Tag This

Yesterday I wrote about the need for more integrated tools to organize the various bits of information that we need, use, and collect in our daily digital lives, both online and offline, work-related and personal.

Whether we organize online or on paper, whether it’s a result of today’s information overload or a librarian gene in all of us, the desire to categorize (and share) our information, knowledge, and references is something that will only escalate as we continue to move further into an information economy.

The recent explosion of web services using tags and tagging provides one entry point into a possible system of organization. By giving users the ability to create our own classification systems both privately and collectively, we’re able to map our information and content in our own context. These folksonomies are rapidly changing the information dynamic. Not tied to corporate dominance or bureaucratic structure, the masses can create the metadata of our times.

I’ve already been following and using a number of sites that incorporate tagging (del.icio.us, rojo, library thing, flickr, upcoming.org, last.fm, geourl, plazes, technorati, tagcloud) and everyday I hear of great new services, such as BlinkList, a new AJAX social bookmark engine that allows you to rapidly tag and maintain thousands of links (nice work, Mike!). MailTags, another new innovative tagging product, is a plug-in for Apple’s Mail2.0 and lets you to tag email messages, add comments to messages, and much more.

With such a slew of services, I’ve gotten quite tag-happy. I’m tagging my blog posts, links, bookmarks, photos, locations, content, blogs, searches, products, information, articles, music, to do lists, my email, and books.

But, I’m also finding that the more tagging I do in various places and for different types of content, the more I feel my metadata becoming siloed into these other databases. Even though today’s new applications have moved beyond rigid categories and allow me to tag my own data, the current state of tagging doesn’t allow for us to map these information relationships from one site to another – or perhaps more aptly, to see a snapshot of our metadata universe. I’m still looking for a way to see how my current tags crossover with one another, and with tags made by others – the aerial view.

In a more integrated world of metadata, my tagging system might have two main branches – an “outgoing” (publishing) branch and an “incoming” (statistical and tracking) node. The outgoing system would drive all tagging of my content, whether it lives on my hard drive as a file, on my web server as a blog post or web page, or on my mobile phone as a reminder. This system would ideally interface with web APIs of the many services that I’m already using.

The incoming system would tell me how this tag data was being “used”, whether it was my blog post that had been cited on someone else’s blog, a trackback to an article I wrote for a webzine, or a photo that I had licensed under Creative Commons and was now being used in someone else’s art project. The incoming branch would also supply fresh content from the web based on my tagged interests from any variety of sources (news, blogs, search, subscriptions) and formats (RSS, podcast, video). Perhaps contextual recommendations could be made based on tag cloud relationships or my past habits.

Like you, I can imagine many scenarios and paradigms for making this a fluid and integrated organizational method. We’re going to need a better method to see our own snapshot of tags. In particular, I’d like to see a map of my tags online and offline, and my tags in view of the world’s tags. Each of our categories of information are becoming pathways to find, visualize and connect to relationships, driven by language and ideas.


  1. Mike on September 06, 2005 at 02:13 AM:
    Hi Emily, I am glad that you checked out our site and that you like it so far!  Right now we are working very hard on some exciting improvements that I can hopefully share with you in a few weeks.  Your post is very interesting but to be quite honest, my head is spinning and I am having trouble following you.  What kind of a visual map are you looking for to get a better sense of your tag world?  Where and it what case would it be valuable to see your tags integrated in one visual view from different sites?
  2. Mike on September 06, 2005 at 02:16 AM:
    One quick correction Emily.  In regards to BlinkList, you should be thanking Jiangti, our rock star developer for Blinklist.  It is amazing what Jiangti, and now Hannu who just joined us have been able to accomplish in a very short amount of time.  Mike
  3. Emily on September 07, 2005 at 01:44 PM:
    Mike, thanks for the comments and sorry I made your head spin!  The kind of visual map I was referring to is a loose idea right now and I plan to detail it out a bit as a wireframe or something.  I guess what I’m looking for is a way to see how my tags relate overall.  So, if I tag my own posts, or photos, or links elsewhere on the internet, it would be ideal to be able to search/see that relationship between tags from one place or system.
  4. Sachbak on September 11, 2005 at 11:24 PM:
    Indeed, it seems that the future of tagging, and the real use of this technology, will be in the integration between services on the web.
    Automatic services that will be able to communicate and relate content items related by tags.
    I see the first example with geo-tagging, but the possibilites are endless.
    I’m not sure this is what you aimed at when suggesting the aerial view, but I think this will be where tags are going at the end.