Should we tag online content if everything is miscellaneous?

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project's report from
January 31, 2007, you should Forget Dewey and His Decimals, Internet Users are Revolutionizing the Way We Classify Information and Make Sense of It.

OK, so I used a NY Daily News style headline to catch your attention. But this new report (their first study on tagging) does say that 28% of online Americans have tagged content on the Net.

Does that surprise you or underwhelm you? For perspective, that makes it twice as popular as podcasting which is a hot topic these days.

This New Web we keep hearing about that allows users to create and share their own media, also let's them organize content (other people's web pages, photos, videos etc.) in their own way.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project surveyed people in December 2006 and that 28% statistic is the respondents who said "Yes" when asked: “Please tell me if you ever use the internet to categorize or tag online content like a photo, news story, or a blog post.” It's the first time they have surveyed about tagging, so it's unclear if it is taking off or just growing slowly.

That would cover the 4 big types of content that you would find on sites that encourage, "require" or are built for the purposes of adding tags (AKA metatags).

The 4 sites most often mentioned are (shared web page bookmarks), or Flickr (a photo community), videos on YouTube or news from the blogosphere tagged by Technorati.

So why tag content? Most people search in the traditional go-to-Goggle way using keywords. Traditionally, search on the web (or within websites) is done by using keywords. When you tag content, you are adding your own indexing keywords to the object. So, the photo of that school in New Jersey is, for you, tagged "hometown" or "alma mater" or "IHS". Then, you share your tags (through Flickr or whatever) with others (maybe your classmates for a reunion) and they can find the content you found, and then they add their own.

It doesn't replace systems like good old Melvil Dewey's system for libraries or the indexing that Yahoo! and Google does for us. Rather, it's an individualized system that can be shared and may have interest to a smaller, specialized audience.

For example, I started tagging in delicious those websites that apply to the grad course I teach at NJIT on visual design. I add a unique tag to each site I add (it could be something like njitvizd) and I share that tag with my students. They add that tag when they find a site. Now we can share our "bookmarks" dynamically by simply going to delicious and searching on that tag. All our sites show up.

I also tag each posting on this blog with keywords about the topics discussed. It's not that search engines won't find this entry anyway, but tags to this like metatag,, even my own name and Serendipity35 or NJIT guarantees that search engines will find it for the right reasons.

Several people have told me to read Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger (it will be out on May 1). He's a blogger and fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. According to online blurbs, he believes we need to relinguish control of how we organize things and embrace new "useful, powerful and beautiful ways to make sense of our world." He gets into the history of classification and the Dewey Decimal System and "the third order of order." Embrace complexity and "the newly miscellanized world"

Want to see a few tagging examples? Try these links:


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