligence should make this a rich soup.

It started okay, Tim Lauer and Seb Fiedler added items. But something went awry as another person started tagging all sorts of stuff (podcasting links, educational tech articles) to the mix, and it got kind of cloudy, muddy, even slightly polluted. I am not casting shame on this person nor looking for an apology, and I think it is highly likely that things were mis-tagged in the haste of adding sites (I am guilty of this more times than I will admit).

In a larger participatory pool this noise would be group corrected or drowned out by more signal. This is how WikiPedia works (thousands of eyes checking content) but my little wiki is encrusted with spam, dead end links, and virtual tumbleweeds blowing by.

Just tagging alone will not make social software work, it is the action and participation of others than work the magic. My little del.icio.us tag experiment is so far down the long tail of activity there, it cannot be distinguished from the horizontal axis. But when you are talking about or trying to get a tagging scheme in motion, you should keep in mind the dynamics of the level of potential participation- just setting it up is not enough.

The tag mud and the sadder examples of tag spam are part of the give and take, the ying-yang of what the net environment offers. You cannot have the richness of good open content without some of the muck in the undercarriage. I am not sure if one really needs a big audience to make tagging successful, but it may take a threshold of active taggers.

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.