When Tags Fail

Here’s a view of upcoming events in London at this time.

Three closely related topics with a number of web-savvy taggers (if attendees of events like this can’t tag, who can?). And yet, zero tags in common.

It would be very compelling to subscribe to events in your area and under a certain topic, so they automatically appear in ICal, GCal, etc. But the topic would have to be general enough to provide more than one event a year, and chances are there won’t be many “microformats” gigs in your local area on a regular basis. i.e. what’s obviously required is a tag like “geek” or “web” that’s general enough to be useful for the use case of a calendar subscriber.

Perhaps reflecting the tendency for people to think in concrete terms, the taggers here opt for very precise, specific, terms. The conventional wisdom on tagging is that people will come up with their own conventions and systems should stay out of it, but isn’t that a rather defeatist stance on our ability to create remotely intelligent software in 2006? Rather than force users to go against their nature and think abstractly, maybe the system could go all fuzzy and do some useful cluster analysis. I’d rather subscribe to a slightly inaccurate “web-ish” cluster than 20 different feeds covering every concrete concept related to the web. Granted, it’s also more work to develop, but it’s something that could easily be encapsulated in a library.

5 thoughts on When Tags Fail

  1. Pingback: Intense Minimalism » “When Tags Fail”?

  2. Hey Michael,

    Totally 100% agree with this. I realized this a couple weeks when putting a post up on my ski blog on the http://www.doglotion.com ski coummunity site. I wasn’t tagging anything with ski, skiing, freeski or anything generic like that would be usefule to the web at large. Instead I was using very specific, in context tags like whistler, powder, weekendchutes which mean nothing to internet public at large. But in that specific context and to an expert user it makes senses. In your case since you’re on an event site it would seem silly to take tag a microformat presentation with “event” but if that event listing feed was published out to technorati then that might make sense. It’s a tricky question of where to draw the line and how to figure what context to operate in. I don’t have all the all the answers, but possibly a concept of internal (in context) tags and external (general tags that can be automagically added) might make sense.

    Interesting discussion at any rate.


  3. There is a reason those three events are separate.. in terms of tagging.

    Yes.. they should all use the “web” tag.. but people who are designers probably aren’t interested in microformats production, and vice versa. I’ve been to both types of dinners and they are very very different and don’t get that much overlap consistently between the folks that attend (though they probably should, considering….).

    But all would likely be interested in the geek dinner by molly. The problem is you need the fine detail tags, or what i would call “context” tags as well as the large bucket tags.

    This issue comes up in many communities. You wouldn’t combine (if you were upcoming) gay + lesbian + queer without having a riot in those three communities, and you wouldn’t combine cinema + film + movies + video + citizen journalism video without getting people all up in arms about what they spend their time making or watching.

    But, having a large bucket tag for each helps us sift through to get the large grouping before we get specific.

    It’s not a failure of tags, but rather i think it’s often a failing of the systems and interactions they allow. However, Upcoming does a good thing in managing this by allowing others to tag. For this record:


    I added arts, web, and geek and you can pivot and view them.


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