Tagging: who? what? how?

| June 16, 2010

For the last few days here at Pressible, I have been doing some research on tagging and it’s applications as a stand alone organization structure for online information, particularly as it relates to semantics.  What I’ve discovered is the usual two camps you find in debates like this, one group thinking that tags will save us all and the other absolutely horrified by the idea of eliminating hierarchical categorization.

Tagging seems pretty Utopian, and I don’t mean that negatively.  There is the opportunity to create a nearly perfect means by which to retrieve information because it wouldn’t rely on the predictions, or as Shirky would say “mind reading and fortune telling” that current categorization schemes do.  The People will be able to find any information they need because The People are the ones who labeled it in the first place.  Over time and with enough participation, the flaws in user generated content would smooth themselves out naturally and both the catalogers and the users would breath a sigh of relief for not having to worry about putting things in columns.

That said, we, as humans, LIKE putting things in columns.  We like categories, we like file systems.  Even now, with the almighty power of the “single search box” and our ability to make file names as long as rumplestiltskin, we STILL make files, and files within files.  We like nesting our information.  When looking at a large tagging list, you see people forcing hierarchy on this seemingly anarchic system.  An example for this post might be “Categorization/Tagging”.  We want to put things on shelves, near other things like it, so that we can find it again later, but as has been said many times before, there is no shelf, there is no file , or at least there may not have to be.

So to my questions: being someone who is both excited by the prospect of a world limited to “Subject Headings” and “Keywords”, and terrified by it, how can you effectively implement a tagging system that will work from the get go? as in, working in the short term as well as the long without succumbing to the structures tagging frees us from.

basically, how do we pull this off?  how do you make this chaotic system work for us as effectively, or more accurately, MORE effectively than the classification systems of the past?